Delaware Brewers Unite Under the ‘Independent Craft’ Seal

Delaware breweries achieve first state status with every establishment adopting the Independent Craft seal./Courtesy of the Brewer’s Association.

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In Delaware, a logo of an upside-down beer bottle with the words “Independent Craft” inside follows you everywhere—the liquor store, the local pub and the taprooms of the 27 breweries around the state.

For our state, it’s a sign of community and pride in its local product. It also makes us the first state (no pun intended) in the country where every craft brewery wears the Brewers Association Certified Independent Craft seal.

The seal is the brainchild of the Brewers Association in Boulder, Colorado. Created in the summer of 2017, the label indicates a brewery is small and independently owned.

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“The seal is a tool for beer lovers to know they’re supporting a small and indie craft brewer if and when that matters to them,” says Julia Herz, craft beer program director at the Brewers Association.

Specifically, the seal denotes that a brewery produces 6 million barrels of beer or less a year, has less than 25 percent nonbrewer ownership and, simply enough, makes beer. Since the seal’s creation, more than 4,800 breweries have adopted it. There’s a complementary label for retailers to show that they support indie craft brewers and sell their products.

While Delaware has less ground to cover than other statesits 27 craft breweries are nothing compared to the 841 that the Brewers Association recognizes in Californiathis still means a lot for the state and its beer community. Herz says that the unity behind the breweries all adopting the seal is what matters, and it helps promote the association’s goal of protecting and promoting small breweries. And having larger independent breweries like Dogfish Head promote the seal expands its reach.

Sam Calagione, owner and founder of Dogfish Head, showcases the Independent Craft seal on his beers and throughout the brewery./Courtesy of Dogfish Head

“We really grew up as a brand with the Delaware craft beer community, both as consumers and commercial brewers,” says Sam Calagione, owner and founder Dogfish Head.

Calagione, who previously served as chairman of the Brewers Association, includes the seal on his company’s brews to show unity with other brewers in the state and because he knows what it’s like to be “David up against Goliath.” Even during Dogfish Head’s recent merger with The Boston Beer Company, Calagione says that they made sure to go through with the merger in such a way that both breweries could retain their independence and Dogfish Head could continue displaying the seal prominently.

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This idea of banding together as a community is something that other breweries in the state echo. Jon Schorah, head brewer at Crooked Hammock Brewery, says that many brewers in Delaware have a texting thread where they can ask each other for and offer advice.

“It helps promote collaboration,” says Schorah, sitting in Crooked Hammock’s second location in Middletown, which opened last year. “We can talk at a local level.”

Crooked Hammock, like many other breweries, displays its seal on the cans. And although it mainly serves beer from taprooms, owner Rich Garrahan says the Brewers Association is most helpful when they need to fight for retail shelf space. In states like Delaware, where self-distribution is not allowed, breweries must rely on connections to get their beers into stores through third-party distributors, Herz explains.

One of Iron Hill Brewery’s founders, Mark Edelson, thinks the seal is helpful for retail customers to identify what beer is actually independent./Photo by Chapman Croskell

For breweries like Iron Hill that sell and distribute primarily through their own brewpubs, supporting the seal is more of an act of solidarity. Mark Edelson, one of Iron Hill’s founders, says that it’s easier for a brewpub like theirs to seem independent and local, even though they now have locations in five different states. He says that the seal is most helpful for retail customers to identify what beer is actually independent and craft, and what is simply made to look that way but is owned and produced by a major beer company.

“The seal reinforces that small and independent is how we continue the craft,” says Edelson, who started Iron Hill in 1996, the year after Dogfish Head was founded, and like Calagione sat on the Brewers Association board. “It’s up to customers whether they care, but it helps them make an educated decision.”

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Looking toward the future of craft brewing in the state, Edelson says that he expects to see continued growth, no matter how small. Herz offered a similar prediction, saying that although it’s getting harder for individual breweries to grow, the association is looking at expansion in categories like innovation and the number of breweries opening. She’s especially excited for what Delaware’s 100-percent adoption means for both the seal’s future and the state’s future in beer.

“I think it’s a really exciting milestone for an emerging beer destination,” Herz says. “I’ve toured and tasted in Delaware, and it’s an extremely rewarding area for beer, beaches, food and fun. [The seal adoption] is a true mark of the authenticity behind what’s going on in the beer scene in Delaware.” 

Published as “Spirit of Independence” in the April 2020 issue of Delaware Today magazine.

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