The Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) has today launched a new ‘craft’ beer classification to help consumers identify what it says is the genuine article.
The ‘Assured Independent British Craft Breweries’ initiative is intended to 'provide greater clarity for consumers looking to purchase beer from genuinely independent craft breweries in the UK', it says.
In order to qualify to use the new stamp of approval on their packaging or pump clips, breweries must be truly independent of any larger controlling brewing interest and pledge to abide by SIBA’s Manual of Good Brewing Practice, which seeks to ensure quality throughout the independently brewed beer market.
The move comes after years of controversy and debate surrounding how ‘craft’ beer is defined in the UK. Though the US has a rigid classification system set down by the Brewers Association, the UK has so far lacked guidelines.
As the success of craft beer has grown, large multinational breweries have come under fire for both purchasing independent breweries, or launching ‘craft-like’ products.
Market research commissioned by SIBA shows that 46% of beer drinkers regard craft beer as ‘made by small brewers rather than large corporations’, although one in 10 beer drinkers are unsure what the term means. It added that 35% regard craft breweries as ‘artisanal’ with 22% associating the term with ‘small’ and 14% with ‘local’.
Mike Benner, managing director of SIBA, said: 'The passion and innovation of independent brewers together with increasing consumer demand for diversity, provenance and excellence has created the craft beer revolution. Hundreds of passionate and genuine independent brewers have brought thousands of world-class beers to communities across the UK.
'However, as the craft beer market has grown it is being flooded with beers from across the world, often from large global brewers. We have launched our ‘Assured’ initiative to help consumers make informed decisions about where their beer comes from and who has brewed it.'
Fiona MacEachern from Loch Lomond Brewery, winner of SIBA’s champion cask competition, said: 'We think some consumers are being misled into thinking the beer they're drinking is a small-batch, hand-crafted product, when actually it's being produced on a mass scale.
'We believe it is hugely important for beer drinkers to be able to see whether the beer they are drinking is brewed by an independent craft brewer, or whether it is actually being produced by a global brewer.'
Benner added: 'We’re not being sanctimonious about this or taking ourselves too seriously and we realise that great beer can be brewed by all kinds of brewers, but as more and more brewers jump on the "craft" bandwagon we think firstly that people want to know where their beer is being brewed and by whom, and secondly that we need to help even our relatively small members compete with the huge marketing budgets of big "craft" brands. This is why we have launched this stamp of approval which assures independence and quality.'
SIBA – which has 850 brewing members in the UK – added that all of its full brewing members will be eligible to use the stamp, with over 150 having already pledged to do so. SIBA has also launched an online interactive map, allowing customers to find out about independent breweries nearby.