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Brewers Association sheds more light on its recent decision to redefine ‘small brewery’

Submitted by on January 6, 2011 – 10:45 am3 Comments

Brewers Association sheds more light on small-brewery redefinition, photo by Gerard WalenProduction growth at Boston Beer Company was a factor in the not-for-profit Brewers Association’s board of directors recent redefinition of a “small brewery”  as one that produces 6 million barrels per year, up from the previous upper threshold of 2 million bbl per year. But two Brewers Association officials interviewed this week by Road Trips for Beer said eliminating Boston Beer from the craft beer statistics would hurt all small brewers, and they shed some light on how the association comes up with its production numbers.

Julia Herz, craft beer program director, said in a phone interview that under the revised definition, no existing brewers will now be considered small breweries that were not already considered such under the previous limits.

“No other breweries are affected by this, other than Boston Beer Company,” she said.

During the interview, Herz did not have the exact 2009 production numbers for Boston Beer, founded in 1984 by current Chairman Jim Koch, but said later in a Twitter message that, according to the association’s May/June 2010 New Brewer publication, beer production at the brewer of Samuel Adams was estimated at 1,841,348 bbls in 2009.

Brewery production estimates for 2010 are being compiled now, she said. An overview of the craft beer industry in general will be released in February. Estimates for specific breweries will be published in the May issue of New Brewer, which is available for purchase through the association’s website.

The association’s stated purpose is “to promote and protect small and independent American brewers, their craft beers and the community of brewing enthusiasts.”

It uses a variety of data to compile the annual numbers, according to Paul Gatza, Brewers Association director.

“Generally we make our best estimate based on scan data from supermarkets, convenience, drug and liquor stores or on-premise information sources,” Gatza said in an email to Road Trips for Beer. “That was my source of the estimate through 2009.”

In the publicly traded Boston Beer Company’s (NYSE: SAM) 2009 annual report to stockholders, the company wrote that “For the first time, we surpassed the two million barrel mark, which includes Samuel Adams beers and our allied brands Twisted Tea, Longshot American Homebrew Contest beers, and Hardcore Cider.”

Combined, these “core products,” accounted for 2.02 million bbl in 2009.

The BA’s definition of “Craft Brewer”  says that “Flavored malt beverages are not considered beer for purposes of this definition,” which would exclude the company’s Twisted Tea line.

Growth Predictions

Brewers Association sheds more light on small-brewery redefinition, photo by Gerard WalenBoston Beer said in a December statement that it anticipates a 12 percent increase in shipments of core products for 2010. The Twisted Tea products are one of the company’s fastest-growing segments, but if the 12 percent figure were applied across the board, it would mean the company’s beer production could have already topped 2 million bbl in 2010.

In a June 8 New York Times article, “Small Brewer Outgrowing Label,” Koch was attributed as predicting that Boston Beer would pass the 2 million bbl mark by 2012.

Gatza says that previous estimates could be off, though.

“It was widely reported that Jim in a speech in Chicago in 2010 said that Twisted Tea is ‘two-thirds the size of New Belgium,’ which would put this portion of (Flavored Malt Beverage) volume in the vicinity of 400k bbls,” he said. “Those numbers tell me that I was likely overstating the amount of beer production and I will likely lower past year barrel counts when we do our annual statistical issue of The New Brewer. So my previous estimates of their beer volume were likely on the high end.”

In answer to a follow-up question, Gatz said the details of Koch’s Chicago speech were published in Beer Marketers Insights, Insights Express (Oct. 5, 2010) and Beer Business Daily (Oct. 5, 2010), members-only trade publications that do not make their articles available to the general public and that he did not have permission to forward.

The Sam Adams Factor

Brewers Association sheds more light on small-brewery redefinition, photo by Gerard WalenIf Boston Beer continues its growth trajectory, it will likely pass the 2 million bbl mark within a year or two. But Gatza said that the decision to redefine “small brewery” was made to benefit the craft brewing industry as a whole.

“Boston Beer’s situation and other companies that will possibly grow beyond 2 million bbls someday did factor into the discussion,” he said “Craft brewers often discuss getting to 10 percent market share as a group, and that would become very difficult if the most successful breweries get removed from the statistics each time a company outgrew the segment definition.”

According to the association’s website, craft brewing’s share of total U.S. beer sales in 2009 was 4.3 percent by volume and 6.9 percent by dollars. Boston Beer’s share remains tiny, at less than 1 percent of the 205.68 million bbl produced in 2009, and it likely will be many years before its production approaches the association’s new threshold.

Koch sits on the association’s board of directors as an at-large member, but Gatza was not specific about what role Koch might have played in the decision.

