Alchemist Debuts New "Independent, Family Owned" Seal, Focusing On Transparency & Independence

Discussion in 'Beer News & Releases' started by Jason, Jan 6, 2020.

  1. Jason

    Jason Founder (8,465) Aug 23, 1996 Massachusetts
    Staff Moderator Fest Crew Society

    Stowe, VT – (Jan 2020) – How do you know a beer that’s labeled “craft beer” is really made by a small, independent producer? You don’t. That’s why the Alchemist Brewery of Waterbury and Stowe, Vermont, has debuted a new seal that says 100%, Independent, Family Owned. The brewery previously printed the widely used and recognized Brewers Association’s Certified Independent Craft seal on all of their canned and bottled beer offerings. However, over the years, The Brewers Association has updated its definition of a craft brewery multiple times to help retain some of its biggest members. And, while this may be good for the country’s biggest craft breweries, “we don’t feel the definition of Craft Brewery, as defined by the Brewers Association, paints a clear picture of our business,” said Jen Kimmich, who co-founded the brewery with her husband John in 2003.

    “2019 was a challenging year for craft brewing. We all watched with sadness as many of our favorite breweries were forced to sell out to larger beverage companies, brewery “collectives” and private equity firms. We don’t fault these brewers. These sales often come out of necessity—a last resort to protect a business that is struggling to stay competitive and financially viable. We get it. However, over the years, as our biggest craft breweries have grown in size and have merged with other beverage makers, the definition of “craft brewery” has also evolved,” Jen Kimmich said. “We are a small, family-owned craft brewery and we intend to stay that way, and we want to get that message out to the public.”

    The Brewers Association defines “small” as a brewery that produces 6 million barrels of beer or less per year. Their definition of “independent” is “less than 25% of the craft brewery is owned or controlled (or equivalent economic interest) by a beverage alcohol industry member which is not itself a craft brewer.” The Kimmichs believe these parameters are confusing for consumers, who may be unaware of the ownership behind their favorite brews. The Alchemist is committed to being transparent, and to making sure that consumers know where, and how, their beer is made. So, along with their in-house Art Director, Jess Graham, they created their own seal to highlight their business values and fiercely independent approach.

    The Kimmichs started their Vermont-based brewery as a brew pub in 2003. Today, The Alchemist crafts less than 20,000 barrels of beer annually between their two Vermont breweries and they are 100% independent. They are a B-Corp, and they are deeply engaged in community philanthropy, including founding the Alchemist Foundation to expand opportunities for local youth. Notes co-founder John Kimmich, “Our independence allows us to invest in our communities and our employees, instead of focusing on growth and investor profits. We are passionate about making great beer, but we are also committed to providing good jobs with strong benefits, investing in environmental initiatives to minimize our footprint, and giving back to our communities.”

    Old Label On Left, New Label On Right.

    The Alchemist, founded in 2003 by John and Jen Kimmich, operates in Waterbury and
    Stowe, Vermont, and is Vermont’s only B-Corp brewery. They are known for their award-winning Heady Topper and Focal Banger IPAs as well as a rotating selection of distinctive ales and lagers available at their 16,000- square foot brewery and visitor center in Stowe. They employ 50 people and distribute their beer throughout Vermont. Learn more at

  2. jesskidden

    jesskidden Poo-Bah (1,935) Aug 10, 2005 New Jersey
    Society Trader

    What's this bullshit with "family-owned" now? Hey, I want the brewer in charge of things - I don't want his or her nagging spouse, or their spoiled-brat kids or his/her lazy, good-for-nothing brother/some distant Blue-Moon drinkin' cousin or goddam mother-in-law getting involved!

    Gimme an "individually owned" brewery any day! :grin:
  3. HaoleBoy

    HaoleBoy Devotee (400) Mar 3, 2017 California

    just make good beer and you can call yourself whatever you want
  4. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Poo-Bah (4,354) Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania

    “However, over the years, The Brewers Association has updated its definition of a craft brewery multiple times to help retain some of its biggest members.”

    Yes, the Brewers Association had indeed changed the definition of “craft brewery” several times over the recent past and often times in what felt like a confusing/convoluted manner.

