Where Craft Beer Ends, Big Beer Begins?

Look at this headline from a site called Thrillist, which is devoted, I gather, to food, drink, and shopping for food, drink, and food/drink accessories:

BEER IS BASICALLY SAVING OUR NATION'S ECONOMY

Beneath the headline (and a photo of a guy in a brewery jumping the air), is this text: 

according to the Beer Institute, not only does the American beer market directly and indirectly employ around 2,000,000 people, but one job in a brewery or wholesaler supports 45 jobs outside of it -- and not just because the people in those jobs go to the bar after work.
 Uncredited. Sorry!

Uncredited. Sorry!

If you follow the beer biz, this message is nothing new. For the past year or so, the notion that craft beer is "saving" the economy has become commonplace. Media outlets have run one story after another about craft breweries opening in small towns and rural areas and blighted inner city neighborhoods, etc. Beer tourism abounds, creating jobs and bringing money to beer-centric locales. Blah, blah, blah.

No doubt many craft beer enthusiasts latched on to this Thrillist version of that message as more evidence that craft beer is changing the U.S., the planet, humanity’s hearts, minds, souls, etc. (Indeed, I ran across this Thrillist version via a craft beer devotee on Facebook). And it's maybe it’s true that beer is saving the economy. But . . . 

Look again at the quote. The source of the information is the Beer Institute. The BI is the oldest beer trade group in the US (it dates back to the 1860s and has had several names during its life). Once upon a time, the BI represented nearly every brewery in the US. Nowadays it represents Anheuser-Busch InBev, MillerCoors, various beer-related companies (including, for example, Draft Magazine, Beer Marketer’s INSIGHTS, Inc., which publishes a trade newsletter, and Rexam Beverage Can Americas), as well as, yes, a few “craft” breweries. 

 Hillary Clinton, Indiana, 2008

Hillary Clinton, Indiana, 2008

Put another way, the BI is not the NOT the Brewers Association, the Boulder-based trade group of so-called "craft brewers." Sure, there is some membership overlap: Dogfish, New Glarus, New Belgium, and Stone, as well as a handful of other craft entities belong to both groups. Mostly, however, the BI is not the “craft” beer industry. 

So here’s one of the BA’s primary messages — beer is good for the economy —  dished up by the “other” beer trade group. The BI is coopting the craft beer gospel, right? 

 A typical ad, c. 1950s, from what is now the Beer Institute

A typical ad, c. 1950s, from what is now the Beer Institute

Wrong. Since the 1870s, what is now the Beer Institute has relied on the “beer equals jobs” message as a way to generate support for an alcohol-based industry, and to ensure that brewing gets and keeps the various legal- and tax-related goodies that Congress doles out. If anyone’s coopted a message, it’s the BA that’s “borrowed” a theme from what used to be the Big Boys.

So. Where does the “craft” industry end and the “brewing” industry begin?