Thanks to a change last year to the Brewers Association’s definition of “craft,” Yuengling is now America’s best-selling craft brewery. Sam Adams brewer Boston Beer Company is now No. 2, followed by Sierra Nevada, New Belgium, and Gambrinus, which is the company that owns Shiner beers.
Last year, the Brewers Association relaxed the craft-beer criteria to include independent brewers that use flavor-enhancing additions like corn, rice, and even syrups. Smaller companies have generally viewed these ingredients (corn in particular) as cut-rate barley substitutes used by Big Beer.
The Brewers Association defends the shift by saying the new definition “doesn’t differentiate on what type of beer craft brewers brew, as long as the majority of what they make is beer,” but critics say the shift has “watered down the meaning of craft beer.” They argue a driver behind the decision to welcome Yuengling and its ilk into the ranks is market-driven — the association’s “20/20” goal is for craft beer to reach a 20 percent market share by 2020. Regardless of where these smaller brewers fall in the semantics war, though, they can at least celebrate this: Together, they sold more beer this year, while Big Beer’s sales stayed flat.