Beers like Blue Moon, Shock Top, and Goose Island may sound—and even taste—like "craft" beers. But technically, they're not. Shock Top and Goose Island are controlled by Anheuser-Busch Inbev, one of four global mega-brewers. And, Blue Moon is part of Tenth and Blake, owned by SABMiller/MillerCoors. They have craft characteristics, you might say. Yet they don't fit the official definition set by the Brewers Association, which decides what is and isn't craft. To qualify officially, the brewer must be "small" (producing no more than 6 million barrels a year), "independent" (no more than 25% ownership by a non-craft brewer), and "traditional" (no "flavored malt beverages").
For customers who care where their ale comes from, knowing what's what is hard. Which is why two beer fans called Barrett Garese and Rudy Jahchan created Craft Check, an app that sorts craft from crafty. You simply scan a beer's barcode or packaging, or look up the name in the search engine, and get the answer. If it's something like Blue Moon, the app will say: "Careful! What you've got there is an imitation craft brew from one of the big guys. It's got all the soul of a spreadsheet. Crafty, but not Craft."
"Unless you’re shopping at a really great and really unique shop, it’s a good bet that 85% or so of the beers there aren’t genuine craft beers from authentic craft breweries, no matter how often they use the word 'craft' on the label," Garese says. "Shock Top is from 'Shock Top Brewing Company' in St. Louis, only because many of Anheuser-Busch Inbev’s beers are brewed in St. Louis. There’s certainly no Shock Top Brewery that you can visit or tour."
It's easy to see why the "big guys," which also include Heineken and Carlsberg, have started acquiring craft breweries or developing their own brands. The margins tend to be higher, and craft has been gaining in popularity. Real craft breweries now have 7.8% of the total sales, according to the Brewers Association, but generate about double that in revenue share.
Craft Check has 3,500 entries in its database, each one giving details about the brewer and whether it fits craft criteria. There's only an iPhone version at the moment, but Garese promises the Android edition will be out "soon." For fans of real beer, it can't come quickly enough.
[Image: Beers via Flickr user Radioedit]