"Beer Industry Controversies: Exploring the Debates Around Craft Beer, Sustainability, and More"

Saturday, February 11, 2023

As the world gets bigger and the beer brews get better, there is money to be made in beer sales.

And when there’s money, the sharks, vultures and ratbags come out too play.

That has resulted in a variety of contentious issues that are debated among industry players and beer enthusiasts alike. From the definition of "craft beer" to concerns around environmental sustainability and the health effects of alcohol consumption, the beer brewing industry is a complex and often controversial field.

While home brewing allows for experimentation and creativity, it is important to be aware of the wider context in which the industry operates and the real-world issues that impact the beer community.

In this context, you may wish to have a greater understanding of the various controversies and debates that exist within the beer brewing industry. This might help you to make informed decisions about what you may wish to brew to brew, buy, and how to participate in the industry as a whole.

Here are 9 issues to ponder

What is the definition of craft beer?

When is beer not a beer? When it's a craft beer! The definition of craft beer has been a contentious issue within the beer brewing industry for many years. 

The Brewers Association, a trade group representing small and independent craft breweries in the United States, defines a craft brewery as one that produces less than 6 million barrels of beer per year, is independently owned, and uses traditional brewing techniques. 

Conversely industry pundits argue that the definition is too limiting and does not accurately reflect the diversity of the industry. For example, some breweries that use non-traditional ingredients or techniques are excluded from the craft beer label. 

Notable figures in the industry, such as beer writer Michael Jackson and former Boston Beer Company CEO Jim Koch, have voiced their opinions on the issue, with Koch stating that the term "craft" should be based on quality, not on a specific set of production criteria.

We personally believe craft brewing means small to medium sized enterprises that are not under corporate control. 

In spirit anyway. 

Use of 'adjuncts' such as rice and corn.

Did you know the Germans took their beer so seriously that made laws about how beer was to be made? The Purity Law of X mean that beer could only contain water, hops, malt and yeast. 

So what happens when the big beer barons want to add rice and corn to beer. 

Is that cheating?

The use of adjuncts in beer recipes has been a controversial topic, with some brewers arguing that they are necessary for achieving certain flavor profiles or for cost efficiency, while others believe that they detract from the purity of the beer. 

Notable examples of adjuncts include rice in some American light lagers, and maize in some Belgian lambics. In recent years, some craft breweries have been experimenting with the use of non-traditional ingredients, such as fruits, spices, and even insects, leading to further debate about what constitutes "real" beer.

It's our view corn and rice is a cheat, adding things like spices is not a cheat. That said, pumpkin based beers should be banned across the board. 
beer controversy issues

Beer distribution and market access 

Small, independent breweries have faced increasing challenges in getting their beer to market due to the consolidation of distribution channels and the dominance of large, multinational brewing companies. 

Some breweries have accused distributors of unfair business practices, such as price fixing and market manipulation. 

In response, some US states have implemented "taproom laws" that allow breweries to sell their beer on-site and bypass the traditional three-tier distribution system.

Taproom laws are regulations that govern the sale and consumption of beer on the premises of a brewery. These laws vary from state to state and even from city to city, and can have a significant impact on the ability of breweries to operate and grow their business. 

In general, taproom laws determine how much beer a brewery can sell directly to consumers, whether they are allowed to serve food or operate a restaurant, and what hours they are permitted to be open.

Many states have relaxed their taproom laws in recent years in response to the growing popularity of craft beer and the desire of consumers to visit and support their local breweries. Some states now allow breweries to sell a certain amount of beer directly to consumers on site, and to operate taprooms or tasting rooms where visitors can sample and purchase beer. 

This has helped to spur the growth of small, independent breweries and has created new opportunities for entrepreneurs and beer enthusiasts alike

Of course entry into the beer market is relatively simple and it's what economists call a 'perfect market', that being low barriers to entry... so if you're going to run with the big boys, you'll need a stand-out product. 

The sourcing and availability of local ingredients

Some consumers and industry members are advocating for the use of locally sourced ingredients in beer production, arguing that it supports local economies and promotes environmental sustainability.

That makes sense...

sexism beer
Sexism in the industry?
There is debate over whether locally sourced ingredients are always the best choice for quality and consistency. Some breweries, such as Sierra Nevada and New Belgium, have established their own farms to grow hops and other ingredients, while others work with local farmers to source ingredients.

But what if you were a brewer in NZ and wanted some American hops - what's the big deal eh?

The cost to the natural environmental by beer brewing

The environmental impact of beer production and consumption is a growing concern for many consumers and industry players. 

The beer industry is a major user of water, and some breweries are implementing water conservation measures to reduce their usage. 

Additionally, waste management and carbon emissions are other environmental issues that are being addressed by some breweries, such as New Belgium's use of renewable energy sources and Deschutes Brewery's composting program.

Surely hops production acts as a carbon sink though right? 

beer hops


The alcohol content in beer and health effects on drinkers

The health effects of alcohol consumption and the appropriateness of marketing and selling high-alcohol beers is a controversial issue for some consumers and health advocates. Some countries like NZ have rules about how alcohol can be advertised. 

In recent years, there has been a trend towards the production of high-alcohol beers, sometimes reaching up to 20% ABV or higher. Some argue that these beers are a niche product enjoyed by a small subset of consumers, while others worry that they promote binge drinking and contribute to alcohol-related health problems. 

For example, in 2019, the New York State Liquor Authority denied a request by a brewery to sell a beer with 18.5% ABV, citing concerns about public health and safety. This is at odds with the ABV content of whiskey... 

Use of artificial ingredients in  commercial brewing

In addition to the question of using adjuncts, the use of artificial ingredients and additives in beer production is a topic of debate among industry players and consumers who are concerned with the purity and authenticity of the product. 

Some breweries use artificial sweeteners, coloring agents, or flavors to enhance or modify the taste of their beer, while others argue that these ingredients detract from the natural flavors and quality of the beer. 

For example, in 2018, the Brewer's Association updated their guidelines to require that beers labeled as "juicy" or "hazy" must contain at least some natural ingredients, in an effort to combat the use of artificial flavors and additives in these styles. 

Notable figures in the industry, such as Dogfish Head founder Sam Calagione, have spoken out against the use of artificial ingredients, while others argue that some additives are necessary to achieve certain flavors or consistency in the beer.

So there we have it. 

While the beer brewing industry faces its fair share of controversial issues, it is important to remember that there are many ways in which beer enthusiasts and home brewers can make a positive impact.

By being mindful of the ingredients and processes used in brewing, as well as the environmental and social implications of the industry, individuals can help to promote sustainability, diversity, and inclusivity within the beer community. 

Additionally, being aware of the debates and controversies surrounding craft beer and the wider brewing industry can help individuals make informed choices about what they consume and how they engage with the industry as a whole. With this in mind, the beer brewing industry can continue to evolve and thrive in a way that is both responsible and enjoyable for everyone involved.


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