Correction: Updated 1/7 to indicate that Anheuser-Busch InBev did not buy out other holdings in its purchase of Breckenridge Brewery.
There are more craft brewers than ever before, but there have also been more brewers kicked out of craft beer's club than at any point in history.
Two years ago, the Brewers Association craft beer industry group cut some slack to brewers who use maize, corn or rice as adjuncts in their brewing process by tweaking its definition of a craft brewer. Already flexed once in 2010 to raise the production limit for small brewers from 2 million barrels to 6 million to accommodate Samuel Adams producer Boston Beer, the definition's stance against the use of rice and corn as adjuncts in its “traditional” pillar was softened. That allowed the Brewers Association to finally welcomed brewers including Pottsville, Pa.-based D.G. Yuengling & Son (the oldest in the U.S., founded in 1829); St. Marys, Pa.-based Straub Brewing (1872); New Ulm, Minn.-based August Schell Brewing (1860); and Monroe, Wis.-based Minhas Craft Brewery (1845 as Blumer Brewing). That allowed craft beer to increase its overall volume 17.6% while increasing its share of the market to roughly 11%.
The Brewers Association changed its mission statement to reflect a new goal of 20% market share by 2020. By bringing Yuengling on board, BA just added a brewer that produced 2.7 million barrels in 2014. That said, it doesn't mean the Brewers Association is willing to bring in any brewery with less than 6 million barrels of U.S. production. The “independent” portion of its craft brewer definition still applies and still excludes any brewer selling more than a 25% stake of their operation to a member of the alcohol industry that isn't a craft brewer. That left out brewers like Fordham and Old Dominion, as those Delaware-based brewers are 49% owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev, the Craft Brew Alliance (whose Redhook, Widmer Brothers and Kona brands are 32.2% owned by ABI) and North American Breweries (whose Magic Hat, Pyramid and Portand Brewing brands are owned by Labatt importer Florida Ice and Farm). However, brewers like Full Sail, Oskar Blues and Firestone Walker -- which all sold last year -- are still considered “craft,” since private equity firms and Belgian brewer Duvel Moortgat are all considered O.K. in the BA's eyes.
However, if you're purchased by a big brewer, that 25% stake is now the line of demarcation. Fall on or beneath it, as Athens, Ga.-based Terrapin Beer does with a sub-25% stake owned by MillerCoors, and you're still O.K.. Move above it or that 6 million barrel mark -- which Samuel Adams producer Boston Beer Company should hit in about three years -- and you're out. This year, a whopping seven breweries punched their tickets out of craft beer, thanks to acquisitions by larger breweries. Drinkers may still consider them craft and their new owners certainly think they're craft beer, but the Brewers Association thinks differently at this point: