Category Archives: The Beer Counselor

What Is Craft Beer, Part 1

One of my favorite classes, when I was at UNC, was on the history of the Constitution since the Civil War.  We studied all the major Supreme Court decisions that led to the Civil War and all the major decisions after the war as well as all the Constitutional Amendments from the end of the war through the 20th century.  It was interesting mostly because it was a good way to survey how the modern US government was formed and took shape for the last 150 years of the country’s history.

The concept that has stayed with me the most from that class is “annotative law vs. connotative law.”  In other words, what the law says in the statutes vs. how the law is enforced and interpreted.  Those are often two very different things.

The Brewers Association has defined craft breweries as:

Small

Annual production of 6 million barrels of beer or less (approximately 3 percent of U.S. annual sales). Beer production is attributed to the rules of alternating proprietorships.

Independent

Less than 25 percent of the craft brewery is owned or controlled (or equivalent economic interest) by an alcohol industry member that is not itself a craft brewer.

Traditional

A brewer that has a majority of its total beverage alcohol volume in beers whose flavor derives from traditional or innovative brewing ingredients and their fermentation. Flavored malt beverages (FMBs) are not considered beers.

That means, generally speaking, any beer made by those brewers is a craft beer.

That is the annotated definition of what craft beer is.  The connotative definition, the one people define themselves in a way that they understand is where things get murky and where arguments and hyperbole ensue.

This all started while I was on my sabbatical from writing about beer after the Cicerone test punched me in the face.  I read two or three tiresome Twitter threads that were arguments between craft beer people. What I noticed in all these arguments were the two sides the arguments were having two different arguments. Mostly, arguing past each other.  I wondered why was this and the only conclusion I came up with is that while they agreed on the general definition of what craft was, there were differences in details and their approach to craft.

Let’s step back and think about the definition of craft again.  We have the Brewer’s Association’s definition.  The question then becomes how is the concept of craft beer interpreted and expressed by different people involved in the industry.

One of the things I find interesting about ideas and concepts like craft, alternative, independence, and freedom is how in a modern capitalistic society they can be co-opted by businesses and advertising agencies to sell stuff.  When you buy a pair of jeans you are not only buying those jeans, you are buying whatever concept and narrative the manufacturer and their advertising company have built up around those jeans.

For many people, buying and drinking craft beer has become the same as listening to a certain band, watching a certain television show, or buying certain clothes. They represent a narrative you want to express about yourself without talking.

This week, I want to use this space to theorize how each constituency, brewers, distributors/wholesalers, retailers, bloggers, and drinkers, defines craft beer.  Why do I include bloggers as a separate constituency from drinkers?  Usually, bloggers aren’t a part of the constituencies that directly financially benefit from craft beer, but they are a great deal more informed than the average drinker.  They also help drive the conversation surrounding craft beer in a way sometimes disproportionate to their actual reach.

Then to wrap up, I will delve into the idea that even within each of those groups is another dialectic between what I term the Realists on one side and the Romantics on the other.  That is where the real fireworks take place.

I hope to have fun doing this and you I hope you come back to read at least part of it even if you don’t agree with it.

What Do We Do Now?

There was a great disturbance in the craft beer universe a month ago.  In the latest of a series of purchases by big beer, Wicked Weed Brewing in Asheville, NC was purchased by AB-InBev.  This had reverberations far beyond North Carolina where Wicked Weed was seen as the leading light of the state’s craft beer by many.

Luckily for me, I had the Cicerone exam to study for and recover from which afforded me the opportunity to organize my thoughts and opinions on the sale.  I did read the writing and opinions of others and can say much of what I read was cogent and interesting even when I may have disagreed with the writer’s conclusions.  However, too much of the writing degenerated into the, “I’m more CRAFT then you” didactic that is part of too much online discourse.  Too many craft supporters take the position that if you don’t agree with every point they’re making you are at best a big beer apologist or at worst a sellout like Wicked Weed.

That line of writing, discourse, and thinking is boring to read.  More importantly, at a time when craft beer is at a very important flexion point in its existence, it bogs the conversation down into needless finger pointing, keeping the conversation from moving forward into, “What do we do next?”

What do I think of the sale?

I am of two minds when it comes to the Wicked Weed sale or the sale of any other craft brewery to big beer.  First, is my business mind.  It tells me that neither I nor anyone else should presume to tell another person how to run their business.

While there are nebulous obligations to the craft beer collective and concrete obligations to the affected employees, in the end, the owner/brewer of the brewery must do right by the rest of the ownership group/investors.  You invest in a fledgling company or start up because you believe you will see a return on that investment at some point.  From a business perspective, this current moment in craft beer is a good time to sell a brewery.  The number of new breweries popping up is beginning to create greater and greater competition, that hurts future growth and current margins of breweries.  Cashing in may be the best advice for many breweries and their investors.

Also, in all honesty, if you are not an investor or a member of the ownership group of a brewery, you have no real idea what the original business plan promised potential investors and you have no idea what the other internal machinations lead a brewery to sell to AB or other big beer company.  You cannot attack someone who starts a business, builds it into a successful national brand, and then sells that business for a profit.  In almost any other business sector that is applauded.

