When does a craft brewery stop being a craft brewery?
I’ve asked this question to a lot of people, and I’ve gotten a lot of answers. One of the most common being “when their beer starts tasting like shit.”
I do not disagree with this statement, although I have tried many a brew that I particularly didn’t care for, but I still considered it craft.
For me, a craft brewery stops being a craft brewery when they sell out to one of the Big 3 (or is it Big 2 now? I seriously don’t know).
Unfortunately, while doing my research for ACBW, I discovered that a source of pride for my Wisconsin drinking bone, Leinenkugel’s, is actually owned by MillerCoors. Miller doesn’t run the brewery – thankfully they left it in the perfectly capable hands of the Leinenkugel family – but they hold the very rights to the excellent beers that come out of Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. My heart is officially broken.
I feel a little odd that I didn’t know this already, since Leinie’s has been a part of Miller since the late 1980s, but it’s not really a talking point for anyone I know, and I don’t spend a lot of time reading labels.
So then I have to ask myself, does this make Leinenkugel’s any less of craft brewery? And honestly, my answer is going to have to be…no.
This is a brewery with a rich family history dating back to Germany in the late 1700’s. They consistently put out excellent beers that have only gotten better year after year, and that don’t insult the tastebuds or the intelligence of its drinkers. The Leinenkugel family have continued to maintain control of not only their beer but the culture behind it, contributing strongly to their local as well as their state economy. They haven’t moved from their roots, they don’t try to be Miller, Bud or Coors, and they have maintained the creative spirit of the home brewer, despite their century and a half in the mainstream brewing industry.
And that, after all, is what craft brewing is all about.
So, while my heart is slightly broken at my new found knowledge, it is somehow mended by the fact that Leinenkugel’s has proven that selling is much different than selling out.