Sunday, June 03, 2012

Ruminations, Part 3: Bitterness isn’t always imparted by hops.

In last week’s column at, I mentioned a recent experience manning the beer concession tent at a music festival, and while there, being reminded several times of the critical importance of accepting the presence of mass-market beer among the offerings.

Domestic? Yes and no.

Now, the fact that the largest American-owned brewer is Yuengling, with Samuel Adams coming just behind, tells us that the word “domestic” has become another victim of Orwellian meaningless, courtesy of multinational consolidations and PR gobbledygook.

I was duly enlightened: Bud and Bud Light are necessary owing to the simple, down-home sensitivities of normal, ordinary small-town residents.

Ironically, when the music festival in question commenced seven years ago under the guidance of its insightful founder (now sadly deceased), no mass market beer was sold at all. The founder presciently viewed local music, beer, wine and food to have been cut from the same conceptual cloth of diverse human pleasures, and planned the event accordingly to maximize a joyful uniqueness.

It was only later that he was pressured by forever parochial powers-that-be to include mass-market beer, owing to “complaints” from a handful of presumably outraged town residents who were dissatisfied that for three whole days out of 365, they’d be unable to suckle their favorite swill, whenever and wherever they wanted, even if every other tavern in town within a five minute walk of the venue still had plenty of it.

The good news is that in spite of mass-market beer’s unfortunate inclusion, the music festival’s beer vending orientation has remained craft-driven, primarily owing to the integrity and dogged persistence of a cadre of enthusiasts determined to keep the founder’s remarkably bold vision afloat. Consequently, this year’s share of mass-market beer sales was once again less than 25% of the total.

With carbonated urine firmly ensconced in a minority status at the music festival, and removed from its accustomed position of monolithic and unquestioned pre-eminence – in short, no longer permitted to tilt the competitive playing field in a situation of institutionalized payola – the faux poignancy of the common man’s dilemma was brought even more sharply into focus.

Now, standing wild-eyed and disoriented in the vending tent at the music festival, faced with a menacing array of alien beers, ideas, philosophies and unpronounceable words, the common man petulantly demands that we all be concerned for his individual welfare and special beer needs, and commands us to alter the festival’s purpose-built laws of entrepreneurial supply and demand to represent a mass market now rendered into a niche market.

Pardon me while I stifle a yawn, find a spittoon and cast my ballot.

Such touching concern for the common man’s commonality … and yet all these years, twenty or more, I’ve been going to just such music festivals, civic affairs and ball games, and politely asking whether a craft beer might conceivably be available for me to enjoy, given my own special needs … and what have I almost always gotten in return?

Incomprehension, condescension, derision and indifferent shrugs, and sometimes outright hostility, and verily, I’ll shotgun a triple-watered Miller Lite before I forget that no one back then ever seemed to care whether it might be worth providing vending options for members of a beer-drinking minority when it was MY beer-drinking minority.

Rather, I was expected to timidly conform to swill’s vacuity, or go completely dry – and now, with the shoe finally on the other foot, even if at only one festival of many, I find it exceedingly difficult not to repay them in kind.

Furthermore, notice that while the fearful organizers of the music festival in question now declare it to be of critical importance for us to be properly concerned for the welfare of those members of the oppressed minority preferring “domestic” beer, a commensurate concern is not being expressed for the needs of OTHER common men and women in attendance.

Wait, mustn’t there be vegan options for the common man who doesn’t eat meat?

Don’t we need some boxes of White Zinfandel for the common women who resent being expected to comprehend varietals?

Shouldn’t there be a chintzy Buffett cover band on the folk festival playlist, because after all, a brace of common folk may have wandered in by mistake with a desperate need to revisit Margaritaville?

Or, there must be (fill in the blank) if for no other reason than that one obnoxious fellow last year who kept asking for it.

Of course, the ultimate truth of the matter is even more prosaic than usual:

We must have (fill in the blank) because this solitary organizing committee member just can’t imagine drinking/eating/using/grasping anything else, and accordingly, let ideas and concepts be damned.

So, yes, I suppose I’m being mean-spirited and condescending, and what’s more, it is purely intentional.

As Nelson Mandela probably never once said, “Paybacks Are Hell.” At the same time, I’m obviously not Mandela. When I wear one of my “These Machines Kill Fascists” t-shirts, I invariably wonder if it occurs to anyone outside the circle of knowing craft cognescenti that the message directly refers to my traditional view of the world of beer, and in a transparently obvious way: AB-Inbev and its industrial brewer brethren are the fascists, and craft brewers are the freedom-fighters.

On the other hand, perhaps the meaning can’t ever be obvious to those who regard Olive Garden as the acme of fine Italian dining.

No comments: