Sam Adams Losing “Craft Brewer” Status is All About Business, Not Public Perception

There’s been some hubbub on the Internet lately about Sam Adams losing the status as a “craft brewer” when they pass the annual production mark of two million barrels, projected to happen in 2012.  Most folks who have chimed in on the matter are saying the same thing; it’s the quality of your beer, not the quantity you brew that should determine what kind of brewer you are. I wholly agree, but the federal government doesn’t, and that’s what’s driving this whole matter.

You see, when a brewer hits the 2MM barrel mark, they are considered a big brewer by the federal government and no longer qualify for the lower excise tax afforded to craft brewers.  It’s a financial matter.  They will also lose their designation as a craft brewer by the Brewer’s Association (which also caps craft brewers at 2MM barrels), but this is far less about getting kicked out of the “club” and more about protecting the bottom line.

Sam Adams can still call themselves what ever they want; Specialty Brewer, Crafter of Fine Beers, Master of the Beer Universe, etc.  It’s not about the title of “craft brewer,” it’s all about dollars and cents.

And they’re setting up to fight for their bottom line tooth and nail.  Sam Adams is working with Senator John Kerry (D – Massachusetts) and Senator Michael Crapo (Unfortunately Named R – Idaho) to introduce a bill that will raise the statutory limit for a craft brewer to 6 million barrels.  The hope is to have everything sorted out before Sam Adams breaches the 2MM barrel threshold and avoid the financial penalty of being a big brewer.

Sam Adams is blazing a trail here, and I hope they are successful in raising the limit to 6 million barrels.  I’m all for removing hurdles that might impede the growth of great brewers.  Sam Adams is the first brewery to run into this problem, but it is going to be happening again and again, as craft beer continues to chip away at macro brew consumers.  Other brewers like Sierra Nevada, Stone, Dogfish Head and others will likely be facing the same issue in the coming years (or decades) as the popularity of good beer continues to grow.  I hope they’re successful in changing the law, especially because the bill being proposed would also lower the current excise tax for small brewers.

And in the end, laws that help brewers of great beer also help lovers of great beer like us.

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25 Comments on “Sam Adams Losing “Craft Brewer” Status is All About Business, Not Public Perception”

  1. Lennie
    June 17, 2010 at 11:44 am #

    Just to let you know- Crapo is a Republican 🙂

    • Don
      June 17, 2010 at 12:04 pm #

      Well, Lennie, I’m sure my brother (the one that lives in Jersey) assumed that Crapo (pronounced with a long “a” so it is not as unfortunate a name as it could have been, but I’m sure he took a lot of crap {pun intended} as a kid) was a liberal because he is trying to help a brewer, and Jim is a liberal and he likes to think anyone who thinks like him must be like him too. However as we all know in Idaho Crapo is a Republican, and a Mormon, making his association here all the more puzzling, and he is trying to help out business. See Idaho grows a lot of barley and hops that are used in production of many craft beers as well as macro beers in this country. So long story short his district has a direct interest in brewers doing well. I too hope the line is moved, so the millers and coors and buds of the world will continue to pay the higher excise taxes, and the good brewers can continue to brew unabated up to the new threshold of 6MM barrels.

    • June 17, 2010 at 12:35 pm #

      Thanks for the heads up, Lennie – I’ve fixed it. Misread the Times article I used as one of my sources.

  2. June 17, 2010 at 11:46 am #

    It’s kinda funny to see this post now, given my experience at the Great American Food and Music Fest over the weekend. First of all, I agree with you….CRAFT BREWER, technically speaking, should be about quality not quantity. If we are defining things strictly by quantity, then it’s a matter of nanobrewery, microbrewery, macrobrewery. I do hope he wins the fight because, as you mention, other favorites will no doubt be waging the same battle soon enough.

    But my gripe about the festival I attended was that the beers being poured at the tasting were supposed to represent AMERICAN brewing, but only a small handful of states were represented, and (I’m not sure why) 3 foreign countries! Sam Adams hogged up several tables that could have easily been filled by the likes of Dogfish Head, New Belgium, etc. Seeing row after row of Sam Adams bored the shit out of me.

    • June 17, 2010 at 12:37 pm #

      Most people still don’t “get” beer, and probably think Sam Adams is the very definition of “craft” in the US. We know better, but we’re ahead of the curve. What it should tell you is the festival hosts don’t know a lot about beer, which is a shame, because it’s an opportunity to educate folks that’s lost.

      • June 17, 2010 at 12:45 pm #

        Interestingly enough, there were 2 seminars that day…one about wine and the other about beer. Gary Vaynerchuk taught the wine one, and when I spoke to his assistant, I found out that the two of them had chosen all the wines to be poured. So I’m wondering if Matt Simpson (The Beer Sommelier) who taught the beer seminar had a hand in choosing the beers being poured. Hmm, methinks I’ll go email him right now 🙂

        • June 17, 2010 at 12:53 pm #

          That’s a god idea. And don’t let him give you that Sam Adams “gateway beer” BS – that might fly at a bar, but not a festival. Sam Adams probably offered the most event support so they went with them. But that’s just a guess. I’d love to hear what he says.

        • Don
          June 17, 2010 at 12:55 pm #

          Gary should know better, and should have had more states represented.

