Monday, February 16, 2015

The PC: On barrelage, Dean Smith and diversity studies.

The PC: On barrelage, Dean Smith and diversity studies.

A weekly column by Roger A. Baylor.

It’s a potpourri kind of snowy day in the Ohio Valley, so let’s begin with a preview of my latest Hip Hops column for Food & Dining Magazine. It’s called “Craft Beer: Where It Has Been, and Where It’s Going,” and can be viewed in its entirety here: Spring 2015 (Volume 47).

This excerpt from a column written well in advance of the current Indiana legislative session seems fairly prescient as bills begin coming out of committee. As a wee bit of foreshadowing: In Indiana, (craft’s) size is starting to matter.

Is craft beer an objective or subjective label? Can it be made by a big producer, or must it always be from a small brewing operation? Must it be made near to its consumers, or can craft beer have a far-flung consumer base?

The Brewers Association, craft brewing’s trade group, has a vested interest in these questions, as does the federal government’s Tax and Trade Bureau. State legislators and alcoholic beverage control agencies are eager to know, too.

Covetous multinational monoliths, watching with alarm as their traditional flagship lagers erode, desire craft beer’s imagery and demographics. They prefer consumers to regard “craft” as a vague advertising term, and to ignore the small print.

Simply stated: From business and regulatory standpoints, craft beer keeps getting bigger and bigger, making it ever harder for the segment to espouse a foundational ethos of smallness. Craft beer remains an artistic phenomenon best experienced locally, but one inevitably destined to mimic commercial imperatives through distribution.

For many, the essence of craft beer is spiritual, not numerical, but while poets and purists prefer to rhapsodize about hoppy, malty, sweet and sour aesthetics, politicians and bureaucrats demand quantifiable criteria, transferable to a ledger sheet, because awarding “small” businesses an excise tax reduction implies an accepted, concrete definition of small, and in beer, this measure begins with annual production by the barrel (31 gallons).

The issue is the total number of barrels, with beer style and brewing methods generally superfluous, leading to numerous statistical anomalies and Jesuitical reckonings.

Enjoy the remainder of the column. If memory serves, 2015 is my tenth anniversary writing columns for John White at Food & Dining.

It's been a blast.


Former North Carolina Tar Heels basketball coach Dean Smith died on February 7, 2015. You may know that Smith retired from coaching in 1997 as the winningest coach in NCAA history (a record since eclipsed), but perhaps you didn’t know this.

Beloved Basketball Coach Dean Smith Spoke Out On Segregation, Prison System, Nuclear Warfare

… Smith’s celebrity owes to his off-court demonstrations of character as well. As a high school basketball star in Topeka, KS, Smith urged his school to integrate its two racially segregated basketball teams … (and later) as head coach at UNC, Smith didn’t have to ask anyone else to desegregate the basketball community he was part of. He just did it …

… the causes Smith chose to exert himself on go beyond racial equality. Smith publicly supported efforts to reduce the number of nuclear weapons in the world and vocally opposed the death penalty, reportedly even taking players to visit prisons and death row inmates on some occasions to show them the injustices of the American prison system.

College basketball ceased to be of interest to me long before Dean Smith’s retirement, and I cannot lay claim to detailed knowledge of the coach’s life on or off the court. Curiously, from what little I recall, Smith’s principled activism garnered few column inches while he was active, perhaps because it contrasted with the hypocrisy-laden college basketball narrative.

It’s pure speculation, but perhaps a common thread links a coach like Dean Smith, a musician like Woody Guthrie, and a brewing company owner like me, because basketballs, guitars and breweries all are perfectly capable of serving as metaphorical fascist-killing machines, at least when placed in the proper hands, with aligned minds and attitudes.

Writer John Feinstein provides the best possible coda.

To me, (Dean Smith’s) legacy is summed up in something that happened that I was involved in peripherally, years and years ago when I first learned about his involvement in desegregating the restaurants in Chapel Hill. And I asked him about it 'cause it was his minister who told me the story.

And he said, I wish Reverend Seymour hadn't told you that. And I said, Dean, why? Why would you want that? You should be proud of being involved in something like that. And he looked at me, and he said, John, you should never be proud of doing the right thing. You should just do the right thing.

And that's who Dean Smith was.

It’s just one beer drinker’s opinion, of course, but the contemporary American “craft” beer scene would be vastly improved if more adherents took Dean Smith’s advice to heart.

Call it craft, or just plain beer, but a periodic reminder is full merited: It began as a radical, revolutionary movement away from the beer business as usual, and it remains relevant only insofar as this point isn’t forgotten. When we lose sight of this fact, we risk losing our origins.


Earlier in February, I attended the bi-monthly meeting of the Brewers of Indiana board of directors in Indianapolis. As referenced above, this being an even-numbered year, the Indiana General Assembly holds a long, two-month session. Much of what we discussed at the BIG meeting pertained to the guild’s legislative agenda, and one must accept that little of certainty can be said about the legislature’s activities until the session is concluded, and the dust settles.

We customarily discuss many items, and among them in February was a broader consideration of what might be called “diversity” in “craft” beer and brewing circles.

(Note that in rhetorical terms, I favor a gradual weaning from usage of the modifier “craft,” as it has come to mean very little.)

Prior to the meeting, DJ McAllister, the owner and brewer at the Black Swan brewpub in Plainfield, had messaged me with an idea, one I endorsed unreservedly. He proposed recommending to the board that a work group be formed to gather information on beer and diversity. DJ introduced the idea, and it was approved. I’ll be working with him on this project, and am delighted that he took the lead.

A work group’s information gathering will strike some as a flaccid response to our previous spirited debate about sexist beer names and images, but I must disagree with this characterization. They’re called baby steps for a very good reason.

A work group is a good place to start, and a plausible way of gathering facts under the imprimatur of the guild. Any suggestions as to sources of information are deeply appreciated; please e-mail them to me.

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