Independence is craft beer’s defining identity (and, lately, its principle point of conflict), and on this not-really-Independence Day (my personal mission is to get people to stop shortchanging our independence by two days – see addendum at the end) we should talk about it.
I’m not talking about only buying beer from breweries that have no corporate or capital-infusing partners. In fact, I’m almost saying the opposite of that.
Drink what you want, and what you like. Don’t let people browbeat you into not ordering a beer just because of who owns the brewery, or what capital injection they got, or with whom they’re sharing their profits. If it’s important to YOU, then by all means, let that inform your beer buying choices – but don’t cave to peer pressure.
For that matter, don’t let other people get you to buy or drink beer just because it’s rare or trendy or supposedly the best beer this side of Westvleteren. Every time I hear someone banging on about what an amazing, world-changing, transcendental beer such-and-such brewery has produced, I’m mainly just preparing myself to be disappointed. Sometimes they’re good. Rarely they’re great. But mostly they’re just solid beers that manage to do something extreme in a competent way, and while that’s admirable it isn’t nearly as impressive as taking something run-of-the-mill and making it exceptional. One of the best beers I ever had was a Rauchbier that had the best balance of flavors you’ve ever tasted, and they were all the more impressive because they were insanely subtle but still distinct and intensely complementary (I’d tell you where to buy it, but it was at a homebrew competition). It was a beer you wanted to drink a gallon of – and actually could, unlike the beers on most of the Top Ten lists you read. I like DIPA and Imperial Stout, but have you ever really sat down and tried to drink three pints of those? It’s like saying that a restaurant is the best in town because they serve nothing but deep-fried fois gras in cheese fondue.
This goes for all of you – pro brewers, homebrewers, or both.
Brew what you want to drink.
Brew to share flavors you think others will like.
If you’re a homebrewer, don’t get too hung up on the demands of others: it’s easy to fall into the trap of agreeing to brew beer for your sister’s wedding, your upcoming high school reunion, for a club competition, and in response to a seasonal need. The catch is that you have only so many brews in you in a given year, and if you give them all away you won’t have time to brew what you want. So be open to requests, but also be willing to politely refuse them.
If you’re a pro brewer…well, I can’t come down the mountain on this one because a) I’m not one, and b) you’re maintaining a career and supporting a family. But keep in mind the things that got you excited about brewing in the first place. I know that there’s a lot of pressure to satisfy the accountant (either the real one or the one in your brain) and/or to cater (pander?) to customer demands, and it’s perfectly reasonable to accommodate those pressures. Still, though, you should look for (and create) opportunities to brew independently. The odds that you’ll create a trend by brewing what you love are long, but it’s a chance worth taking. It’s the brewing equivalent of the “be yourself” you get before going on a date or job interview.
If there’s something that defined the American Revolution as much as independence, it was liberty. Liberty, simply put, is the right to choose your own path without interference from others. Liberty, though, is not license (see John Stuart Mill, “On Liberty”). Liberty doesn’t mean that you can do whatever you want, because the moment your choices limit someone else’s liberty, you’ve exceeded it.
As this pertains to beer, stop being one of these people that harangues or denigrates other people’s beer choices. When you decide that you hate Bud Light (I do) and choose not to buy it, then you’re fine. When you ask someone why they drink something that tastes like watered-down camel piss spiked with cayenne pepper, you’re not fine, even if it’s true.
I know the memes and jokes can be funny. And I know that we often make fun of ourselves, too (“How to enjoy pumpkin beer: Step 1, throw it in the trash.”). But there are two reasons to not do it.
One, it’s mean-spirited, and isn’t there quite enough of that in the world?
Two – and this is the more-important one – we have our own quality problems in craft beer. Say what you want about the macro lagers, they produce what they’re aiming for every time, and most of them are perfectly drinkable even when they’re not noteworthy. Can we still say that about most craft beers? I can’t. If you hand me a random, unlabeled craft beer and a can of Coors, at this point in craft beer’s development I honestly can’t tell you which I’d expect to be the better/more-technically-proficient beer. Which means, by the way, that when we make fun of the “what is that, a macro lager? I already have a bottle of water – HA HA HA!!!!” beers, not only are we being aleholes about it, we’re also demonstrating a massive blind spot in our own market and looking like twice the aleholes as a result.
We have more choices in beer than at any point in our history (literally). Let’s enjoy it. Let’s encourage it. But let’s not be hypocrites or jerks about it. Think what you want – but don’t infringe on others’ beer liberty.
HAPPY NOT-INDEPENDENCE DAY
As promised, a brief word on “Independence Day.” The Fourth of July, 1776 is NOT when the United States became independent. We became independent two days earlier, on the second, when passed Mr. Lee’s resolution that we were independent and sovereign states and owed no allegiance to Great Britain. From the moment that vote was recorded, we were independent. All that we did on the fourth was publish the official statement of it. And while the federally recognized observance of our independence is on the fourth, I prefer to give us our full due, and I encourage you to do the same. Wish people a happy Independence on the 2nd. Set off your fireworks that night. Ask people whether they’re going to the shore for the 2nd, or what beer they’re serving for their Second of July barbecue.
And when they ask why, you can tell them.
Have a great holiday, and enjoy your independence (beer and otherwise).
Keep it simple.