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Craft Beer Brouhaha Reaches a Head

Stocks in this article: BREW TAP BUD

It's easy to understand why some of the folks at BA would do this: They're scared, and with good reason. MolsonCoors (TAP) and SABMiller's U.S. joint venture, MillerCoors, now has a "craft division" called Tenth and Blake, where it houses brands including Jacob Leinenkugel, Third Shift, Blue Moon, Batch 19, Crispin Lager and Henry Weinhard's brands, as well as imports including Pilsner Urquell, Peroni and Grolch. Anheuser-Busch InBev (BUD), meanwhile, purchased the Goose Island craft brand last year, set up Michelob as a craft brand (slogan: "Crafting a better beer") and worked its Shock Top witbier onto the shelves with craft competitors.

Each attempts to work its way into beer festivals with craft brands, each has a tenacious marketing team that keeps track of small brewer coverage and keeps in contact with those who cover them. They're not backing down because, as Beervana's Alworth points out, they still have roughly half of the U.S. beer market and the most share to lose.

This may all be moot in a year or so anyway. Alworth already says "there is no such thing as craft beer," and, noted by Beervana, some competing legislation headed to Congress may just back that up. The Brewers Excise and Economic Relief Act of 2013 (BEER Act) would reduce the federal excise tax on beer for all brewers and beer importers, while the the Small Brewer Reinvestment and Expanding Workforce Act (Small BREW Act) would limit those reductions to brewers producing 6 million barrels or less. The former received varying levels of support from Brooklyn Brewery, Bend, Ore.-based Deschutes Brewing, Utica, N.Y.-based Saranac brewer Matt Brewing and Kalamazoo, Mich., based Bell's Brewery. However, it's primarily backed by Washington-based industry lobbying group The Beer Institute and includes MillerCoors, A-B InBev and importers including Constellation Brands as supporters. The latter is backed by the Brewers Association.

Each varies the tax structure for breweries based on their size, which means the implementation of either would make it very clear who the small, mid-range and large brewers are by the tax bracket they fall into. With size and ingredient restrictions tossed aside, those still using the term "craft" would only do so in the context of personal taste or perceived quality. That would be just fine, but it would also be a far narrower definition than the one being selectively applied now.

As with the various elements of U.S. brewing culture that comprise "craft" beer, the word craft itself is still open to various interpretations. By focusing its scope and stripping away some of its more superfluous underpinnings, perhaps it will finally have a specific meaning. Perhaps it could just apply to the well-worked beers in each size category. Maybe then it will finally be something's right name.

-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Jason Notte.

>To submit a news tip, send an email to: tips@thestreet.com.

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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, the Boston Phoenix, the Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent. He previously served as the political and global affairs editor for Metro U.S., layout editor for Boston Now, assistant news editor for the Herald News of West Paterson, N.J., editor of Go Out! Magazine in Hoboken, N.J., and copy editor and lifestyle editor at the Jersey Journal in Jersey City, N.J.
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