Craft beers have become increasingly popular in recent years, people are attracted to the low-scale operations that result in quality small batches of beer. However, what many are unaware of is how a number of craft breweries actually use contract brewing to produce their beers. This essentially means utilising the resources of larger companies to produce their products. For example, a small brewing company with low capital and resources may not be able to afford their own brewing equipment or have enough equipment to meet market demands. Craft breweries have come under criticism by some for using this method, however, it is important to recognise why smaller companies sometimes need to contract brew to survive. This type of business operation is often referred to as “custom crush” in the wine industry, however, when it comes to brewing beer, companies are often looked down upon for contract brewing. Here are ten questions that you might be afraid to ask about contract brewing, which will hopefully alleviate the negative connotations associated with the term.
1. If a company contract brews, are they really a “brewery”?
Although some companies do give the impression that they brew their own beer when in actual fact, they are simply fictitious breweries, this is usually something that happens more with supermarkets and large retail chains. For example, a supermarket may want to target the craft beer drinking market and therefore create their own type of craft beer that appeals to the market by inventing a fictitious brewery to put on the label. However, the vast majority of small and craft brewing companies do have a large contribution to the brewing process, including creating recipes and the marketing around their beers. Most smaller craft beer companies only contract brew if they cannot afford their own equipment or do not have the space to create their products on a larger scale.
2. What are the different types of contract brewing?
Contract brewing can happen on different scales, from the larger chains that may contract their entire beer brewing process to a company and invent a “fictitious brewery”, to smaller companies that are very much involved in the brewing process but don’t have the available resources. Some smaller companies simply use the larger brewing companies spare capacity to brew batches of their own beer, these are often referred to as “tenant brewers”. A tenant brewer will physically brew their own beer, just on the premises of a larger company, meaning they are very much part of the production of their beer. Other companies will contract the brewing process, including the labour to a larger company and only focus on the recipe development and sourcing of ingredients themselves. Companies that contract brew can be as involved in the brewing process as they’d like to be.
3. Do some companies contract brew to focus on other areas of their branding?
Some companies do choose to contract brew in order to focus on other areas of their brand. This means they have more time to focus on marketing and building a loyal customer base, which is particularly important when it comes to the sale of craft beers.
4. Does contract brewing take away what it means to truly be a craft brewery?
A craft beer company’s main focus is often to produce quality beers in small batches. It is important to realise that this can still be done if a company chooses to contract brew, this doesn’t make them any less of a “craft brewery”. In this modern age, marketing is hugely important if a company is to succeed in a saturated market, even those that contract the entire brewing process to a larger company to focus on other areas like marketing can still do so on a small scale.
5. Do all beer brands use contract brewing?
Not all brands use contract brewing, but those that do always do so for a good reason, whether their company is big or small. Some companies will just use contract canning or bottling services in order to make the process simpler, or because they don’t have beer canning, or bottling facilities at their own brewery. Larger companies are less likely to contract any of their business, however, even some of the biggest beer companies sometimes require a little help from others.
6. Can contract brewing be more sustainable?
As people become more aware of environmental issues and sustainability, contract brewing can actually be a good way to produce more sustainable beers and reduce emissions. This is a simple concept, by using facilities that are not in use in another brewery, companies can avoid producing their own emissions unnecessarily. A brewery that allows the use of its facilities to another company will likely already be operating and using energy and creating carbon emissions, so it is likely that it is better for the environment for another company to brew in the same place.
7. How do I find out if a beer is made using contract brewing?
Often, serious beer drinkers like to know where their beer comes from. This can be difficult to determine when it comes to contract brewing, as companies are not legally required to state whether the beer has been contract brewed. It is a legal requirement for companies to state the town or city where it was brewed, but information regarding the brewery isn’t required.
8. Am I still supporting small businesses if I drink contract brewed beer?
Some people like to support small and local businesses and therefore are often disgruntled when they find out that their favourite small craft brewery actually brews their beers at the premises of one of the major players. However, it’s a good idea to remember why a company may contract brew, especially if they are a small company. Buying the beer still very much supports their small business and it’s likely that they wouldn’t contract brew at all if they were a larger business.
9. Should I care if my favourite beer is contract brewed?
Some people think contract brewing is a negative thing, but it’s an important part of the beer brewing industry. Without contract brewing, it is unlikely that your favourite craft beer would even exist. Boycotting a company because they brew their beer elsewhere is counter-productive, especially if you enjoy it.
10. How can I find out how much involvement a company has in its brewing process?
Some companies will happily reveal this information to you, others will not. If you want to know more about a company’s brewing process and involvement then just ask them, they may be happy to tell you about their contract brewing.
As the name suggests, here at The Contract Brewing Company, we can help you with all your brewing, canning, bottling and kegging needs. Get in touch today on 01751 484 002 to discuss how we can help you scale or fill in the contact form and will call you right back. Happy brewing!