“Jim’s work on the BA board may or may not have been a minor factor,” he said. “Each member of the board votes based on what they think is best for the craft community and the association. In his board member hat, he participates in our government affairs, PR & marketing and pipeline committees, and he has been a significant contributor.”

Gatza emphasized the importance of Boston Beer as a leader in the industry, pointing to the company’s efforts over the years in boosting awareness for craft brewed beers and its support of other small brewers.

“They really helped out other craft brewers get hops during the hop crisis three years ago by doing a raffle of their surplus hops at cost,” he said. “I suspect that this change would have happened if Jim were on the board or not.”

Politics in the nation’s capital came into play as well. The association has been part of an effort to lower excise taxes on small brewers, which they hope will make it easier for craft brewers to become profitable and gain some relief from onerous regulations that hinder their growth.

“Another big factor in my mind was that the change aligned our government affairs efforts with our voting member status,” Gatza said. “We support a bill that has a 6 million-bbl qualifier for a small brewer tax differential, yet our bylaws capped voting rights at 2 million bbls.”

As it stands now, any craft brewery that surpasses the 2 million bbl production mark would no longer be eligible for the current federal excise tax break given to small brewers, which applies to the first 60,000 bbl produced each year.

What’s Ahead?

Brewers Association sheds more light on small-brewery redefinition, photo by Gerard WalenHerz said she foresees much positive news for craft beer in 2011.

“It’s history in the making,” she said, pointing out the growing trend of beer-food pairing dinners and restaurants’ expansion of craft beer offerings and predicting that trend will continue. “The opportunity I see here is that even the tiniest brewery benefits,” Herz said. “They’ll grow in recognition, notoriety and attention from the media.” Keeping Boston Beer in the craft-beer category will help further that trend.

“If Boston Beer were no longer part of our craft statistics,” Gatza said, “every craft brewer who seeks more shelf space could be punished in the market because they are part of a segment that then would have lower market share and find it harder to justify that shelf space.”

3 Comments »

  • [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Gerard Walen. Gerard Walen said: RTFB exclusive: Brewers Association sheds more light on its recent decision to redefine ‘small brewery’ http://bit.ly/fEQl1b [...]

  • Gerard,

    First of all…this is a fantastic article…packed with more information and detail than what I’m typically used to in a posting…this is a good thing! :)

    Also, it’s interesting to see the follow up you did on this article, I’ve heard some talk here and there about this subject and even had a chat on the phone with a craft beer friend of mine…but no one really followed up on it. So this is fantastic to read about in DETAIL!

    I have to say this about me personally however…I hold a very “passionate” stance on this entire issue of small or big brewery talk. The kind of talk that tends to determine whether or not you’re a craft brewery, a good quality one blah blah blah.

    I just don’t much care for the method used to determine a breweries craft beer, micro or macro status. In fact I just think a lot of it is out right bureaucratic nonsense.

    Who didn’t see this coming? We all knew for a while that the craft beer industry is not just gaining a foot hold in market share and exposure, but growing rapidly. The industry as a whole is evolving, and it’s time the once held “standards” of craft or small good quality brewery judgment is tossed away. Not just altered…but completely tossed away. I don’t see why Sam Adams should be labeled as a completely separate type of brewery that will only hurt it’s image (in my personal opinion) when compared to the likes of DogFishHead, Stone, Oskar Blues etc.

    I’m not one of those under the belief that only the smaller guys produce good quality beer…or even the best. The only reason that I care about things like out put and growth is that I can visually see the numbers and the increased reach of craft beer. Otherwise, the idea of big, small, craft, macro, micro etc doesn’t really venture into my mind. We know the good guys from the bad, and I see no reason why the guys can’t go big and still be amazing.

    I know this was just slightly off the actual topic of things, but it kinda borders it. For me, it’s more of a “why do we even care?” type of issue.

    Gerard, AWESOME POST! I think it brings a lot of things to mind and the details that filled in on this break out story are just perfect. Totally loved it! :)

    Ilya

  • Gerard Walen says:

    Ilya,

    Thanks for the thoughtful comment. I agree with much of what you say, in the sense that when it comes down to it, I divide my tastes into “Beer I Like” and “Beer I Don’t Like,” and there are macros and micros in both categories.

    That said, I applaud the efforts of the Brewers Association, and I think it’s important to have a group like this to support what it defines as “craft beer,” mainly because of the distribution and regulatory hurdles that small brewers face.

    But as far as the size of a brewer or what company owns it, that doesn’t really come into play that much with my personal tastes, though I’d have to say that the best beers are made by the small brewers. But saying that you must wage war against the large companies in order to support the small ones is a little too black-and-white for my tastes. Life is shades of gray.

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