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DeCelle’s talk focused on FDA regulation of brewers—which has ramped up steadily in the past decade and will only increase under the Food Safety Modernization Act. Still, while FDA regulators are increasingly coming into contact with brewers, it appears—judging from comments and questions posed by brewers after DeCelle’s talk—these regulators often have little idea what craft beer is and how it’s produced.
One craft brewer, for example, told DeCelle that an FDA regulator who inspected his brewery had suggested that the new FSMA required the brewery to refrigerate its grain—something that flies in the face of beermaking and industry standards.
"It doesn't take much to understand that you don't keep grain cold," he said.
Another brewer described FDA inspectors who have visited his brewery as "clueless." Yet another pointed to the growing problem in the industry of "the FDA not really knowing our practices."
When the FDA "send[s] in an inspector,” he told DeCelle and the audience, “they should know what they're talking about."
The challenge regulators must face up to is that artisanal production often doesn’t resemble the sterile laboratory environment that the FDA sometimes expects.
Smaller isn’t inherently any better or worse than bigger. But it is different. Even within the craft beer industry, the size of market participants shows great variety.
There are craft beer giants like Stone Brewing, big fish in small ponds like Maui Brewing, and nanobreweries that could fit into a small apartment. But some are even smaller.
I learned about what appears to be a new trend in beer—gypsy brewing. Brooklyn's Lauren Carter and her husband are launching Grimm Artisanal Ales, which builds on principles of the shareable economy, in Brooklyn, New York.
"In order to relieve much of the debt burden associated with starting a brewery," Carter tells me, "gypsy brewers do not invest in space and equipment, which can be prohibitively expensive. Instead, we are brewers without a home traveling to existing breweries and making beer by renting time using the equipment there."
Regardless of size, the craft brewers I spoke with appear to want much the same thing—good beer, happy customers, and fair rules.
Industry insiders appear optimistic about their shared future.
“Craft beer’s only going to continue to grow,” says Stone Brewing’s Sysak.
If state and federal regulators will allow it, craft brewers and beer drinkers alike can expect a bright and hoppy future.