Drink Magazine

‘Nobody’ Cares About Independence in Beer

By Bryan Roth @bryandroth
‘Nobody’ Cares About Independence in Beer

OK clickbait LOL headline is a J/K

Sort of.

Over on Good Beer Hunting today I've got a think piece that works to deconstruct the word choice beer enthusiasts have been obsessing over in recent months. "Craft" ... "independent" ... "good" ... what does it mean? Who (actually) cares?

According to the Brewers Association, craft drinkers do. But even then, that may be a bit of a misleading assumption. For all the surveys and polls that now focus on word choice and feeling toward use of "independence," we're still missing evidence of how that matters to *all* drinkers, not just beer lovers who walk right by BMC beers in the grocery store.

Consider it from the perspective of volume, because while the ratio of drinkers who care about what independence means does matter, it is still mutually exclusive from the outlook of how the Brewers Association defines their success of *volume* of total market share. After all, they aren't noting the total number of "craft" beer drinkers with their annual reports (aside from the fact that would be impossible) ... they present success in terms of overall year-to-year growth, partially determined by the total amount of BA-defined "craft" beer sold.

In that case, 12.3% of volume is BA-defined "craft." Of that number, it would be a mathematical impossibility to declare that all of that amount is sold because shoppers choose a product due to who or what is "independent," especially when the BA points at quality (and taste, presumably) as cornerstones.

A recent survey reported in Business Insider makes things a bit murkier: 45% of respondents said independence didn't matter at all. But for sake of conservative argument, let's extrapolate these results and say that 55% of craft volume is decided by whether a business is BA-defined "independent" or not. In this instance, that means that 6.7% of beer volume - at the presumed absolute maximum - would be purchased because it comes from a business defined as "independent" by a trade organization that sets its own standards for what that word means.

In which case 93.3% of beer sold in the U.S. does not.

And that's why we need to be more reflective when making blanket statements about America's beer drinking public, not even considering the lack of statistical significance that comes from biased audience response, laid out in this op-ed. Lots of people are passionate about beer, but we shouldn't assume beer is a passion of all those who consume it.

Even across New England's five states, a recent survey showed best selling beers are dominated by macro brands, with the exception of Vermont's fierce passion for all things local.

There is a real difference between supporting the thematic idea of "independence" and its specific relation to a particular product. In general, American consumers like independence because it imbues trust. "In advanced consumer economies, consumers are buying on the basis of their interpretation of the product and its story," Stanford Graduate School of Business professor Glenn Carroll said of 2014 findings related to authenticity, adding an example that when craft breweries began to proliferate, they were viewed as being more authentic by consumers who felt they were reestablishing tradition and creating community.

Word choice matters, whether it's from a business or our own mouths.

Bryan Roth
"Don't drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life." - Jack Kerouac

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