How Yuengling and Schell's Became Craft Beer

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PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- If your brewery brewed beer with maize when it opened because it was the best option available, somehow managed to survive Prohibition and avoided being bought out by the bigger breweries afterward, should it be considered craft?

For years, the Brewers Association craft beer industry group has said no. It didn't like the use of maize, corn or rice as adjuncts, it didn't feel that manner of brewing was "traditional" and it felt that the brewers who ran the Great American Brewing Festival and the American Homebrewers Association were well within their rights to keep brewers out of their club regardless of how long they'd been brewing.

That left many of the oldest breweries in the country out of the loop and, embarrassingly, left brewers with "craft" in their name on the outside looking in. It also left beer drinkers scratching their heads over which beers qualified as craft beer and which didn't.

That's over now, thanks to a whole lot of soul searching and a big change of heart by the Brewers Association. After taking a look at its hard-and-fast rules defining craft brewers -- which already flexed in 2010 to raise the production limit for small brewers from 2 million barrels to 6 million to accommodate Samuel Adams producer Boston Beer -- the Brewer Association's Board of Directors decided that perhaps its was being a bit tough on the older brewers. Back in February, the board decided to soften its stance against the use of rice and corn as adjuncts and whittled down the "traditional" pillar of its craft brewer definition.

As a result, brewers including Pottsville, Pa.-based D.G. Yuengling & Son (the oldest in the U.S., founded in 1829); St. Marys, Pa.-based Straub Brewing (1872); New Ulm, Minn.-based August Schell Brewing (1860); Monroe, Wis.-based Minhas Craft Brewery (1845 as Blumer Brewing) and others will be considered "craft beer" from this point on.

"My understanding with those companies is that they have their own licenses and produce their own beer and are under 6 million barrels and are independently owned, so they would fit based on my understanding," says Paul Gatza, director of the Brewers Association.