        • June 17, 2010 at 12:57 pm #

          Actually it was Matt Simpson, but otherwise I agree. Or even NJ, PA and NY. Lots to choose from there. Even if it was a bunch of Brooklyn Brewery stuff.

        • Don
          June 17, 2010 at 12:59 pm #

          I was actually making the comment to Katie, because on her blog (which you should go see…especially this week’s Wordless Wednesday!) she was saying that there was not enough regional representation in the wines, beer for that matter too.

      • June 17, 2010 at 1:11 pm #

        Exactly as Don said….Gary’s to blame for American wines not being properly represented. Now I’m wondering if Matt chose the beers. I already emailed him so we’ll wait and see. I was curious about Sam Adams sponsorship too, but don’t wanna open my mouth until I know the deal…and like you said, seriously, Brooklyn Brewery?! Hello! You’re gonna tell me a few of their brews couldn’t have easily replaced one of Sam Adams’ 4 tables?! Ugh.

  3. June 17, 2010 at 2:30 pm #

    Well, I’ll always respect Sam Adam’s (Koch)…besides pushing for legislation that will benefit them, they generously have given their hops to small breweries during hop shortages (when AB was over-buying to put the little guys out of business), he’s lobbied to make homebrewing legal all over, and been willing to share his brewery for nanobrewers. that being said, I understand Katie’s boredom…

    Perhaps this is the most bipartisan deal hitting congress. Koch should run for president.

    • June 17, 2010 at 2:34 pm #

      I agree that Boston Beer has been great for craft beer and brewers in many ways, and this legislation is just part of that picture. I assume the macro breweries will fight the bill, so it’ll be interesting if they can get it killed.

      I like the idea of Jim Koch for President. Maybe we should start the Beer Party. I have a feeling it’d be quite popular, especially with the college kids.

      • June 17, 2010 at 2:43 pm #

        Hells yes! Anything to get rid of the two-party system, first of all. Second, that sounds like a movement I can get behind.

        And just to answer Nate, please understand I’ve got nothing but love for Jim and Sam Adams. I just felt like I was at a Sam Adams tasting more than an “American Beers” tasting, know what i mean?! 🙂

      • Don
        June 17, 2010 at 4:12 pm #

        I like the Beer Party concept. Maybe I’ll break off and start the Whiskey Party. Stay away from the Refer Party though, those guys are weird. I just saw one eat a hot dog with blue cheese and vanilla pudding.

      • June 17, 2010 at 4:18 pm #

        I hear the Whiskey Part can back the Beer Party quite nicely, depending on the constituents involved. They can work well together.

        I might create a faction of the Whiskey Party, called “The Icers” who often disagree with how things should be done within their own party. Some say we water down the message, but I think we enhance it by making it more accessible to the common man.

        Boy, all this political talk is making me thirsty…

        • Don
          June 17, 2010 at 4:21 pm #

          You know no ice tonight big guy… 😉

        • June 17, 2010 at 4:26 pm #

          I don’t think I’d have enough anyway. Don. That’s a lot of booze those folks at Wild Turkey sent over!

      • June 17, 2010 at 5:26 pm #

        Funny, Don because the refrigerated containers that wines are often shipped in to make their away across continents are called “reefers” for short, so technically the Reefer Party could be the Wine Geek one. And to make all you thirsty folks thirstier, I’m sitting with a glass of Stone’s Smoked Porter right now 😉

  4. June 17, 2010 at 4:27 pm #

    I can hear my 4th grade teacher harping over and over: “QUALITY, not quanitity!”

    Beer Party… I’ve seen some references all over the interwebs about such a movement, and mostly have come up with libertarian-leaning groups. They just need to field a candidate. Who knows, anything can happen in this political climate!

    I have mixed feelings on Sam Adams and the Boston Brewery. As Nate mentioned, Sam Koch is a model citizen, trail blazer, and good neighbor, at least as pertains to beer and brewing. He’s a beer guy. It’s people like him that I am finding to be the norm in the world of craft beer. Good stuff. His brewery was a launching pad for me into this very world of craft beer. I saw that there was an alternative to fizzy yellow “beer”. For that, I am thankful. My horizons are broader, and my life enriched by fellow beer lovers, brewers, and bloggers.

    On the flip side, I don’t buy their stuff. It’s available in Seattle, but I don’t really care much for their products these days. Most offerings from them leave a harshness on my palate that I don’t care for. It’s common across the majority of their flavors. In the end, it boils down to preference. My preference is for something different, but I will not let my personal tastes stand in the way of supporting the people that do much good in the craft beer community.

    I raise a pint to Sam Koch and his efforts.

    • June 17, 2010 at 4:33 pm #

      I agree with you about Boston Beer. I don’t really buy their stuff, but I appreciate what they have done and continue to do for the cause of good beer. I recently had their Cherry Wheat which was a treat, so I’m sure they make beers I like, but I rarely get the urge to pick up their stuff. Of course Utopias was magical, but it’s hard to find on the shelf.

  5. December 17, 2010 at 12:51 pm #

    Hey… no matter what, good beer is still good beer 😀

    • December 17, 2010 at 12:54 pm #

      Agreed. The small guys will get bigger, Sam Adams is just out front. As long as the beer is good, who cares how much they make?


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