Familiar Debate Over Independence Crashes Australian Beer Party

Austin Ray

THE GIST
Just as it has in the United States, the conversation about independence seems to be picking up steam outside the epicenter of the modern craft beer revolution. In fact, earlier this month, one of Australia’s most notable brewing companies resigned from an industry trade organization over its growing emphasis on independence and ownership as it relates to what it means to be craft. The episode reveals that the international craft beer industry is wrestling with questions familiar to anyone paying attention in the U.S.

WHY IT MATTERS
This particular dust up in Australia began to take shape earlier this year, when the Craft Beer Industry Association (CBIA), a group not unlike the Brewers Association in the U.S., announced it would soon disallow multinational owned brewers from its membership base, a move supported by its members via polling.

As such, the CBIA told Lion—which is owned by Kirin and operates the Malt Shovel (formerly Hahn Brewery), Little Creatures, and White Rabbit breweries—it would be asking the company to resign its membership. Before it could, though, Lion took the initiative and resigned with a strongly worded statement—one delivered by Australian brewing pioneer Chuck Hahn, who founded Hahn Brewery—suggesting the continued “focus on ‘big vs. small’ is divisive and a distraction from more important issues and opportunities facing the brewing industry.”

“There is a part of the industry that seems intent on defining itself not in terms of what’s great about craft – the quality beers, the passionate brewers and the characters behind them – but in terms of who owns what,” read Hahn’s statement, delivered on behalf of Lion.

“No matter who you are, you have to raise the funds to brew from somewhere, whether it be your bank, wealthy private investors, shareholders or otherwise. I don’t see how that should make any real difference to beer drinkers who generally only care about the quality and variety of the beer they are drinking.”

Hahn, it’s worth mentioning, helped co-found the CBIA, the group from which his company is resigning. And in addition to resigning as brewery members, Ash Cranston, of Lion-owned Little Creatures, has resigned as National Craft Brewer Representative on the CBIA’s board. In a statement acknowledging Hahn’s, Cranston’s, and their respective brewery’s contributions to the Australian beer market, the CBIA also explained why it has decided to recalibrate its rules to now put so much focus on ownership.

“The CBIA will re-define membership eligibility based on independent (privately held) brewers without relying on an arbitrary definition of ‘craft beer.’ It is proposed that the board structure and the name of the association will both be changed to reflect the new direction,” the group says. “The CBIA’s proposed new direction will allow a renewed focus on independent Australian brewers, ensuring its time and resources are directed towards supporting those businesses as a collective.”

—Dave Eisenberg

READ MORE
Lion resigns from CBIA amid ‘divisive’ debate [Brews News]