Thursday, January 02, 2014

Diary: On caring how it got there (2).

Part one here

  ... Quite a few of America’s 2,500 brewing companies quite likely are soon to face a scenario in which the self-centeredness of the non-brand-loyal narcissist isn’t enough to service their debt; a time when store shelves will be filled with too many brands of beer produced by the likes of Blue Moon, larger contract brewers AND folks we all still like (Sierra, New Belgium), and the 10% annual growth we’ve been celebrating will not be producing enough asses in seats to please bankers.

In short, it will be a market that bizarrely reflects conditions of consolidation and attrition that once presaged America’s decades-long beer depression. There could be a great deal of pain.

If simply making excellent beer isn’t enough, and such beers neither can compete in the high-end market of the priestly caste, nor survive at price points on a par with the upper echelon of production brewers, what’s left to the vast expanse of middle ground in brewing?

I’d have to say that the best shot is intensified economic localism (AMIBA or BALLE are national organizational examples), as well as getting back to the craft of the matter, in the sense that we all use the word “craft” while seldom seeking to relate it to other crafts, or even offering a fundamental definition of what craft means. I’m not entirely sure I understand it. It doesn’t mean giving up “export” markets and shipping packaged beer, but making a deeper commitment to doubling down on economic localization and the foundational, grassroots tasks of educating and informing.

My brewery makes outstanding beer. If this isn’t enough for the priestly caste, cool beans, because the priestly caste isn’t enough for me. It’s about the liquid in the glass to the extent that I won’t drink crap, but it’s about far more than the liquid in the glass, because the liquid in the glass got there by means of a number of considerations, which are being ignored far too often as we chase the ephemera of the newest, biggest thing.

Those guys in New York with the signs speaking of contract brewing as “death of craft beer” are doing the right thing by asking the question and getting the discussion started. Whether intentional or otherwise, those objecting to the question merely provide tacit support to what entrenched interests always seek: Protection of the status quo. But when the status quo stands in the way of progress, it needs to be questioned.

Why do you think we had an American brewing revolution in the first place?

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