A seal for Canadian craft beer

Canadian craft breweries finally have a way to distinguish their product from the mass-produced competition. Why did it take so long? Well, that’s a bit of a long story.

For as long as I’ve written about craft beer the question has dangled in the air: What makes one beer craft and another not?

In the U.S., their national craft brewers’ association came out with a four-point definition. One was about having a government license, the second was pretty subjectively connected to traditional brewing, the third was that a brewery couldn’t be owned by a non-craft brewery and the fourth was that you had to be smaller than Sam Adams. (Or Sierra Nevada, depending on who was doing better at the time and pushing the ceiling higher to keep them in the fold.) Since then, they’ve shifted course to drop the traditional point.

Arguably, the best thing this definition did for breweries was help decide who can use the independent craft brewery seal. That’s the clearly understood label that customers (at least those for whom it matters) can use to separate the New Belgiums from the Blue Moons. (The latter is owned by MolsonCoors.)

Here, in Canada, we have had provincial bodies that have done a less-than-excellent job of keeping up on the labels-that-make-sense front. Happily, the Canadian Craft Brewers Association, which was formed back in May 2019, stepped up this week to announce that they have implemented a Canadian version of the seal.

I’m pleased to see that they emulated (most of) the best features from the Brewers’ Association version. It’s easily recognized as an official(-ish) seal and includes the words “craft” and “independent”. I think the BA’s upside bottle beats out the hop cone and tank because brewers (and the marketing agencies they hire) will recognize those things and many, many beer drinkers won’t. But, that’s a small quibble.

This is a big step in the right direction for craft beer branding in Canada and the idea that a national organization can help breweries make their case to customers. Obviously, success will depend on how universally the seal is adopted by breweries and noticed by consumers.

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