Monday, November 24, 2014

The PC: Local remedies are a fine palliative for RateAdvocate.

The PC: Local remedies are a fine palliative for RateAdvocate.

A weekly web column by Roger A. Baylor.

There was an edifying on-line conversation under way about “craft” beer cultural values, and in the middle of it, a questioner asked whether I was aware of the RateAdvocate scores for my own brewing company’s beers.

Now, the most obvious way to answer a question like this is with a simple “yes” or “no,” but in life, almost nothing good comes easy. As a philosophy major, serial contrarian and periodic ass, cooperation generally strikes me as the most problematic reaction, although I’ll accede to it in times of extreme duress.

To me, it’s always better to peel back a layer and ask an immediate follow-up question: Exactly what does my ownership of a brewery have to do with my ability to think rationally and independently about “craft” beer cultural values … or their absence?

Which is to say: The original question directed to me is not particularly relevant, but for the record, just because I’m coming off a wonderful weekend filled with local beer, food, people and good times: No, I’m not aware of my own brewery’s ratings at RateAdvocate – nor at Yelp, Urban Spoon or any other aggregator of uninformed opinion, one advancing the theory that subjectivity becomes increasingly virtuous so long as the sample size of ignorance continues to grow.

Speaking only for myself, I’d rather read actual books than endure reviews like this, and while I’m no fan of authors like Ayn Rand, those having read The Fountainhead may recall the famous exchange between Ellsworth Toohey and Howard Roark, as paraphrased.

Toohey: What do you think about RateAdvocate?

Roark: I don’t think about RateAdvocate.


So, why do I find the question irrelevant?

It presupposes that my current position as brewery owner colors my objectivity as it pertains to larger matters in the world of beer and brewing, and more cleverly, it insinuates bias, whether intentional or inadvertent, in the sense that if our beers are dismissed by a ratings aggregator, I’d be inclined to attack whomever I held responsible for the slight.

To be sure, maintaining one’s objectivity can be an exacting challenge in a society that urges consumers to thump their chests and scream louder than the next adjacent product line, then rinse and repeat. Consequently, the method I deploy to keep myself as honest as humanly possible is a constant process of questioning and self-examination:

Is what I’m saying and writing true?

Am I being fair?

Would I still say and write these things if I weren’t a brewery owner, but a typical “craft” beer consumer?

Lest I lapse inadvertently into the hoary "Four Way Test" of the Rotarians, this is a good place to stop. Of course, perfection is impossible, but consistency needn’t be implausible. RateAdvocate doesn’t scratch my itch because to me, better beer isn’t about collecting scalps. It’s about collecting experiences, and we do that in places, with people – not by attempting to numerically quantify bliss.


It isn’t that I don’t consult reference materials when choosing beers, especially when traveling near and far.

NABC is a member of New Albany First (NA 1st) and the Louisville Independent Business Alliance – LIBA, which encourages you to Keep Louisville Weird. These two Independent Business Associations (IBAs) encourage support for independently owned, small local businesses, and it always pleases me to see breweries on their membership lists, and those of IBAs in other cities.

IBAs have three primary focus areas:

1. Public education about the greater overall value local independents often can provide, as well as the vital economic, social and cultural role independent businesses play in the community.

2. Facilitating cooperative promotion, advertising, purchasing, sharing of skills and resources and other activities to help local businesses gain economies of scale and compete more effectively.

3. Creating a strong and uncompromised voice to speak for local independents in the local government and media while engaging citizens in guiding the future of their community through democratic action.

NABC and our comrades in “craft” brewing sink or swim as locally-oriented independents, and consequently, many of us pledge support via these IBAs. Happily, the approaching holiday season provides a perfect opportunity to put worthwhile principles into real-world, grassroots action.

We all know about so-called “Black Friday” (November 28), which is the biggest sales day of the year for big boxes and multinational chain stores -- the ones where the money promptly flees town for corporate headquarters worldwide.

In response to media hype and saturation advertising, which steer so much trade to the country's biggest, richest and largest companies on “Black” Friday, the American Independent Business Alliance (AMIBA) promotes Shift Your Shopping, of which Plaid (as opposed to Black) Friday is a component.

Instead of Black Friday it’s PLAID FRIDAY! Shift Your Shopping and wear plaid as you shop on Friday to remind yourself and others to make the 10% Shift. The 10% Shift encourages you to shift 10% of your holiday purchases from non-local businesses to Local Independents (also called indies or locally owned and independent businesses). Making the shift to local independents is one way we can build sustainable economies and create jobs in our local community.

It’s simple: Give shift a chance … and shift happens.

You're not being asked to go cold turkey, except for those post-Thanksgiving sandwiches, which I find pair quite well with growlers of session-strength bitter. Rather, merely allocating a percentage of trade to independent local businesses is a readily achievable objective.

Yes, it’s true: I’m touting my independent local business brethren, but what’s being written here is true and fair, and it still would be my position even if I did not count myself among the ranks of small biz owners

Meanwhile, while priestly castes can have their uses, empowering them is a far less urgent goal than building a well-informed base aware of the “craft” beer gospel as stated in the vernacular. Now more than ever, it’s a great time to think globally and drink locally, if for no other compelling reason than the more localism, the less importance attached to the likes of RateAdvocate.

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