In a world where Nabisco sells “artisan” Wheat Thins, the designation of Samuel Adams as a craft beer seems perfectly fair.
But the Boston Beer Company, the brewery that was founded in 1984 and makes Sam Adams, is on the verge of outgrowing its coveted craft status — at least according to the Brewers Association, a national trade group that defines craft brewers in part as producing fewer than two million barrels a year.
The federal government defines small brewers similarly, imposing a lower excise tax on those that stay under the two-million-barrel threshold.
Given that Boston Beer helped create the red-hot small-beer movement when it introduced Sam Adams 16 years ago, stripping it of craft credentials could prompt a lot of crying in … well, you know.
“If we’re not a craft brewer,” said Jim Koch, president of Boston Beer, “what else are we? We’re certainly not Budweiser.”
Mr. Koch predicted that Boston Beer would surpass the two-million mark by 2012. But help may be on the way: Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, along with Senator Michael D. Crapo, Republican of Idaho, introduced a bill last month that would increase the yearly production limit for small brewers to six million barrels.
The bill would also cut the excise tax rate for small brewers to $3.50 per barrel, from $7, for the first 60,000 barrels produced, and to $16, from $18, for each additional barrel. A similar House bill has several dozen sponsors. The Brewers Association created a distinct definition for craft brewers, said Bob Pease, its chief operating officer, to differentiate small companies from big ones that were also marketing certain beers as craft.
Mr. Koch said Sam Adams would remain a craft beer regardless of whether the Boston Beer Company hung on to its official craft brewer status. Quite simply, he said, a craft beer is one recognized for flavor versus thirst-quenching qualities.
“A craft beer you would not drink,” he said, “after you just mowed the lawn on a hot day.”