The term Craft Beer may be in need of a makeover. The Union-Tribune reported this week that Bend, Oregon's 10 Barrel Brewing Co. has proposed a 10,000-square-foot brewpub in East Village. In response, local beer industry podcasters have doubled down on a push to describe independently owned breweries as Indie Beer companies, rather than craft.
Not because 10 Barrel hails from Oregon but because in 2014 the company was purchased by AB InBev, the conglomerate responsible for one-third of the planet's beer supply, including core brands Budweiser, Corona, and Stella Artois. It owns 10 Barrel brewpubs in Oregon and Idaho and recently announced plans for one in Denver.
The podcasters' believe consumers who patronize 10 Barrel brewpubs mistakenly believe they are supporting small business rather than a global entity.
The Indie Beer designation (and social media hashtag) arose during a November 17 podcast on ThreeBZine.com, a blog devoted to local beer, music, and food. During a discussion about Ballast Point's billion-dollar sale to Constellation Brands, podcasters Cody Thompson, Dustin Lothspeich, and Tom Pritchard decried the efforts of "Big Beer" to enter the craft beer marketplace, including other recent purchases of longstanding craft brands Lagunitas, Elysian, and Golden Road.
"Is craft beer even a thing any more, or is it just marketing?" asked Pritchard. "It's been appropriated by corporations." Taking a cue from the concept of Indie Rock in the music industry, the trio settled on Indie Beer as a way to distinguish small, privately owned businesses.
"Big beer has been purchasing up breweries and producing beers in a way to masquerade around as 'craft beer,'" says Thompson, who also responded to the 10 Barrel news in a blog post as "Yet another attempt to deceive and confuse the beer drinking public."
ThreeBZine's use of Indie Beer was quickly picked up by fellow podcasters Perfect Pour, out of Fresno, and SD BeerTalk. BeerTalk co-hosts Greg Homyak and Brian Beagle have been active in promoting the Indie Beer concept, locally and online.
"It immediately resonated with me as a craft beer drinker," says Homyak, who points to the 10 Barrel brewpub as a prime example of the need for new terminology. "It is something that looks like Independent Beer and will sell itself as that, but in actuality it is not."
The podcasters hope the term will encourage local beer fans to support small businesses like Monkey Paw Brewing, which sits just a block from the proposed 10 Barrel site. Monkey Paw owner Scot Blair also addressed the dilution of the term "craft" in a January newsletter sent to patrons of his South Park taproom Hamilton's Tavern. He declares "Craft is dead," and says the encroachment of big beer is "making it impossible to not find new terms to define things that I do versus AB or giant restaurant groups."
Blair suggests reviving the term Micro as well as Indie, pledging, "We will continue to make top-shelf, award-winning, world-class indie beer for our beloved fans of micro brew."