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Is It Still A Craft Beer After the Brewery Sells?

PORTLAND, Ore. ( TheStreet) -- So you've been drinking beer from small breweries for a while and think you have the whole "craft" thing down. You're shopping from fridges on the opposite end of the supermarket's beer aisle and pulling brands with funky labels and are checking the tap handles at the local pub and steering away from ones that look too shiny and familiar.

Great. Now consider the following test question before you fill another straight-sided pint glass with something you think exists on a completely different plane than those beers you see on ballpark billboards.

There are two beer brands: Brand A opened its brewery in 1988, became associated with an entire metropolitan area and had people line up for hours just to buy a bottle of one of its special-edition beers. Brand B was launched only five years ago, never had its own brewer and became entwined with an iconic location in one of the largest cities in the U.S. despite never producing a drop of beer there. Within the past two years, both sold to large, publicly traded brewers that produce millions of barrels of their own products under various names, but are best known for their all-American image and flagship lagers.

Which of those recently acquired breweries is still "craft"?

If you went with the first one because it's old and produced some fancypants beer that people felt the need to queue up for, you'll never make it as a beer snob. That first brand is Goose Island and was made by the Hall family at their Fulton Street Brewery for 23 years. Its 312 Urban Wheat Ale was tagged with Chicago's area code and its Bourbon County Stout Russian imperial had just about every beer lover in the Chicagoland area getting a ticket and lining up at Binny's and elsewhere each fall just to get a taste.

In 2011, though, the Halls sold the Goose Island brand to Anheuser-Busch InBev (BUD) for nearly $39 million. The brand still produces fewer than 150,000 barrels a year -- a drop in the keg compared with A-B's nearly 100 million barrels annually -- but Goose Island's 312, Honker's ale and India Pale Ale are all produced outside of Chicago at A-B facilities in Fort Collins, Colo., and Baldwinsville, N.Y.

This year, the Brewers Association small brewers advocacy group played bouncer and kicked Goose Island out of the "craft" club by calling out its big-brewer ownership on a "Craft vs. Crafty" list.

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