    And while I share similar sentiments with the Kimmichs on this topic, is the ‘solution’ that each brewery gets to define their own seal for defining what they think defines a craft brewery? Would this be an improvement over the Brewers Association seal?


    #4 JackHorzempa, Jan 6, 2020
    Last edited: Jan 6, 2020
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  5. Ranbot

    Ranbot Savant (905) Nov 27, 2006 Pennsylvania

    The distinction of being fully independent and family owned matters a lot to Vermont residents (i.e. The Alchemist's core customers), much moreso than people living in most other regions in the US. The Kimmich's are correct that the Brewer's Association's definition is confusing and potentially misleading for the average person. In a state like VT I can completely understand why they would want to to make this distinction as clear as possible. It may seem like nonsense to people on the outside, but this is a direct response to their local market.

    What would be really interesting is if Alchemist/Kimmichs allowed other independent family owned breweries to use their seal as an alternative to the Brewers Association's seal.
  6. jesskidden

    jesskidden Poo-Bah (1,935) Aug 10, 2005 New Jersey
    Society Trader

    You mean like Costa Rico's Florida Ice and Farm Company-owned Magic Hat Brewing Co., Unilever's Ben & Jerry Ice Cream and German majority-owned Green Mountain Coffee Keurig/Dr Pepper? :grin:

    Not without a DNA test!
    #6 jesskidden, Jan 6, 2020
    Last edited: Jan 6, 2020
  7. MNAle

    MNAle Poo-Bah (1,657) Sep 6, 2011 Minnesota

    Cool! So Founders and Avery are craft again! :sunglasses:

    Just what we need... 2 stupid definitions!
    TheeWarPig, officerbill and dcotom like this.
  8. FBarber

    FBarber Poo-Bah (2,795) Mar 5, 2016 Illinois
    Society Trader

    At this point, I say yes, every brewery should have a completely unique seal and while they're at it, it should include their definition of "craft beer", "craft brewery", the exact breakdown of ownership stakes, diversity initiatives, creative decision making process, and their position on NE style IPAs ... :wink::joy:
  9. jasonmason

    jasonmason Initiate (185) Oct 6, 2004 California

    This whole "seal of craft" thing is getting ridiculous.

    Two thoughts on this:

    First off: breweries HAVE been doing this for going on 40 years now, via their branding. The whole seal thing is a silly recent stab at relevance via an advocacy group.

    Second: While it's not necessarily an improvement, it does well at pointing out the vagaries of the Brewers Association seal. If the BA would make requirements and then stick to them, it wouldn't be nearly as much of an issue.
    TheeWarPig, officerbill and FBarber like this.
  10. jesskidden

    jesskidden Poo-Bah (1,935) Aug 10, 2005 New Jersey
    Society Trader

    Always thought it was a lost opportunity when Philip Morris owned both Miller Brewing Co. and Kraft Foods, that they didn't market "Kraft Beer".

    (I mean, they had previously toyed with Marlboro Beer).
  11. Bitterbill

    Bitterbill Poo-Bah (6,817) Sep 14, 2002 Wyoming
    Society Trader

    We don't need no stinkin seals. Shrugs.
  12. oldbean

    oldbean Disciple (361) Jun 30, 2005 Massachusetts

    Well... they have, and they are.
  13. AlcahueteJ

    AlcahueteJ Meyvn (1,162) Dec 4, 2004 Massachusetts

    While I agree, is this necessary? Vermont locals love their local beer, and I feel like they’re smarter than the average consumer. They likely know exactly what The Alchemist is all about, and would know if they were bought out.

    Even if that’s not true, are they really having trouble selling their beer in Vermont?

    As long as the bottled/canned on date is still on there. :wink:

    Can we just have a “good beer” seal and call it a day?
    #13 AlcahueteJ, Jan 7, 2020
    Last edited: Jan 7, 2020
  14. EnronCFO

    EnronCFO Zealot (529) Mar 29, 2007 Massachusetts

    The Alchemist does not date their cans. I think that would have been a much better use of their can printing budget than this.
    StonyB, bstyle, Apellonious and 26 others like this.
  15. AlcahueteJ

    AlcahueteJ Meyvn (1,162) Dec 4, 2004 Massachusetts

    I edited my post and added a winky face to that statement. It was just a tongue-in-cheek reply to @FBarber ‘s sarcastic post. Not a comment on The Alchemist.

