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Distribution Incursion: Lots of 'Craft' Beer Is Brewed by Multinationals

As Big Beer has snapped up craft breweries, it's grown harder to tell who the true indies are. But a new industry effort hopes to clear up the confusion by declaring their ownership right on the bottle.

Distribution Incursion: Lots of 'Craft' Beer Is Brewed by Multinationals

More than 800 breweries - including Sam Adams, Sierra Nevada and New Belgium - will soon begin printing seals on their beers that identify them as "Certified Independent Craft." The initiative, which was spearheaded by the trade group for independent craft brewers, is intended to differentiate "true" craft beers from those made by the likes of MillerCoors, Anheuser-Busch and Heineken.

To qualify to use the seal, breweries cannot be more than 25-percent owned or controlled by any alcohol company that's not itself a craft brewer. Its annual production also can't exceed 6 million barrels.

The growth of the craft beer segment, once in the double digits, has slowed dramatically since those multinationals entered the fray: from 18 percent in 2013 to 8 percent three years later. Some believe they could stem some of that decline if consumers realized some "crafty"-looking beers weren't actually made by independent brewers.

"We've been hearing from our members for almost two years that there is a lot of confusion in the marketplace, fueled by the Big Beer acquisitions," said Bob Pease, the chief executive of the Brewers Assn., which represents the independents. "This is a way to give beer drinkers more transparency and more information."

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