When beginning to search for the answer to this question, I obviously went to the Brewers Association (BA), publishers of CraftBeer.com, my employer, and the kick ass not-for-profit trade association representing 99 percent of the beer made in the U.S. today. As an association, the BA does define a craft brewer but not craft beer. I like to say, “Craft beer is in the eye, mind and palate of the beerholder.”
According to the BA’s definition, an American craft brewer is small, independent and traditional.
- Small: Annual production of 6 million barrels of beer or less.
- Independent: Less than 25 percent of the craft brewery is owned or controlled by an alcoholic beverage industry member who is not themselves a craft brewer.
- Traditional: A brewer who has either an all malt flagship or has at least 50 percent of its volume in either all malt beers or in beers which use adjuncts to enhance rather than lighten flavor.
In order to dig a little deeper on the subject, I decided to start with Gary Glass, my colleague and Director of the American Homebrewers Association.
Gary Glass | American Homebrewers Association Director
The answer is yes. The short answer would be that homebrew is made by homebrewers, and homebrewers meet the Brewers Association definition of a craft brewer, as they are small, independent and traditional. Logic follows that if homebrewers are craft brewers, then the beer they make is craft beer.
In the U.S., amateur and professional brewers are all part of the same community of brewers. Ninety percent or more of the professional brewers in this country started as homebrewers and most of the new small breweries opening are being launched by homebrewers. Most of the homebrewers who have gone pro, maintain their ties to their local homebrewing communities.
When you think about it, the primary difference between beer made by homebrewers and that made by commercial brewers is that commercial brewers must sell their beer, and thus must brew beer that will appeal to a wide audience and be consistent batch after batch. Those two points—appeal to a wide audience and be consistent—apply to all commercially made beer regardless of whether or not the beer is made by a craft brewer.
Homebrewers, being free from the need to sell their beer, have the luxury of being able to push boundaries with new flavor combinations and styles. They can experiment without worry of major financial loss. The experimental beers that homebrewers are trying out now are on the cutting edge of craft beer, and from those experiments will come the styles and flavors of tomorrow’s commercial craft beer.
Don’t believe me? Next time you’re at the Great American Beer Festival, check out the GABF Pro-Am booth and see the kinds of beers craft breweries are making from homebrew recipes. You’ll be blown away by the diversity and quality of the beers you find there.
And for inquiring minds on the health and strength of the hobby of homebrewing here in the U.S., here are some stats:
- There are an estimated 1 million homebrewers in the U.S.
- The American Homebrewers Association reached 30,000 members in February 2012 (press release).
- There are an estimated 1,100 homebrew clubs and more than 600 homebrew shops in the U.S.
- Homebrewers host the largest beer competition in the world. In 2011, almost 7,000 entries were judged in the National Homebrew Competition. In comparison, the largest commercial competition, the Great American Beer Festival, saw 3,930 entries in 2011.
For one final opinion, I went to the man himself, Mr. Charlie Papazian, founder of the American Homebrewers Association and president of the Brewers Association. With such close ties to both the professional and hobbyist sides of beer, I knew he would have a strong opinion.
Charlie Papazian | Brewers Association President
Yes, no doubt about it. Homebrewers and home-brewed beer are the foundation and grassroots of all craft beer.
What’s there to argue? Homebrew isn’t sold? “Selling” isn’t a qualifier. What is craft beer? Now defining that is a hornet’s nest. Nevertheless, here’s my personal opinion of what craft beer has come to represent:
- All beer that is not within the lighter style of beer we might stylistically refer to as American-style Lager, Light Lager, Low Carb Light Lager, Premium Lager, Ice Lager, Malt Liquor and International-style Light and Dry Lagers. All others seem to be “craft beer.”
- Craft beer is made by small and independent brewers and homebrewers are small and independent brewers.
Julia Herz, Craft Beer Program Director for the Brewers Association, is a homebrewer, BJCP beer judge and Certified Cicerone™. Despite her extensive experience, she will always consider herself a beer beginner on an unending journey to learn more about craft beer. Additionally, follow Craft Beer Muses on Twitter.