20 May 2009 @ 1:30 PM 

At the risk of beating a dead horse, I – along with probably 5,000 other blogs – am looking at this morning’s Washington Post article about Sam Adams, Super Craft Brewer. (Super. Like the prefix meaning “bigger” not the comic book guy. Word geek; see?)
Samuel Adams
Quick summary: In 2008, Sam Adams produced 1.992 million barrels of beer, 8,000 barrels short of the point where they no longer fall under the definition of a craft brewer by the Brewers Association.

I don’t want to get into a “What is Craft Beer” discussion (right now). That’s been covered amply elsewhere. Instead, I wonder at which is better for the other 1,500-ish craft brewers in the country: Having Sam Adams count as a craft brewer or not?

Sam Adams is, without a doubt, the elephant in the room. The closest regional-size brewery to Sam Adams (Sierra Nevada) makes less than half the amount of beer. I haven’t received my fancy New Brewer with 2008 barrelage numbers, yet, but using just some fancy pants math on the numbers from the BA Statistics page and the numbers we’ve been given by the Washington post, I’m going to make the following estimates/assumptions:

2008 Domestic Craft Beer Sales: 8,493,765 barrels.
Sam Adams alone: 1,992,000 barrels.
Sierra Nevada alone: 700,000 barrels.
Remaining for the other 1,543 breweries in the U.S.: 5,801,765 barrels.
Avg. # of barrels/craft brewery (excluding Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada): 3760 (5801765/1543)

So, to recap: In order for Sam Adams to reach the 2 million barrel cap that means that it no longer qualifies as a craft brewery it must produce a little over twice as much as the average American Craft Brewery does every year in addition to the 1.992 million barrels it already produces.

I have a hard time seeing these as the same animal.

It’s really great to have the sheer size and corporate power of Sam Adams on the same side as all of these other craft brewers. It’s great to incorporate the growth numbers of Sam Adams into the craft brewing world (according to the WaPo article, Sam Adams enjoyed larger growth than the entire craft beer segment last year – gotta wonder how much that skewed the numbers at the CBC) for PR purposes about how great the segment is doing. It’s wonderful to have Sam Adams do wonderful things like the hop raffle during the hop shortage last year, but would they stop doing that if the BA said they didn’t fit a definition?

Sam Adams is so far and away different from its craft brewer brethren that it’s almost unfair to all of the others to call it a craft brewer. How much are statistics inflated because Sam Adams is being included in them? How much does Sam Adams gain from the definition, even? Either they or Yuengling now stands as the largest American-owned brewery (not sure without actual barrel/sales numbers). It seems like that should be distinction enough. What does it mean for Jim Koch if he’s no longer considered a craft brewer by the BA? Is it a drop in sales? I doubt it. And if it is, and they dip back below 2 million barrels, do they get to re-join the club?

Finally, to what benefit is it for the smaller craft brewers to have Sam Adams count in the same definition? They are even more difficult to compete with than BMC because they’re actually producing well-made comparable styles of beer. Sam Adams Boston Lager feels almost as ubiquitous as Bud, even though, yes, Sam Adams only makes something like 1% of the amount of beer Bud does. The difference is that someone who is likely to drink an IPA will probably not have a Bud, but they might have that Sam Adams.

I’d love to hear thoughts from others on this: Is it a big deal for Sam Adams to not be a defined as a craft brewer by the BA? Might it actually be a good thing for other brewers?

Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 20 May 2009 @ 02:07 PM



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