    But you still make an excellent point.
  16. Roguer

    Roguer Poo-Bah (4,597) Mar 25, 2013 Georgia
    Moderator Society Trader

    It's also worth noting that Yuengling is also independent and family owned. Are we (well, not us, in this case) drawing arbitrary lines to reflect what we most value?

    I agree that the BA definition is particularly muddy at this point (Sam Adams + DFH = craft, I suppose?). I don't hold it against the Kimmich's to come up with something that more reflects their values (something quintessentially Vermont, I dare say), but it is arbitrary.

    Not any fundamentally more or less worthy than the Trappist seal, I suppose, but probably unnecessary overall.
  17. FBarber

    FBarber Poo-Bah (2,795) Mar 5, 2016 Illinois
    Society Trader

    I can taste that beer just looking at that label. :joy:
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  18. nesarebad

    nesarebad Devotee (469) Feb 4, 2012 Massachusetts

    This Costa Rico sounds like a pretty cool dude.
    AlcahueteJ and GuyFawkes like this.
  19. islay

    islay Disciple (325) Jan 6, 2008 Minnesota

    I don't know what "100% Independent, Family Owned" means. "Independent" usually just means privately held. The vast majority of craft breweries are privately held (limited number of owners, stock not publicly traded). "Family-owned" usually means that the majority (but not necessarily totality) of the ownership is divided among the members of a single family.

    Does the "100%" refer only to being independent, or does it also mean "100% family-owned?" If so, does that mean that 100% of the equity is owned by the family, or is it just some sort of intensifier ("You can be 100% sure that members of a single family collectively own at least 50%+1 of the shares in this business!"). Is "family-owned" supposed to convey something more meaningful or authentic than individually owned or owned by a group of friends (situations that apply to a huge number of craft breweries)? If so, why, and in what way? If we're supposed to believe that the family owns 100% of the business, is the theory that any equity investment by someone who isn't a family member, even if that person is a silent partner with no impact on business decision-making, is inherently problematic or somehow inferior to total family ownership? If so, why, and in what way? Is this meant as an endorsement of self-financing or debt financing over equity financing? Is this some sort of paean to family values?

    Is "independent" a rejection of public trading of shares? If so, note the contrast to the Green Bay Packers, which make a point of pride of emphasizing their publicly traded status as opposed to the "independence" required by rule for the ownership structure of all of the other teams in the NFL. Does it mean that the company isn't majority-owned by another company? That's what I suspect it means, but "not independent" is not how such a subsidiary company would normally be described in the business world (and "family owned" generally would preclude that possibility, making "independent" redundant). Perhaps it means that no other company has any equity stake in the business, no matter how small, i.e., that all of the investors are individuals (who may or may not be family members, depending on whether the 100% applies to "family owned" and what "100% family owned" means if it does). But again, that's really not what "independent" tends to mean in the business world. Occasionally, "independent" is used to refer to a company in which the majority ownership rests with a single individual. If that's what The Alchemist means, then they're presumably saying one person owns the majority of shares and at least one other person from his family owns a minority stake (although some people would say that "family-owned" implies that the shares of multiple family members would need to be combined to reach a majority ownership).

    I'm confused about both the meaning of the seal and why I'm supposed to think it conveys any information of interest or importance to the consumer. If I had to guess, it's that John and Jen Kimmich each own 50% of the brewery and they want people to hear "independent" and "family-owned" and think, "That sounds nice" (i.e., they're marketing with buzzwords on which they neither expect nor want consumers to reflect rather than trying to convey any information of substance or "paint[ing] a clear picture of our business," as they claim). But that's just a guess because those buzzwords are so vague.
    t420o and officerbill like this.
  20. VitisVinifera

    VitisVinifera Initiate (133) Feb 25, 2013 California

    Shot across the bow. Would love to get a reaction from Brewer's Assn. Especially if more jump over.
  21. Captstrapper

    Captstrapper Initiate (106) Nov 19, 2011 Vermont

    While I feel protecting your business with a well defined idea of what craft beer is, I see a more important message John and Jen are sending out to us is through them being a B Corp. It is not an easy process to to obtain the B Corp. label for a company, and the commitment involved is substantial to both your employees, community, and the environment
  22. AlcahueteJ

    AlcahueteJ Meyvn (1,162) Dec 4, 2004 Massachusetts

    I think it's just this. And that's what people will get from it.

