Barley Mowat 

How Small Is Small Enough?

with 2 comments

Oh boy. THIS issue, eh? For those not attuned as keenly as I to the internal angst of the craft brewery business, the definition of “Microbrewery” is the subject of much intense debate. Some places (like BC), don’t even bother to officially define it, while others (like the US) have defined and re-defined it multiple times over the years.

What’s the fuss about? Ultimately, breweries are normally categorized by annual volume of production. As in, how much beer they make. This is measured in one of two amusing ways, both of them being pretty much unused outside of the brewing industry. These measures are either barrels (bbl) or hectoliters (hl).

No one seems quite sure which is the more appropriate measurement, so often you’ll see production values reported in both litres and barrels. Which itself is fairly silly because a beer barrel is roughly equivalent to a hectoliter. Seriously, 1 bbl = 1.15 hl by most definitions, although a “barrel” is about as well defined a term as a “pint” and we wind up with varying sizes from 96 litres all the way up to 160 litres, logically based upon what you’ve put in the barrel.

In this case it holds 1.
I tried for 2 but the cops were called.

And, of course, no barrel of any kind is defined in the Canadian Weights and Measures Act, meaning that if you try and sell stuff by the barrel, the Queen Herself will pop in, kick your ass then insist you remeasure that shit in litres.

But enough background. How much beer makes a microbrewery? The American Brewers Association uses the following definitions based on volume:

“Craft Brewery”: < 7,000,000 hl "Regional Brewery": < 2,300,000 hl "Micro Brewery": < 18,000 hl (Note, despite the name of the biggest category, all these types of breweries are considered "Craft Breweries" if they meet the criteria below) The value for Micro is even endorsed by CAMRA BC. To give some perspective to those numbers, if BC’s newest Craft Brewery (Hoyne) brewed a full batch in their brew kit every single day of the year (and lost nothing to spillage, bad batches, or steam), they’d hit about 9000 hl. So yeah, 18,000 hl is a lot of beer.

Volume alone isn’t the only requirement. To even start looking at those numbers above, breweries must also brew at least 50% of their volume in all malt beers (no cereal or corn), and only use adjuncts to enhance, rather than lighten the flavour (aka sugar is no good, but fruits are fine).

Then there’s the ownership question, a craft brewery must also not be more than 24% owned by another brewery who is not a craft brewery. Same for the owners, and so on, all the way up the chain. Basically you can’t be owned by Molson, or by a company that is owned by Molson, or by a company that is owned by a company who is owned by… etc.

So where am I going with this? I’m hopping the old #50 down to Granville Island with these definitions. Yup, Granville Island Brewing just can’t wait to tell you about what a wonderful MICROBREWERY they are, and boy, did you hear that they product CRAFT BEER? Seriously, go look at their website. You don’t make it very far before one of those two words is thrust in your face.

How do they measure up, now that we have some numbers? Well, I wouldn’t be talking about it if it was good. Take volume: Microbrewery: 18,000 hl or less. GIB: 60,000 hl (and boy that seems low for GIB). Surely they’re just a regional craft brewery then. What’s the big deal if they’ve exceeded the allow production cap… three times over? Well, let’s talk about dependance.

Yeah, they’re owned by Molson, who won’t admit to using non-malt cereals in their beer but also certainly won’t tell you what, exactly, IS in there (although they do admit to using corn in the low cal version). Also, they’re way over the absolute cap of 7 million hl. So GIB could shut down production tomorrow, then brew a single, tiny, can of shitty lager next year, and they still couldn’t claim to be a microbrewery. Except in BC, of course, where we don’t bother to define such terms.

We could give them credit if they made it so small it disappeared altogether, though, right?

Written by chuck

March 15th, 2012 at 8:17 pm

Posted in Beer and You,Breweries

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2 Responses to 'How Small Is Small Enough?'

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  1. I can’t wait to see the angst and gnashing of teeth caused when Stone or Dogfishhead or even Sierra Nevada breaks that 7 million hec barrier, and the people who care about such definitions get to debate whether or not the brewery is “craft” any more.

    To me, “micro” is a size, and “craft” is about the beer and the philosophy of brewing. There are plenty of micros that aren’t craft and plenty of craft breweries that are nowhere near micro anymore. It’s too bad we can’t come up with an objective definition of whether a brewery is worth a shit or not, and then we could officially draw a line between Us and Them.

    Ben Coli

    16 Mar 12 at 08:29

  2. @Ben Well, when I talked about the definitions being “revised” I sort of touched on it. The definitions are updated frequently, always upwards, and always in such a way as to keep the ‘good guys’ in the fold and the ‘bad guys’ out.

    It will be a long time before anyone crosses the ‘new’ line, though. Boston Beer Co, the largest “craft” brewery, is still at about 1.6 million hecs.

    But I agree that the volumes are bullshit (as is ownership… Goose Island is not a craft brewery?). Let’s organize breweries into tiers, or Crus, if you will, and review that annually. If only there was some other industry with a similar model we could adopt…


    16 Mar 12 at 08:50

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