Craft beer's declaration of independence

Check the label for Brewers Association seal depicting upended bottle

A rendering of the new certified independent seal
  • A rendering of the new certified independent seal
  • photo courtesy of the Brewers Association

The movement to promote independent beer got another boost this week as the Brewers Association national craft-beer trade group unveiled its plan to distribute a "certified independent craft" logo to breweries not owned by multinational beer corporations.

This comes just weeks after the San Diego Brewers Guild introduced a window decal with similar intentions that would allow independently owned San Diego breweries and affiliated businesses to inform consumers of their not-big-beer status. However, the Brewers Association seal is intended for product packaging — bottles, cans, six-pack carriers, and the like.

According to Brewers Association president and CEO Bob Pease, the seal was more than a year in development. "We've been talking about it longer than that," he adds. "We started to hear a couple of years ago from [our members] that there was a lot of confusion… That it would benefit them if there was an easy way for a beer drinker to identify independent breweries in the marketplace."

The seal "captures the spirit with which craft brewers have upended beer."

The seal "captures the spirit with which craft brewers have upended beer."

The seal is available to the association's 3800 paid members and to non-members who meet its criteria as independent craft brewers making fewer than six million barrels of beer annually. The seal depicts an upside-down beer bottle that, according to the press release announcing it, "captures the spirit with which craft brewers have upended beer" as an industry.

In coming up with the black-and-white bottle design, Pease explains, "We called about 40-50 different brewery owners of different size, different geography, and business models…and got some good direction and good feedback." He says it was also presented to 400 association members at its annual Craft Brewers Conference held in Washington DC this spring, meeting with a positive response.

Pease explains the development of the seal also required legal planning. First, the seal had to be trademarked. Breweries must sign a licensing agreement to use it, which requires a timely phase-out in the event they no longer meet Brewers Association criteria.

The association also lobbied the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), the federal oversight agency that typically must approve of any label changes before a beer may be sold. Consequently, Pease reports that adding the new seal to existing label designs will not require breweries to re-submit existing labels. "We have in writing from the TTB that a brewer that wants to add our seal to their label will not need a new certificate of approval," he says.

In just the first two days the seal was available, the Brewers Association received more than 700 requests from the more than 5000 qualifying breweries nationwide. Several San Diego breweries have already said they will add the seal in future label and packaging orders. Companies including Modern Times Beer, Second Chance Beer Company, New English Brewing, and Karl Strauss indicate they expect to incorporate the seal on their labels by the end of this year.

"We think it's important that the beer drinker has the ability to know who's independent and who's not," says Pease, citing a recent Nielsen study indicating the "independent" terminology "resonates" with 81% of craft beer consumers. "Supporting an American entrepreneur who's risked everything," he adds, "we want to fight to preserve and protect that."

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