black and white picture A of 30 craft beer tap handles in a craft beer bar

Craft Beer Bars & Sell Out Bars – How you can tell the difference

Quite a bit has been written on the topic of craft breweries that sell out to big beer and what the term “craft beer” really means. One thing that hasn’t been explored, however, is what are Craft Beer Bars & Sell Out Bars.

Recently, here in San Diego, an unnamed bar opened up and we were super excited to check it out. On its website they boasted that they offer 20 microbrew and local taps for craft beer lovers. Although there were 20 taps, that’s where the accuracy in their statement ended. While there was Coronado Brewing and Stone on tap, the rest of the taps were a mixture of not-at-all craft beers like Budweiser, Modelo and Stella and a number of what we like to call “not-so-craft beers.” These are the craft beers like Elysian, Golden Road, 10 Barrel and even the San Diego produced Saint Archer which have been bought by Big Beer. Unfortunately, this sort of faux craft beer lineup is a recurring trend that we have seen here in San Diego.

The issue here is that these bars and restaurants are using the popularity of craft beer to get people in their doors and then are serving them beers that may not be craft at all. Although some people don’t care who makes their beer, many people drink craft beer not only because it taste great but also because of the independent community of brewers, neighbors, and makers that they support by buying craft. Why would this unnamed bar serve only two, local, truly-craft beers when there is so many great craft beers at their disposal? They may love the cool commercials on TV? Or maybe, it comes down to money…

First, though, let’s address why brewery ownership matters at all. Although many of these not-so-craft breweries still make good beer, they are now owned by big beer (like AB-InBev or MillerCoors). Big beer actively tries to undercut the competition by both legal and, in some cases, illegal means. One of the ways this happens, is that with the support of these huge companies sourcing their ingredients and hardware, breweries can charge less for their beer than competitors. Breweries have to sell their kegs at a specific mark-up above cost. Therefore, if they can drive their costs down, they can charge less. An example of this is how Goose Island (owned by AB InBev) often charges $110 per 1/2 barrel of their IPA, whereas many independent craft breweries have to charge $180+ to hit margins and stay in business.

We get it. This is business. Craft breweries are allowed to charge what they want for their kegs (within legal parameters). Furthermore, bars have a bottom line that needs to be met and it can make sense from a money-standpoint to buy the often cheaper, not-so-craft beer. That’s fine, but they just shouldn’t tout their beer lineup as local or “craft.” There is a huge difference between a “craft beer bar” and a bar that serves a craft beer. Some bars are intentionally blurring the lines between these two things and most people have no idea.

Here’s a list of breweries that are owned by big beer companies and therefore aren’t-so-craft anymore. If you go into a bar and see mostly these beers on tap, it’s probably less of a “craft beer bar” and more of a “bar that serves some craft beer.”

Not-So-Craft Breweries

10 Barrel Brewing — AB-InBev

Ballast Point Brewing — Constellation Brands

Birra Del Borgo (Italy) —AB-InBev

Blue Moon Brewing — MillerCoors

Blue Point Brewing —AB-InBev

Breckenridge Brewery —AB-InBev

Devils Backbone Brewing —AB-InBev

Dundee Brewing — North American Breweries (owns Genesee and Labatt)

Elysian Brewing —AB-InBev

Four Peaks Brewing —AB-InBev

Golden Road Brewing —AB-InBev

Goose Island Beer Company —AB-InBev

Hop Valley Brewing — MillerCoors

Lagunitas Brewing — 50 percent owned by Heineken International

Leinenkugel’s Brewery — MillerCoors

Magic Hat Brewing — North American Breweries

Mendocino Brewing — United Breweries Group

Olde Saratoga Brewing — United Breweries Group

Portland Brewing Company  — North American Breweries

Pyramid Breweries — North American Breweries

Revolver Brewing — MillerCoors

Saint Archer Brewing — MillerCoors

Shock Top Brewing —AB-InBev

Terrapin Beer Company — MillerCoors

We realize that there are all types of bars in the world and many don’t care at all what kind of beer lineup they have. But if a bar boasts that they carry microbrews and local beers, they should actually do so. You know who the sell-out breweries are…now you can spot the sell-out bars.






5 responses to “Craft Beer Bars & Sell Out Bars – How you can tell the difference”

  1. Thanks for the insightful article, Anna. I think I would like to read an article on the other half: beer bars that are “true” craft beer bars. Places like Toronado, Hamilton’s, Churchill’s, and Bottlecraft would never have these beers (as far as I know). It’d be cool to see a list of San Diego craft beer bars we can trust!

  2. IB Public House has twenty ALL craft beers on tap with none of the aforementioned brands. Many local breweries including the occasional handle from Thorn Street.

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