Craft beer is dead. At least in Australia.
The organisation representing Australia’s brewers took huge steps last month, kicking out any brewery that was not independently-owned and changing its name from the Craft Beer Industry Association to the Independent Brewers Association.
Kicking out the likes of Little Creatures and Malt Shovel was controversial but the genuine independent brewers across the ditch were adamant their values and needs were at loggerheads with companies owned by the likes of Lion and Carlton & United (CUB).
The most obvious point of conflict is tied taps, which seems to be a bigger problem in Australia than New Zealand, with an estimated 90 per cent of taps contracted to Lion or CUB.
It makes sense. It’s hard to lobby government bodies such as the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (their equivalent of our Commerce Commission) on the anti-competitive nature of tied taps while some of your biggest, and most influential, members are all in favour of such practices.
Other concerns were around buyouts of small breweries and the lack of transparency for the consumer as to which breweries were truly independent – often a vital decision-making factor in beer purchases.
The killing of “craft” as a descriptor for the industry body was about changing the language and using an adjective (independent) which those breweries can own. “Craft” can be used by anyone – it’s as meaningless as “gourmet” or “healthy” in the food industry. Independent has real meaning.
Could New Zealand’s Brewers Guild go the same way and boot out the big boys, which have their own Brewers Association to represent their needs? There have been closer ties in recent years between the under-funded Brewers Guild and BA, with good results achieved on behalf of all brewers at government level.
But New Zealand’s Japan- and Dutch-owned breweries have far different interests than smaller, independent breweries, so having separate bodies representing those varying needs makes sense. And it needn’t come at the expense of co-operation on industry-wide issues such as excise duty.
And if we can do anything to end the use of “craft” as a signpost for good beer, that would be a win too.