Montana Brewers Association Wades Into The Craft Versus Crafty Quagmire

The Brewers Association (that’s the big, national one, not the Montana one) recently stirred up a major backlash when its op-ed piece appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on December 13, 2012.  The piece was written by

So, I was a bit surprised to see the same op-ed piece – altered to include Montana specific details – appear in the Great Falls Tribune this week.  This time, the authors were listed as Charlie Papazian, Bob Pease and Tony Herbert, Executive Director of the Montana Brewers Association. 

Tony Herbert does a nice job adding Montana details explaining the economic impact of the Montana’s brewing industry and otherwise encouraging support for local breweries. Yet, the heart of the “craft versus crafty” debate that caused a major stir throughout the brewing and beer blogging world remains front and center.

My thoughts on the subject (which include links to more of the reaction) ended up being our year-end close-out post on December 31.  Read it, if you like, or take the easy way out and stay here for the point: distinguishing between craft and non-craft brewers is no longer as easy as choosing between bitter, crummy, yellow fizz and wonderfully delicious “craft” beer.

When August Schell emigrated from Germany and founded the brewery in 1860, he had to use the the ingredients available to him, including corn.  Corn was not used to cheapen the beer, but because it was the only way to brew a high quality lager beer in America.  Thus, Jace asks, why is August Schell being punished by the Brewers Association for using an ingredient which “started out of necessity, and has continued out of tradition?”

Case in point: I recently traded two Ivan the Terrible Imperial Stouts from our local Big Sky Brewing Co. (a craft brewer) for two Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stouts from Chicago’s Goose Island Beer Co. (a non-craft brewer). Yes, I am somewhat conflicted that Goose Island, brewers of the Bourbon County Brand lineup, is now owned by AB-InBev and I worry about it’s future.  But that stuff is freakishly good. (The Ivan is damn good as well.)  I’ve met some of the Goose Island brewers and they’re not evil, corporate robots.

We are in the midst of a Montana legislative session that once again proves logic often escapes political debate.  The Montana Brewers Association is actively working the halls, looking out for all Montana breweries whether members or not.   Although the Montana brewing industry contributed almost $50 million to Montana’s economy in 2011 alone, some legislators are more than willing to stifle the industry with restrictive, damaging regulation.  That is a far more important and pressing issue than worrying about the craft versus crafty debate.

Support small and independent craft brewers across Montana?  Check. No one needs to tell us how important that is.  Help give them a chance to thrive? Check.  Create more jobs? Check.  Boost the economy? Check.  These are the reasons the MBA exists.  They are well worth thinking about when we choose what to drink, but not with blind adherence to the “craft versus crafty” line in the sand drawn by the Brewers Association (the big one).