There seems to be a lot of confusion about craft beer these days. Much of this confusion seems to be because of the popularity of craft beer. American craft joint bannercraft beer has exploded onto the scene to such an extent that you can walk into just about any bar be it a dive bar, local watering hole, strip mall saloon, dance club, strip club (hubba hubba), or booze serving restaurant and you’ll either see craft beer posters, taps, bottles in the cooler or listings in their menu.

The popularity of craft beer has resulted in craft breweries popping up all over the place with many towns sporting more than one brewery either of the brew on site brew bar variety or a little local brewery with their own tasting room.

Dazed and Confused Beer Drinkers

Adding to the confusion for many folks is the types of beers that are now easily found just about everywhere. It used to be easy. You ordered according to whatever big brewer brand beer you were most familiar with or the closest thing to that offered by the bar you were in at the moment. The only choice you had to wrestle with used to be was light beer. Should I drink light beer? All beer tastes the same (it doesn’t but keep reading) so maybe light beer is better for me or I won’t feel so full (no comment).

What?!?! Light Beer?!?!

If you are a light beer drinker…what the hell are you doing reading a craft beer column? Just kidding. Welcome to you and glad to have you here at Now, why are you here? Are you, perhaps, “craft curious” and want to see what the other side is like? If that is the case, good for you and all hope is not lost. Actually, there are plentiful lighter beers in the craft beer category and I believe anyone who enjoys beer can find a craft to their liking. Whether it is a lighter beer or not.

Back to the question at hand: What is craft beer?

I could beg the question and say that “craft beer is beer brewed by a craft brewery”. However, leaving it at that would be asinine and wouldn’t help anyone. Instead of rubbing anyone the wrong with evasive nonsense, I’d prefer we dig in just a bit and figure out what a craft brewery is so we can better define craft beer.

Calling on the Professionals

Let’s give it a shot. According to the Brewers Association, which is an American trade group composed of over 7000 craft beer and home brewing professionals, an American Craft Brewery is small, independent, and traditional. What a revelation! Do you now feel completely informed? I know that I don’t. So, it is time to dive a little deeper, drink a little more craft beer and figure out what an “American Craft Brewery” is so we can more accurately define what the hell a craft beer is.

To help us, I lifted some information from an official source. We’re down the rabbit hole already, so we may as well keep digging. The answer to our question must be somewhere.

Getting Small

Here comes the drum roll….Craft Breweries are small breweries! Small, I said, small. Okay, smart guy, just what is small to the Brewers Association?  To qualify as an American Craft Brewery, the brewery must produce less than 6 million beers annually. They must also adhere to the rules of alternating proprietorship which is an arrangement in which two or more people take turns using the physical premises of a brewery. Getting kind of technical, eh?

This “Small” category is broken down into sub-categories as follows.  Microbrewery, Brewpub,

Contract Brewing Company, Regional Craft Brewery, and Regional Brewery.

First, we’ll figure out how a brewery qualifies as a Microbrewery.


To be classified as a “Microbrewery”, you have to brew 15,000 barrels of beer or less every year. Of that craft beer the brewery produces, off site sales must be 75% or more. So, at least three-fourths of the beer produced cannot be sold on site by the brewery. Also, the microbrewery must sell their craft beer to the public using one of or a combination of the methods explained below.

It can be sold via the Three-Tier system which is a traditional method of beers sales where the brewery sells their beer to a wholesale and the wholesaler then sells the beer to the retailer. Finally, the retailer puts their stock of beer on display and sells it to thirsty consumers like you and me!

The next method cuts out a step (and a middleman) and is called, not surprisingly, the two-tier system. With this method, the brewer acts as the wholesaler. That’s the only difference from the three-tier method.

The final method choice is simply the brewery selling their tasty adult beverage directly to the thirsty public. This can be accomplished by selling beer in an on-site tap-room, restaurant, or even carry-outs.

That covers things for this week. Don’t worry, your craft beer curiosity will be sated if you have a little patience. Next time, I’ll finish up what I started this time and move on to some entertaining times and places drinking craft beer. See you then. JJ

Shield Yourself Now

John “Big John” Johnson is a serial fun seeker, a lover of craft beer, and enjoys all things adult beverage related. A dedicated online marketer and SEO, he has been described as “Peter Pan with German Work Ethic”. John is also a sleight of hand magician with serious chops, enjoys riding Harleys, practicing martial arts and travel.

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