    I doubt too many people are reading anymore into it than that.
  23. Ranbot

    Ranbot Savant (905) Nov 27, 2006 Pennsylvania

    ...and Seventh Generation owned by Unilever, Long Trail/Otter Creek/Shed owned by Fulham and Co. private equity, and Cabot Creameries owned by Agri-Mark Cooperative... but when these companies "sold-out" there were significant backlashes among local VT consumers that you wouldn't see in other other regions. It's a different mentality there. Supporting and investing in locally-owned businesses is part of Vermont culture* and The Alchemist is tapping into that.

    * - This culture also contributes to an overly inward-focus that tends to make Vermonters suspicious or outright reject businesses or even just new ideas from outside Vermont to their own detriment in some cases... so there's good and bad effects, but it's pretty darn good for small local businesses.

    Don't give the average consumer too much credit... Vermont consumers may know a little more about their beer, but they aren't following details like folks around here. The Alchemist has expanded, their beer is more common on shelves again, they are well-known across the nation, local consumers could start to get ideas/rumors. As far as I know they aren't having trouble selling beer in Vermont, but Alchemist certainly has more competition than they once did and Heady Topper isn't the shiniest can on the shelf anymore. It's better to proactively support a good business than sit back and be reactive when something bad happens. Besides this seal is a minor change that certainly isn't going to hurt them. There's no risk for them in doing this [no matter what a few people in our tiny zealous niche of the internet says :nerd: :stuck_out_tongue:].
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  24. bwarner2015

    bwarner2015 Initiate (75) Mar 25, 2016 Connecticut

    Is family-owned better than independently-owned by two unrelated business partners?
    AlcahueteJ likes this.
  25. MNAle

    MNAle Poo-Bah (1,657) Sep 6, 2011 Minnesota

    Depends on whether you are one of the smartest consumers on the planet from Vermont. :rolling_eyes:
  26. officerbill

    officerbill Devotee (451) Feb 9, 2019 New York
    Society Trader

    Good point. Many, many breweries are started and owned by a group of friends. Is a brewery owned by three buddies somehow inferior to a brewery owned by three cousins? Especially if they are owners, but not brewers?

    The Walton family owns 51% of Wal-Mart stock, does that make it a “family owned” business?

    If you qualify for that “independent/family owned” label you'll also qualify for the BA label so why not use both?

    Pretty soon beer cans & bottles will wear more labels than a NASCAR driver.
    jasonmason likes this.
  27. Ranbot

    Ranbot Savant (905) Nov 27, 2006 Pennsylvania

    When company ownership is part of the product marketing, absolutely.
  28. islay

    islay Disciple (325) Jan 6, 2008 Minnesota

    That's not accurate. It's very easy to be a B-Corp (at least in most states), basically just as easy as being a C-Corp with the small exception that B-Corps have to issue an Annual Benefit Report. You just have to incorporate as one in the first place (essentially just check a box) or update the approved corporate bylaws to state that you're a B-Corp. There are no tax or other regulatory implications (beyond the extra annual report); it just enables managers to pursue other goals beyond maximizing long-term profits for ownership. That makes it a friendly structure for those with majority control and a potentially unfriendly structure for those with minority shares (as the majority can pursue its pet causes in place of exercising fiduciary responsibilities on behalf of all of the owners).

    Your link is about "Certified B Corporations," which is a private designation from a nonprofit company called B Lab for which B-Corps have to meet certain standards and then pay to receive. I'm not even sure companies have to be registered as B-Corps to be certified under that private organization's rules. My understanding is that most B-Corps don't bother with the certification. That said, it appears (not from the press release but from some quick internet research) that The Alchemist is indeed a Certified B Corporation.
    officerbill likes this.
  29. VitisVinifera

    VitisVinifera Initiate (133) Feb 25, 2013 California

    It's pretty clear what's going on - the image of the Brewer's Assn logo has been changed and diluted over the year to where it's lost any significant meaning. By more narrowly focusing the definition of Alchemist's new statement, it brings more value to the customer. I highly doubt anyone would want to have both claims. This is all about branding and imaging - marketing. Personally, I'm for it - I can see the difference between the two. However I find a lot more significance to 100% indepenent than family-owned - two lifelong brew buddies starting a brewery is just as meaningful.
  30. AlcahueteJ

    AlcahueteJ Meyvn (1,162) Dec 4, 2004 Massachusetts

    Isn't that contradicting what you said earlier in that post, quoted below?

