November 16, 2011 by Crafty Pint
So, after 27 years without a national body to represent them, Australia’s craft brewers now have two. In the week that we reported on the launch of Craft Beer Limited (CBL) – an organisation that had been using the working name Australian Craft Brewers Association during its formative months – we also heard word that a second body, the Australian Real Craft Brewers Association (ARCBA), was being set up as an alternative. At first, we assumed (hoped?) this was something of a humorous yet well-intentioned jab in CBL’s ribs by ARCBA’s founders, aimed with the intention of ensuring their concerns were fully incorporated into the Craft Beer Limited mission. Furthermore, we hadn’t been contacted by anyone at ARCBA to discuss their plans or any launch date, which added to the feeling it might not be something that was ever supposed to see the light of day.
On top of that, it seemed to us that the prospect of having two potentially competing associations representing different sections of the same industry would do more harm than good, however positive the intentions of both might be. Imagine the situation, for example, where one association secures time in Canberra to discuss the ongoing excise tax issues facing the industry…
“Hang on a minute. Didn’t I just speak to one of your people about this last week? And weren’t they asking for something different?”
“Oh, that would have been the other craft brewers association.”
As a colleague suggested in an earlier correspondence on the subject, it’s reminiscent of nothing other than a scene from the Life of Brian. Take another example: what happens if the mooted Craft Brewers Conference gets off the ground during next year’s Good Beer Week? If one of the two bodies is behind it, will members of the other boycott it?
Given the relatively tiny size of the industry, we felt that to achieve the industry’s goals – whether raising craft beer’s profile, lobbying the government, improving standards and so on – one unified body would surely have more chance of success. So we reported on the launch of CBL and spoke to a couple of members of ARCBA, raising our concerns and asking whether they could find enough common ground to form one body. We hoped, perhaps naively, that this could be done without the schism becoming publc knowledge. Yesterday’s article in the Sydney Morning Herald put paid to that. What’s more, both associations are now up and running with different breweries as members, sharing some goals, but differing mainly on the definitions of what is an Australian craft brewer, what is a “small” or “micro” brewer and exactly who should be allowed to join; the major sticking point, naturally, is whether breweries with major brewery involvement or foreign ownership should be allowed to feature.
It’s only natural in such a diverse industry featuring predominantly tiny businesses, often run by families or groups of mates, that there should be differences of opinion. This diversity is part of what makes craft beer in Australia so interesting and results in such a wide variety of beers and venues serving them. Yet, whatever the differences of opinion that have led to a situation where two rival organisations have sprouted within days of each other, it seems that the current “stoush” has the potential to do more harm than good.
At The Crafty Pint, we have many friends in both camps – and indeed sympathise with and understand the thinking driving each. We also believe that both want to see craft beer in Australia grow and for the quality of their beers to continue to improve. As an unashamed cheerleader for craft beer in this country, one that would rather focus on the positives than get involved in issues such as this, those same desires are what keep us working so hard. We’re glad that The Crafty Pint is completely independent of any brewery, venue or organisation so that we remain free of any potentially diversionary influences. Similarly, part of the reason for keeping Good Beer Week independent is to allow it to work freely for the benefit of the whole industry and the beer loving public without fear of any partners or backers trying to influence its goals.
But perhaps it’s easy for The Crafty Pint and Good Beer Week to take such an approach as both are, in a way, on the outside of the industry. For the brewers making the beer, maybe their day to day concerns play a greater role in their decision-making. However, whatever the reasons for the current impasse, we hope that the members of CBL and ARCBA will start talking – if they’re not already – and see if enough common ground can be found to combine their efforts. In the meantime, we’ll continue visiting the breweries and drinking the beers of members of both, guided by quality and flavour rather than politics, and hope everyone continues to do the same. And that a better way forward is found before any lasting harm is done.