Brewers Association director: ‘You better really kick ass at business’

As of May 2018, more than 3,400 U.S. craft brewing companies have adopted the independent craft brewer seal.

As of May 2018, more than 3,400 U.S. craft brewing companies have adopted the independent craft brewer seal.

RENO, Nev. — A year ago, on June 17, 2017, the national Brewers Association launched its “independent craft brewer seal” program.

According to the Boulder, Colo.-based trade group, 432 brewers signed on to use the seal the first day in an effort to dissociate their locally brewed products from “Big Beer” — the unofficial name given to the beer industry’s large corporations such as Anheuser-Busch InBev, MillerCoors, and Constellation Brands, among others.

Fast forward to today, and the number of local brewers adopting the seal has ballooned to more than 3,430 (as of May 22, 2018) — out of an estimated 5,600 brewers who represent more than 6,400 brewing locations across the country.

Locally, more than 69 percent of the Nevada’s 52 small and independent brewing companies have signed on to use the seal, according to the Brewers Association.

“With the increasing number of mergers and acquisitions of formerly independent brewers, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for U.S. craft brewers to gain access to market, and more difficult for the beer lover to discern who owns different beer brands,” Julia Herz, craft beer program director at the Brewers Association, wrote about the seal in a July 2017 Brewers Association article. “The seal provides clarity by certifying that a brewery displaying the seal is in fact small and independent.”

Per the Brewers Association, while craft brewers represent 99 percent of the breweries in the U.S., they make just 12 percent of the beer sold; as such, Herz wrote, “the ability to differentiate is proving to be desirable.”

As the existence of the independent craft brewer seal — and the accompanying #seektheseal social media campaign — marks its one-year anniversary this month, the Northern Nevada Business View spoke with Herz for a brief Q-and-A about the seal and the craft brewing industry in general:

Question: Why is it important for craft breweries to separate themselves from “Big Beer”?

Herz: The logo and the upside down bottle, it’s all about differentiation and transparency. Beer lovers are not always able to tell whether they are purchasing from a large conglomerate brewery or instead a local independent brewery. So we’re just flipping the scripts so people know if (their beer) is truly a local, independent beer ... It’s the best time in our country’s history to be a beer lover. But craft brewers are feeling the squeeze more and more, and they have the right to let the beer lover know who owns the brewery.

Q: What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the independent craft brewing scene in Northern Nevada over the next few years?

Herz: It’s similar to every state — you have disproportionate taxes, for one ... and the majority of distributors in the United States are owned or controlled by Big Beer. While some states offer self-distribution licenses, for states that don’t have self-distribution (one of which is Nevada), it’s definitely a challenge to show demand in the marketplace. It’s harder to get on the restaurant menu, harder to get on the shelf.”

Q: On the other hand, what is the biggest opportunity for the independent craft brewing scene?

Herz: Absolutely it is to continue to innovate and evolve and advance the beverage of beer, and then grow the demand of independent craft beer … to continue to be the bright spot in beer and advance our place as community citizens. In 2016, it was estimated that local independent brewers made $73.4 million in donations to their local communities. It’s important that breweries are very ingrained in their communities, and that they continue to be real positive bright spots for business.

Q: What advice would you give to anyone seeking to open a craft brewing business these days?

Herz: Anyone opening a brewery needs to have a dose of realism. Whenever you’re opening anything dealing with alcoholic beverages, it’s a business dealing in the highest of taxes — craft brewers are disproportionately taxed, we always say — and it’s the most compliance of any type of business, because you’re dealing with regulations at the city, county, state and federal levels. Basically, you better really kick ass at business, in addition to making world class quality beer.


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