10 Jun 2013

Monday Musings


In an interview with Brooklyn Magazine, where he mostly talks about the 25th anniversary of his brewery, Garret Oliver, when asked about the "craft vs crafty" controversy, answers with the following:
“My outlook on it is somewhat philosophical. Am I annoyed? Yes. It’s very annoying to see people who are not you walking around dressed as you and claiming to be you, essentially, and using the advantages they have to try to get people to think, “beer is beer, it’s all the same,” etc. What I say to people is, take the big breweries, and anyone, anyone in the room I’m in, sometimes hundreds of people, can you name the brewmaster? Anyone got a name? No, there is no name. There’s no name. There’s nothing but money. And money moves, and this liquid moves around the world, and there’s nothing but money. If you want to understand what it’s about, it’s about money. And we are about something else.”
Let's not discuss the "craft vs crafty" thing, because by now it should be clear to anyone what it is all about. There are two things in that answer that caught my attention. The first one is that being able to name the brewmaster thing, as if it was something important. It bloody isn't!

As I've already mentioned, craft reweries started to use the figure of the brewmaster as a marketing tool is a way of compensating for the lack of proper terroir, but I might have been wrong. I think it's compensating for something else they lack, especially those from countries with not much of a brewing tradition to speak of, or those who want to distance themselves from the prevailing one in their markets: heritage.

This isn't intended as a criticism, it's not a shortcoming or a disadvantage in any way; it's a fact. If you look at the biggest and/or most renown craft breweries these days, even those who have been around for several decades, you'll notice that those companies are still run basically by the same people who established them. There hasn't been a passage of generations that would create that heritage. So, in a way, the face of the brewmaster, who will often be also one of the founders, replaces that. It's good marketing, it gives the company a more human face. It's a kind of marketing that I quite like, since the person who knows the beer better than anyone else should be able to engage with the consumers better than a spokesperson, but it's nonetheless marketing, not too different than having an ancient date printed on a label; and it's something that doesn't add any value to the beer. I had a great time the other day with Václav Berka, but that experience didn't affect in any way my opinion about the beer or the brewery.

What bothers me about Oliver's answer, though, is that it implies that being able to name and recognise its brewmaster will make a brewery better, that it makes it more worthy of respect. What a load of bollocks! Let's take for example, Polička, Schneider, St. Bernardus and Samuel Smith. Hardly anyone knows the names of their brewmasters, and even fewer people care. Those breweries have heritage, they have a continuity (albeit interrupted in the Czech case) and therefore, the consumer doesn't need to know who is in charge of making the beers, they expect the beers to be good because they trust the company that makes them.

Which brings me to why Oliver is missing the point so much. A brewmaster is one of the most important people in a brewery, if not the most, there's no arguing that, but he or she can be replaced. If Oliver decided to retire tomorrow, there's not technical reason why that should affect the quality of the beers; all the company would need is someone familiarised enough with the recipes and the equipment, which, I believe they already have. (what effect that would have in the way the company is run, that's another thing) and nobody would notice the change.

In conclusion, knowing the name the brewmaster of a given brewery means jack shit as far as the quality of the beer and the brewery is concerned. That leaves us with the second thing: money.

This is perhaps the part of the craftophile discourse that irritates me the most. That widespread belief, based on lies and hypocrisy, that craft brewers are not commercial, that making money is not the reason why they have a brewery.

Regardless of what made someone set up a brewing company, the truth is that anyone who does something for a living is doing it for money. They might love their job, feel really passionate about it, or whatever, but if they weren't earning enough money by making/selling beer, they would be forced to do something else. If their main drive was their love of beer, then they would still be home brewers, selling their production in order to finance their hobby.

On the other hand, this is especially disingenuous coming from someone whose beers have national distribution and are exported to several countries. If sheer financial gain isn't behind that, then what is it? Not that there is anything wrong with that, mind you, quite the opposite! What's bad is that someone as intelligent as Oliver feels it's necessary to come out with crap like that. He's well aware that a large part of beer geekdom is composed of people for whom riches and success lawfully attained after a lot of hard work is something to be frowned upon. I really don't understand those people, they are like teenage fans of indie bands who, after the object of their affections make it big and become mainstream, will accuse them of "selling out". That is already quite stupid all by itself, but it's even worse when it comes to brewers. How can people whose day job is to make beer and/or manage brewing companies be accused of selling out and loosing credibility? But don't come to them with those arguments. Their minds seem to be so fucked up that they believe that someone who does something "just for the money" has a somehow lower moral stature, than someone who is following their dream.

The problem is that they have their hopheads so high up their asses that they fail to see the most basic reality - a company needs to produce a certain turnover to at least stay in business, let alone make a profit and grow. That requires planning, budgeting, accounting, etc; and the bigger that company gets, the more complex all that will become. And that's why it is money that is running the show.

Perhaps it is that they believe that setting up a brewery should privilege idealistic home brewers, and that someone's doing it because they see it as a prospective business or, even because they want to cash in on a fad will ruin beer. Why should we give any fucks whatsoever about why someone decided to start brewing commercially? Yeah, stories of dreams followed and whatnot are nice and even inspiring sometimes, no one's denying that. But we should judge a brewery by the beers they make and not by the motivations of its owners. As far as I am concerned, if a brewery is able to offer me the sort of beer I will want to drink, I will be more than happy to give them my money. What the owners of that company will later do with that money is none of my business, nor should be anyone's.

Anyway, good beer is able to stand on its own two feet and speak for itself, it doesn't need any egos, personality cults or redundant bollocks to support it.

Na Zdraví!

PS: I don't think I need to explain myself, but just in case. I've got nothing against Garret Oliver or his brewery, I haven't had the chance to meet him in person or to taste his beers. In fact, I believe he has worked really hard to get his company where it is now, for which he deserves some respect. Besides, he's not the only who has said bollocks of this caliber; Greg Koch, founder of Stone has recently come out with a similar sort of nonsense.

4 comments:

  1. The problem with a good number of the so called Craft Breweries springing up in the UK is that they are not they are microbreweries picking up on a new fad to improve their chances in the new market.
    This is the same for a number of so called craft bars which are also appearing in most British cities again using the name to promote their buisness
    Don't get me wrong they have added variety to us beerdrinkers but Craft most are not, an overused work stating what to my mind most brewers are craft brewers they brew good beer mind you there are the exceptions.

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    1. Those companies are selling a brand. One that has become rather popular among certain people now. Time will tell how long that popularity will last at what will happen once the bubble bursts. Let us hope that the breweries that survive that will be the ones making the best beers.

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    2. Agree and the bubble will burst sooner than later

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  2. So Much Choice Now. Quality does Vary. Last couple of Days, not so Good. May, Mild Month. Was Great. Visiting London Soon. Looking Forward to That.

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