2 Jan 2013

New Year Musings - Sod the movement!


About two months ago, I read an excellent article about Light beers in the US that, even after taking some of it with pinch of salt, makes you think a lot about the concepts of "craft" and "quality". But that is not what I wanted to talk about today (though I really recommend the article), but about what I started thinking after reading this little bit almost at the beginning:
Melissa Brandt (...) chimed in. She'd recently bought her father a case of craft beer but couldn't convert him. Once he'd polished off the gift, he retreated to his basement kegerator full of Bud Light. "It was a sad moment," she said.
Let's analyse this a bit. Unlike that wanker in Ustí, this woman's dad did drink the craft beers he had received, he "polished them", so we can assume he liked them (you don't "polish" a beer you don't like), and yet, he went back to the arms of his beloved Bud Light. What's so sad about it? Seeing a man deciding for something he evidently enjoys? No, what's sad are craftophiles like Melissa who believe their tastes are superior to those of the majority and can not understand, or even accept, that there are people who will voluntarily drink stuff they consider "shit".

To rather some extent, this is a product of that mythical beast "The Craft Beer Movement", which has made us, the consumers, believe that in some way we are together with the people on the other side of the counter fighting the war against bad beer*, that we all share the same ideals, goals and the same passion for good beer*. It's because of this that some of us feel it is our duty to promote true beer and evangelise the masses.

It has to be said that this fantasy works quite well. Not only there are many who refuse to critisise alternative brewers, but some will even frown upon someone else's doing so, which in turn has resulted in brewers who feel they should be immune to public criticism arguing that it can "hurt the movement".

If we think about it a little, this is something absurd. The ideals and goals of the consumers and the producers are opposed (passion is just a marketing buzzword, really), and the commercial relationship is just the result of both sides making compromises in order to satisfy their needs or wishes. Brewers will only make those beers they know, or at least strongly believe, will sell; we will buy those beers that we like o believe we will like. The price for them will be determined by a middle point between how much the producer wants to earn and how much the consumer is willing to spend; with the former trying to convince the latter to spend as much as possible (needless to say, the producers always have the upper hand, the average consumer tends to be ignorant, apathetic or not too hard to dupe).

But regardless of the bollocks and the delusions some might have, the truth is that the small/local/independent breweries aren't part of any movement whatsoever. They are part of an industry! Both [insert name of your most reviled macro] and [insert name of your most beloved micro] are in the same business, making and selling beer. The differences between one and the other are simply the result of scales, business models, and company policies and structures, just that.

Each of them, in their own way, want the same: that we choose their products over those of the competition. Since macros aim at a mass market, they use football teams, James Bond, sexy girls and what have you, while the micros, who aim at a niche or niches, use localness, passion, authenticity and what have you. In both cases, they want the consumer to identify with those values, which, as far as the quality of what gets to our glass is concerned, are entirely superficial. In other words, the ultimate goal of all of them, big, small, independent, corporate, local, global is the same, is to get our money.

But don't take this the wrong way, I'm a capitalist and I'm really cool with people wanting to make money, specially when they do it working and producing. What I don't like is to be taken for a fool and be sold, as Alan has genially put it, sucker juice. Though, we should be honest, as with the prices, the blame is always ours at the end of the day. It is us who should change. We should realise once and for all that we have no obligation of any kind to automatically promote and support one branch of the industry, let alone spread the "gospel of good beer" (really, I'm sometimes ashamed to have believed that). On the contrary, we should be more cynical and critical with the stuff said by those who want our money.

But I don't want to look so bitter and cold. Sharing, even figuratively, what we like and gives us pleasure is in itself a pleasant thing, and I will keep on sharing my tastes in beer and promoting the companies that do things the way I like them to be done just like I've been doing, but not anymore with the intention of illuminating anyone's taste buds. If a good mate, after polishing a growler of Kout decides to go back to drinking Braník straight from the bottle, I won't think any less of him. Actually, I wouldn't even mind to share his beer tastes, after all, better crap beer with good people than good beer with crap people.

Na Zdraví!

*Good/bad beer: If what defines good beer is the taste, then no beer is inherently bad as long as there are people who enjoy it and are willing to pay for it.

12 comments:

  1. I've had the same of the kind of disappointment as Mellissa. My father never gets interested on the beers I take to sunday lunch. It's not his indifference to the taste of the beer I offer him that bothers me, but is that everytime he asks me how much I've paid for it and makes a face of disaprovement, as if it's too much to pay for any beer.
    Anyway, I'm not asking him how much he paid for those bottles of scotch whisky he drinks.

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  2. Exactly. I am getting sick to death of the evangelical nature of so much of the craft beer world over here. Makes me want to start a grumpy bastard pub where people can drink in safety. Come to think about it, that could be one reason why McGrady's is my favourite pub in Charlottesville, it's a grumpy old man pub that happens to have decent beer.

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  3. Err... I bet you might have words for whoever wrote this: http://www.kegworks.com/blog/2013/01/02/a-craft-beer-drinkers-manifesto-for-2013

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    1. Please, tell me it is a joke, even if you had to lie to me...

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    2. fucking hell, someone still has their head jammed firmly in their nether regions.

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  4. Agree entirely about how annoying evangelism can be, though it's entirely natural to want to share something that excites you with other people.

    Also agree that 'the movement', insofar at it exists at all, is about people travelling in roughly the same direction, with approximately aligned aims, with no responsibilities to each other at all. If we find ourselves siding with some brewers over others, its out of selfishness, not because we're engaged in a 'cause'.

    Having said that... (mischievous mode) isn't there an emerging tendency to sneer at people who find pleasure in drinking 'sucker juice'? (That is a great phrase.) And doesn't the same argument that applies to Lite lager drinkers -- that they know what they like and shouldn't be patronised -- apply to them?

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    1. Very much true! The difference is that the sucker juice drinker is more likely to patronise than the Lite lager one, who will mostly mind his or her own business.

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    2. Oh, I'm not so sure that's a correct statement. Every time I write something critical about big beer (i.e. that their continuing efforts to control distribution aren't a positive thing) I get bombarded by Lite lager drinkers who tell me to "stop telling people what they should drink!" Funny, I didn't know critical thinking equals telling people what to drink.

      Maybe they aren't patronizing, but the inability to engage in debate is equally annoying.

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    3. There can't be a trend if I made up the term "sucker juice" four weeks ago. It isn't sneering - it's pointing and mocking. What has happened is that a certain level of craft brewer has realized what's being going on with established big micros like Dogfish and realized there is lots of profit to be made overlaying phony baloney over beer - even bad beer - to make it more expensive.

      This is not about anything but the trend in good beer towards hucksterism.

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    4. Yeah, but it sound worse if I call it sneering, which helps with my argument...

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    5. I side with Alan (even if my previous comment didn't make it seem so). Saying that some beers are "sucker juice" isn't sneering at the people who like drinking those beers, anymore than saying other beers are "crap" is.

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  5. It is also not sneering to point out that slow left hook inflationary tactics are being employed by some brewers to raise prices and profits or that an unsophisticated marketplace of consumers is being duped largely due to the lack of actual consumer-focused advocacy. Because this is not a marketplace but a movement.

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