I remember my first craft beer like it was yesterday, Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout at Isaac Newton’s in Newtown, PA. It’s silky mouthfeel coupled with a decadent, roasty sweetness was unlike anything I’d had before. I mean Guinness was good but had nothing on this. It motivated me to find great tasting beer outside of the multi-million dollar ad campaigns during football games.
At the time this whole term — craft beer — was new on me, I didn’t really know what it meant. Fast forward to 2017 and we still as whole don’t seem to agree on what craft, or independent, beer is. Over time I learned about what was considered craft beer by the Brewer’s Association’s continually evolving definition and all I think it has done is make things a good bit cloudier, and not in the New England IPA sort of way. How much beer do you make per year? Are you more than 24.5% owned by one of the big boys? What ingredients are you using? Before a couple years ago you weren’t craft if you used corn in your beer but cartoon clad boxes of sugar coated breakfast cereal is craft to a tee?
I loved craft beer more because of an attitude rather than some rules about production size, ownership and ingredients. It was the same sort of attitude that led me to punk rock, hardcore and metal music. I guess you could say it’s a certain je ne sai fuck you. Got to love the French. I loved the passion for the art of brewing and not being afraid to say what you meant. Breweries like Flying Dog and Stone stuck out immediately to me with their in your face, take it or leave it marketing approach to their beers. Oh, and their beers? They were pretty damn good too.
I’ll admit that for my 10 years of this passion that there has always been some sort of anti-big beer mentality going on, it’s just like punk and hardcore being anti-mainstream. But in all honesty I wasn’t drawn to the whole thing for being anti something, it was about being pro something. It was about being pro small businesses. It was about being pro art. I wanted to wave the flag for craft beer not hold the protest placard against big beer.
I didn’t want to fight big beer, mainly because I didn’t think it was a battle that could be won. I know, I’m so pessimistic, but honestly I felt like my time and energy became better spend promoting the good inside the craft side of things. The more time you dedicate to fighting something much bigger and with more resources the more it’s going to slow down your original goal, success of craft. And I think we have certainly seen this occur as the growth numbers in craft as a whole are slowing down, especially in a lot of the bigger and more regional breweries.
You can argue that you need to fight to maintain your appearance as independent because the big boys are buying up craft guys left and right. No amount of battling against ABI or Miller Coors was going to change that, just like punk and hardcore bands end up signing to major labels. Call them sellouts all you want but it was bound to happen regardless.
Then we get the people themselves in the craft beer community. I’ve seen a group that loved getting together and trying beers with one and other in order to share and praise good work by a brewer turn into a virtual stock market built on rareness and hype. “Their beer sucks because it isn’t like this brewery.” Holy shit are we literally arguing over who’s more punk rock than the other?
Bottle shares are dick measuring contests without flashing any actual flesh. Trading has become just about the trade itself rather than the actual experience of trying a beer you can’t get and providing that same experience to your trading partner. Glassware, shirts, hats and beer itself is being sold at huge mark ups online to make a profit. Supply and demand they’ll say.
And this in fighting isn’t just the consumers but the brewers themselves. The whole “we’re all in this together” mantra that I was sold on a while back seems to be becoming as powerless as the Queen. Battling over tap handles, shelf space, brand name trademarks and so on. Yes, a certain amount of battling does need to be done in order to be seen or heard — I won’t deny that — but maybe if you are resorting to being a dick to other breweries in your area, because you aren’t “winning,” you have other things to worry about.
My head hurts. Can you tell?
I guess what I’m saying is that I’m sick of this fighting. I’m sick of fighting against multi-national corporations that don’t see me as a threat — because I’m not. I’m sick of fighting within our own craft segment over brand names, who has tap handles and who has more store placements. I’m sick of fighting against a small percentage of consumers that see beer as a commodity instead of an enjoyable liquid to consume with friends and family over good times.
Yeah, a lot has changed and a lot is going to continue to change in this industry but I won’t the negative aspects keep me down. I will continue to look at this industry as a form of art. I will continue to look up to and try to emulate amazing brewers and companies that I respect that are doing just that. I will continue to support good beer and those that make it. I will share beer with friends, family and strangers at the bar without my nose pointed up but my eyes looking straight into theirs. Hell I’ll even throw a middle finger up at the big boys every now and then but I’m not going to waste my time with trying to “bring them down.”
Let’s make art. Let’s make passion. Let’s make beer.