1. Craft Brew Alliance
Why it's not craft: "Owned about 35% by A-B"
Well, it's 32.2%, but why make a big deal about percentages, right?
Beer Marketer's Insights doesn't, which is why Executive Editor Eric Shepard includes CBA in its craft beer numbers. That group's Widmer Brothers Brewery operation got its start when Kurt and Rob Widmer opened shop in Portland, Ore., in 1984. Its Redhook brand, meanwhile, has been around since 1981 and has breweries in Washington and New Hampshire. Even relative newcomer Kona Brewing has made beer on Hawaii's big island since 1994. In Shepard's view, all of that far outweighs the percentage of A-B ownership.
"The notion that Rob and Kurt Widmer aren't craft brewers is an absurdity to me," he says. "At 24% [A-B ownership share] they're pure and at 26% they're dirty? There's a certain sense of it being ludicrous."
And it is. That 25% number has an arbitrary whiff to it, considering that A-B's stake in CBA basically amounts to a distribution agreement. With no real administrative control or production input, A-B functions more as a partner and lender. Meanwhile, the Widmer Brothers still have a big stake in the company and Kurt Widmer still serves as its chairman. Their brewery still serves as the company's creative craft nexus, while the Redhook brand has been revived as a gateway beer for non-craft drinkers. Through partnerships with sports radio host Dan Patrick and the Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant chain, Redhook is doing what its cred-obsessed "craft" counterparts are too aloof or scared to do: going after former light-lager drinkers where they live.
As a result, CBA production has grown from 571,000 barrels in 2008 to 675,000 by 2012. If it was considered "craft," it would be the fourth-largest craft brewery in the country. BA, meanwhile, holds to its 25% threshold to not only keep CBA out, but to keep Athens, Ga.-based Terrapin Beer in after that brewery sold a quarter of itself to MillerCoors' Tenth & Blake "craft" division in 2011 to buy out investors.
BA want to put as much distance between itself and the big brewers as possible, but it does so by punishing small, pioneering brewers who worked the system and got A-B to do their heavy lifting for them.
-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.
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