22 Apr Is TwoDEEP Brewing Still a Craft Brewery? Definition Versus Practice
I’m having a slight existential crisis concerning the sale of TwoDEEP Brewing in Indianapolis. I write and care about craft beer and breweries, and at all times I try to be positive in my attitude toward changes that occur in breweries with which I am familiar and changes within the state. I’m perfectly willing to admit that I don’t do well with change; I have shirts older than most of the people that happen to read these articles, but I still make an effort to see the positive when Indiana breweries undergo change.
Brewers Association has a definition of craft beer that they’ve been tweaking lately. The criteria to be considered craft right now are three: small, independent, and a brewer. Small means less than 6 million barrels produced/year. Independent means that the brewery can be no more than 25% owned by a non-craft brewer, whether that’s a brewer that makes more than 6 million barrels/yr. or a business that is in the alcohol beverage industry but is not a brewery. Being a brewery means that the business has a TTB permit from the federal government and makes beer.
Anyone that falls outside these criteria is not considered a craft brewery. Therefore, since TwoDEEP Brewing was recently acquired by the O’Reilly’s Irish Pub & Restaurant chain, they are not considered a craft brewery by Brewers Association. But that’s hard for me to accept because I know these people and it’s inconceivable to think that they now aren’t brewing craft or are somehow beholden to mega-beer. When Wicked Weed, Devil’s Backbone and others sold out to AB-InBev or St. Archer was acquired by Miller Coors, I had no problem wiping them from my consciousness. But Zach Rupp? He’s still a craft brewer in my book.
When Tin Man Brewing in Evansville was acquired by Neace Ventures, a venture capital company from over near New Albany, I had the same sort of queasiness about eliminating them from the rolls of the craft brew brethren. Nothing about being owned by a small venture capital company (or a small restaurant/bar chain in this case) suggested that Tin Man was going to use it’s funding to harm craft brewers. It’s true, they might have had a small competitive advantage that because they had backing, but how was/is that different than craft breweries that have silent partners that put up a lot of money – those silent partners aren’t making beer any more than a large corporation is. They’re just taking some of the profits (and the risk) like any partner does.
To me, the key is what happens to the money being made by the brewery. If profits from the brewery or the money being pumped into the brewery are used to harm other craft brewers, than that brewery is dead to me. Take the AB-InBev acquisitions for example, they use their money to support their “partners” but also to hamper the competition. They buy distributors and stop carrying other breweries’ beer. They buy hop farms and maltsters to deny craft brewers access to the supply chain. They advertise that craft beer is evil or silly, while owning faux-craft brands themselves.
None of this sounds like Tin Man after Neace Ventures took over until the day they did finally close or the TwoDEEP Brewing that I know. Andy Meyer and his partners established TwoDEEP as a malt-forward brewery, an alternative to the hop craziness that has consumed craft for the last few years. With the change in ownership, Zach Rupp is now brewing all the beer, and he is as craft as you get – a devotee of the malts. He says it took him a while to appreciate what malts could do for beer, but now all his recipes consider the malt before he starts thinking about the hop additions.
If you’re one of the TwoDEEP detractors out there, I don’t want to hear it. Craft beer is subjective to begin with, and if you can’t appreciate what malts can do for a beer that’s a you problem, not a them problem. Zach is a whiz with barrel-aged beers, with making IPAs that are complex, and doing firkins that push base beers to become something more. He can handle collab.s, packaging, and recipe development – and nothing about working for O’Reilly’s instead of Andy changes that – I hope.
If O’Reilly’s allows TwoDEEP to remain what they are – if they still make the beers that they are known for and keep innovating around the edges of their core, then I will still consider them craft. On the other hand, if O’Reilly’s doesn’t understand beer, if they try to suppress innovation in the name of the almighty dollar, if they try to instill some sort of corporate environment in place of being a craft brewery – then I may have to re-think this idea. My first impression hasn’t been favorable – repeated attempts to contact O’Reilly’s Irish Pub’s people for this article remain unanswered. Many people remember what happened after Scott Wise sold Thr3e Wise Men – not much of note has occurred there since the decisions were taken out of the hands of the locals (except the beers, especially the session IPA called Trail Runner – good on Keely).
In the end, I guess I’m not as conflicted as I though I might be. If TwoDEEP stays TwoDEEP, I will not quibble over whether it’s a craft brewery or not. Walter and I will go drink the Lake, SoPaC, Dead Rabbits, and anything Zach puts in a barrel. But if something happens with the IPAs, I make no promises as to how Walter will react.