The debate in Australia around ‘What is Craft Beer’ has taken a sharp turn, with the Craft Beer Industry Association (CBIA) effectively ousting brands owned and linked to major brewers.
The CBIA yesterday announced a “membership reform agenda” that would focus on the independence of brewers of the sector. It plans to “re-define membership eligibility” based on private ownership, moving away from the drawn-out argument of the ‘definition’ of craft beer*.
Although there are said to be hundreds of start-up, artisan brewers now operating in Australia that have not seen fit to join the CBIA, siding with this ideal has meant alienating plenty of the brands that put Australian craft beer in the minds of consumers.
CBIA’s announcement coincided with that of Lion brewing legend Chuck Hahn, who reluctantly relayed news of resignation from the Association of Malt Shovel (James Squire), Little Creatures and White Rabbit – all owned by Lion, which in turn is owned by Japanese-based Kirin.
“We have great respect for the CBIA and have supported it since its beginning – however, we believe the current internal focus on ‘big vs. small’ is divisive and a distraction from more important issues and opportunities facing the brewing industry.”
Hahn’s statement expressed disappointment that the CBIA has gone down the path of defining ‘craft’ as being about “who owns what” rather than the qualities of great beer. He also notes that James Squire was created under Lion ownership but deliberately independent, before benefitting from its scale and distribution.
“[We] believe it is short-sighted for the craft sector to be squabbling amongst ourselves. We should be working together to build craft in Australia – feeding off one another’s success as we always have done – rather than confusing beer drinkers into thinking ownership structure has any impact on the quality of what they’re drinking.”
Acclaimed brewer, craft brewing judge and director of the Institute of Beer, Neal Cameron, told PubTIC there are a lot of people pissed off about the change of tack.
“No-one has done more to help craft beer in Australia than Chuck. They’re excluding people that love beer more than anyone else.
“Beer is about people, about inclusion, about good beer culture. There are people in Lion that have done more for good beer culture than anyone I know.”
The CBIA plans to propose a new board structure and new name reflecting the new direction at an Extraordinary General Meeting, during Good Beer Week in Melbourne.
The re-direction has already seen Little Creatures’ Ash Cranston resign as the CBIA’s National Craft Brewer representative, and beyond Lion’s stable, CUB’s Matilda Bay, CCA’s Australian Beer Company and even Mountain Goat, bought in late 2015 by Asahi, will all likely fall outside the new criteria.
“The entire focus of the CBIA is on ensuring it is an industry association that supports the brewing businesses that need it. It would be unexpected if Lion believed they needed our help,” said the Association’s statement.
“There are now more than 400 independent brewers in Australia, facing many challenges unique to the small, independent end of the market. The CBIA looks forward to advocating further for the interests of our members as a clear and focused voice for independent brewers and, where our interests align, working alongside the nation’s multi-national brewers.”
By contrast, Hahn suggests the industry’s strength is in the hands of the drinkers, who actually care more about quality and variety.
“[If] we measure brewers by their scale, and they need investment to achieve that scale, what message are we sending them – if drinkers love your beer and you grow as a result you are no longer a legitimate brewer?”
*In America, the Brewers Association defines American craft brewers as ”small, independent and traditional”. The ‘small’ means annual production of 6 million barrels of beer or less. ‘Independent’ means it is at least 75 per cent owned or controlled by a craft brewer. ‘Traditional’ refers to brewing using at least 50 per cent “traditional or innovative” ingredients.