Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Wednesday Weekly: Keeping the golden age golden.

Alan McLeod turned a great, succinct phrase in a recent blog review of “Great American Craft Beer,” a new book by Andy Crouch, and having just returned from another glorious Great Taste of the Midwest, it bears repeating here:

“This is a golden era and this book captures it.”

The Great Taste also captured this golden era. As always, the experience was uniformly excellent, and I’ve long since passed the point of a rather joyful alcoholic paralysis when it comes to intelligent decision-making at such an event. One can work very hard to isolate and exploit the suspected high points, or merely permit the wave to carry you along. You simply cannot go wrong.

Even refraining from the Dark Lord queue and similar, numerous special tappings, and selecting those beers offered at navigable lines, the creativity on display is staggering, and the diversity is overwhelming. If that sensation is true for someone like me, who knows enough by now to cherry pick, imagine the rush of information to the fragile brain of the casual observer.

It’s beer porn. How many unopened Christmas presents can one man fathom?

The flip side is this: If permitted necessary pondering space, the cynic in me begins to speculate as to history’s lesson when it comes to golden eras, which is to say that they usually end – at times giving way to bigger and better things, but more often crashing badly.

At the risk of glib over-simplification, one such “golden era” ended in 1914, when decades of peace in Western Europe gave way to the catastrophe of the First World War. Accounts from the period uniformly mention the sheer magnificence of the summer preceding the Archduke’s assassination. The hangover that followed was deadly, indeed.

It isn’t my aim to read too much into any of this. What we do as craft brewers is an art, but it’s also very much a business (how I wish this weren’t so true), and any business in America that grows the way ours has grown, and during the rough times during which it has grown, retains much legitimacy and insulation against ill winds.

There is a palpably expanding level of acceptance, both among those inclined to join our ranks, and those who are fair-minded and open about life in general.

But success also emboldens the legions of do-gooders, health fascists and kill-joys that inhabit the corridors of our nation’s legislative bunkers. During the past year, we have witnessed ham-fisted state regulatory pressure in Pennsylvania and California, and initiatives to enforce archaic laws against homebrewers in places like Oregon, where there also has been a major controversy over increasing excise taxes.

Here in New Albany, grubby local political wars have spilled into NABC’s realm. Militant and youthful state gendarmes prone to mistaking SWAT team fraternity culture for community policing have poached selected downtown food and drink businesses to pile up drunk driving arrest statistics, and just this week, I had the pleasure of being debriefed by the previously somnolent weights and measures department inspector (“true, my predecessor didn’t set foot in a bar or restaurant in 23 years’) about short pours, and what an American thinks when he hears the word pint, as opposed to an Englishman – and where we live, compared to there, and how I must not sell an Imperial Pint because it implies a specific pour in ounces ... and whatever.

We in the craft beer business cannot assume that the numerous virtues of our work are enough to ward off idiocy, because in spite of the platitudes, America is not always a fair-minded kind of place; it were so, there’d have been no Prohibition in the first place, and to entrust our future prosperity to the good faith of the populace at large, or the fact that we’re growing in a country that worships money, quite frankly makes me ill at ease. Be an up-and-comer, or get uppity, and there are those waiting to chop you down, because that's what they do. Some times, the already on top take down the up-and-comers, although you won't read that in LEO.

This uneasiness tells me two things. First, we as brewers need to take our trade organizations seriously and bring ourselves up to date on regulatory matters. There are few available seconds in a week; nonetheless, we need to get involved, to know the politicians, and to reconnoiter the landscape for trends. No one is going to do it for us.

Second, and not as easily explained, I believe we need to hatch some sort of initiative with respect to community education, one aimed at explaining who we are and why it matters, but also one enabling us to grow our segment more quickly. We need to go where we haven’t gone before, we meet people we haven’t met before, and share with them beers they haven’t had before.

I’m not pretending there’s a point to this. Perhaps as the weeks go past and I have a bit more time to write, it will begin to make sense. The fundamental consideration to me is to get the market share bigger, faster, as protection against the ugly side of our national character.

I want to be 75 years old and attending the 50th Great Taste.


孟湖聿軒 said...
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The New Albanian said...

After a while, it DOES make even the most tolerant among us want to drop a bomb on some part of China.