Mother Earth Brewing in Kinston describes its mission this way: Two guys with roots in a family town set out to make great beer brewed close to nature.
Its a similar story to dozens of craft breweries in North Carolina. Small, independent and community oriented is the credo in the craft movement and it tastes good.
But as craft beer surges, the mega brewers, like Anheuser-Busch and Miller Coors, increasingly want a piece of the action. Now when you look at the cold case or the bar taps, its becoming harder to tell a craft beer from its crafty brethren.
Mother Earth wants to make its origins clear. The company would put the Brewers Association logo on their bottle labels to signal their bona fides, becoming one of the first craft breweries in the nation to do so. Consider it the equivalent of Martin Luthers theses tacked to the church door.
When you are drinking Blue Moon Belgian Wheat Beer, you are not drinking a craft beer, but you dont know that because there is no reference that it is made by SAB Miller, wrote Trent Mooring, Mother Earth president and co-founder, in a recent statement announcing the label change. He also noted that Shock Top Belgian White is produced by Anheuser-Busch InBev.
The move puts the small Eastern North Carolina brewery in the middle of a national beer fight about what constitutes a craft beer and whether big brands are misleading customers. The dispute escalated in December when the Brewers Association, a trade group that represents craft breweries, issued a missive saying the macro beer makers appear to be deliberately attempting to blur the lines between their crafty, craft-like beers and true craft beers from todays small and independent brewers.
The trouble, in their minds, is two-fold: big beer making brands that emulate craft beer, such as Blue Moon, and multinational companies buying craft breweries, such as Anheuser-Busch owning Goose Island Beer or a Costa Rican outfit controlling Magic Hat and Pyramid.
We call for transparency in brand ownership and for information to be clearly presented in a way that allows beer drinkers to make an informed choice about who brewed the beer they are drinking, the statement read.
In a recent interview, Mooring said he took his cue from a blog post that suggested craft breweries put the Brewers Association logo on their bottles. So we did it, he said. The association gave the brewery permission, and the company is working the new labels into their stock.
But what makes the debate so complicated is how you define a craft brewery and craft beer.
The Brewers Association says a craft brewery is small, independent and traditional, producing 6 million barrels a year or less. It also limits the investment of big beer companies in the craft breweries to a 25 percent ownership stake. (All North Carolina craft breweries qualify under the associations standards.)
But by its nature, the definition is a bit arbitrary. Yuengling, a family-owned regional brewery, is excluded, but Sam Adams, now available in 30 countries, is a member. Both are roughly the same size in terms of production, but Yuengling uses rice or corn in its beer, making it nontraditional in the associations view.
I think its unfortunate that the beer world is divided like that, said Win Bassett, the former director of the N.C. Brewers Guild. Beer is a unifying community beverage, but theres this rift that tears apart the community a little bit.
It may sound like blasphemy, but Bassett said he doesnt mind drinking Blue Moon. Craft is an evolving definition. Its a personal definition, too, he said. I dont really care what beer it is. If I enjoy it, I like the taste ... Im going to drink it.
Lonerider Brewing owner Sumit Vohra said he doesnt shun beers based on ownership, either. Its a difficult subject because its emotionally charged, the Raleigh brewer said in a recent interview.
To him its about focusing on quality, not on what other brewers are doing. Im not trying to fight against that, he added. Instead lets focus on what we do best.
Erik Lars Myers at Mystery Brewing Company in Hillsborough is more alarmed. He is worried about big beer companies using their muscle to push craft beers off shelves and out of bars. I feel it is probably one of the most pervasive and dangerous things chasing the craft beer industry, he said. Drinkers dont think about it.
What Im drinking
A recent trip to Washington, D.C., netted a six pack of DC Braus Corruption India pale ale. Beyond the great name, and the political trivia on the can about the corrupt bargain between Henry Clay and John Quincy Adams, its a bright and resinous West Coast-style IPA that is worth a quick road trip north. Find it in Virginia at Norfolk, Richmond and Roanoke beer havens and obviously the nations capital.
Stats: 6.5 percent ABV, 80 IBU, about $10 a six pack.
Contact John at 919-829-4698 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @ByJohnFrank.