    But this is also a good point, I suppose there's no real downside.

  31. Ranbot

    Ranbot Savant (905) Nov 27, 2006 Pennsylvania

    yeah... FWIW, I did consider if I was being contradictory. I think what it comes down to public opinion is important to their business, but public opinion is notoriously fickle, so they do what they can to continue fostering all good will. There is a strong argument that the BA seal is confusing and in that confusion there is a risk of customers potentially associating negative biases of "Big Business" with The Alchemist, diluting the positive public opinion that helps sustain their business.

    Consider too, the potential for the Brewers Association to do something in the future that makes people angry, or creates an even more convoluted definition of "craft beer" [I'd say there's a very potential for that, given the BA's history :rolling_eyes:], which is outside of the control of The Alchemist, but their customers associate negative feeling with the BA's seal.
    Thanks... yeah and to expand a little, in a place like Vermont there is little upside in terms of public opinion associating with out-of-state organizations, when they can convey a similar message on their own terms.

    (I hope no Vermonters here take offense with a Pennsylvanian saying the things I say above. FWIW, I am 802 born and raised, my parents, and some friends still live there, and I visit regularly, but I also have some perspective now from living elsewhere. There are things I love about VT and things I don't, but I can say the same about Pennsylvania for other reasons.)
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  32. MNAle

    MNAle Poo-Bah (1,657) Sep 6, 2011 Minnesota

    So, I guess we now need a couple more new "seals":

    Independent, locally owned
    Independent, owner-operated
    Independent, no out-of-state dirty money here

    I do wonder if some people go into psychological turmoil when they buy some things ...
  33. socon67

    socon67 Poo-Bah (2,156) Jun 18, 2010 New York

    This is why I take these designations and claims with a grain of salt. It really doesn't influence my purchases and I doubt it is all that high on most people's purchasing factors. If I don't know how factual that seal is, I'm not making a purchasing decision based on it. When "Independent" is interpreted differently over time, what am I to do with "family-owned"?
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  34. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Poo-Bah (4,354) Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania

    How about this seal?

  35. dcotom

    dcotom Poo-Bah (2,254) Aug 4, 2014 Iowa
    Society Trader

    I think Mikkeller had the right idea. This one's as good as any, as far as I'm concerned:

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  36. meefmoff

    meefmoff Devotee (438) Jul 6, 2014 Massachusetts

    I'm not from Vermont but I have a group of close friends who live up near Waterbury and I've been nodding along with your posts. Your descriptions definitely square with how they and their larger social circle thinks (and shops) for the most part.

    They're also sort of stereotypical crunchy VT types, so I realize they hardly represent all Vermonters. But it's a fair bet that they're representative of the people the Alchemist is marketing to. I doubt they'd care too much about the new seal per se, but they'd definitely care if they stopped being worthy of such a seal.
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  37. jesskidden

    jesskidden Poo-Bah (1,935) Aug 10, 2005 New Jersey
    Society Trader

    Oh, no! A typo. What can I tell ya? "Geography" class was a long time ago and Taj Mahal's album didn't print the lyrics.

    Candy is dandy and liquor is quicker
    You can drink all the liquor down in Costa Rica
    Ain't nobody's business but my own
  38. t420o

    t420o Zealot (559) Jul 16, 2009 Colorado

    My feelings exactly
  39. Brewday

    Brewday Initiate (150) Dec 25, 2015 New York

    That label worries me.

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  40. jageraholic

    jageraholic Disciple (331) Sep 16, 2009 Massachusetts

    Don't breweries also have to buy in to the Brewers Association. Since they are muddying the lines so much, maybe Alchemist just wanted to, one, not pay for a seal that doesn't really mean anything and maybe they didn't get any benefit from being in the association, and B, show their pride for being a "small" independently/family owned company.