Second is my small business/buy local/craft beer mind.  There are national coffee chains close to my apartment with slightly cheaper coffee and tea, however, I walk to a locally owned place a little farther away that has more personality and keeps my dollars in the community and appreciates my business.

So, while my business (i.e. intellectual) mind understands these decisions and accepts them, this second mind, while not angered is disappointed and saddened.  I am disappointed that we are losing a successful locally owned business to a conglomerate that treats beer like any other factory-made commodity.  I am saddened by the fact that much of the Wicked Weed beer you buy in 3 years will be a hollow facsimile of the Wicked Weed beer you can buy today.

This second mind knows that craft brewing is a creative endeavor and respects and honors the work it takes to make it creatively and financially.  The second mind believes that craft beer is about more than money.  It is a business and everyone wants to succeed, but as Greg Koch, founder of Stone Brewing, put it in this article, craft beer is more of a foot race then a hockey match.  Each craft brewer is running their own race pushing themselves and by extension everyone else by doing their own thing their own way to the best of their abilities.  Big beer treats beer as a zero-sum game where you win or die.  That point of view is not only antithetical to my personal beliefs, it stands in stark opposition to the founding principles of craft beer.

No craft brewer gets into brewing to make money.  The hours are long and there is no guarantee the yeast will create the beer you want or expect.  Brewers do this because they love that part of the challenge and they love how brewing allows them to express themselves.  This separates them from their investors who may not have the same almost romantic vision of brewing and expect to make money from this venture.

We must accept both realities as part of craft beers future to ensure its continued growth.

Back to Wicked Weed. I understand the sale, but I don’t like it.  Sometimes the money they offer is too great to turn down.  This sale like almost all the others before it is understandable and defensible on a business and intellectual level as individual business decisions.  They are, however, against everything the craft beer ethos espouses.

Where are we right now?

First, big beer companies are going to continue buying craft breweries.  That is part of a long-term strategy that will not change and is exacerbated by a business environment that makes some craft brewers ripe for buying.

Second, we know that capital investment in new and existing breweries is increasing as the segment matures as a business.  Many of these investors no longer just want to say they own part of a brewery to be cool but want to turn their investment into a profit.

Third, the almost exponential growth we saw in the last few years in the number of craft brewers is leading to equally exponential growth in competition for tap handles and shelf space among craft brewers.  The larger, regionally focused craft brewers are beginning to get squeezed out of the marketplace not necessarily by big beer and their many tentacles but by the mass of extremely localized small breweries that they inspired.  Many of those larger brewers have been faced with flat if not negative growth in the last year.  That is why this business environment breeds these sales.  For some breweries selling means recouping an investment now when that may not be possible in a few years’ time.

What do we do?

The first thing to do as a craft beer fan is to start simple and start local.  Let your love of craft beer inform your buying decisions of what and where you buy.  If you have local breweries near you, frequent them.  Buy their beer, their growlers, and their swag.  If you go to a local brewery and their beer isn’t as good as you had hoped, don’t frag them on social media. Send a personal email or letter to the owner/brewer expressing your concerns in a thoughtful and respectful manner.  We must be the ones who control craft beer.  Not the faceless conglomerates who could just as easily be selling ball bearings rather than beer.

Another thing you can do is join your state brewer’s guild or the Brewers Association as an affiliate member.  Most state guilds have this option to raise funds and create a group of supporters and volunteers.  For as many issues as you may have with some of the day to day decisions the Brewers Association and state guilds make, they are organizations whose expressed reason for existence is to support and promote independent craft brewers.  Give money, get a t-shirt, get newsletters, and get discounts at members taprooms for stuff you wanted to buy anyway.

Finally, bloggers, writers, and podcasters should try to be more Thomas Jefferson than Thomas Paine.  In every revolution, there is a time for rhetoricians to spit hot fire from the blog post or podcast microphone.  However, there is also a point when that loses its effectiveness.  You need equally iron-willed and no less committed people who will create and implement the ideas and theories that make the revolution’s goals self-sustaining.  Too often, online discussion about craft beer ends up with everyone talking in circles, saying nothing, and going nowhere.  However, for craft beer to continue to move forward through this time of growth and upheaval, we all need to step off the hamster wheel of online discourse and offer something thoughtful and new.

I don’t think big beer is evil, much in the same way I don’t think Hurricane Katrina was evil.  However, there are two things.  First, many of their business practices and the actions their distributors perpetrate in their name are detestable and contemptible and are rooted in the fundamental belief that this is a zero-sum proposition.  Every time we hear those stories we should challenge big beer in ways large and small. Second, AB will turn Wicked Weed into another one of its stable of beers with just a little twist to make it stand out in its sea of mediocrity and that is what is maybe the saddest part. What Wicked Weed could have become will never be.

Update

The new post will be up tomorrow morning.  It is a bit longer then I anticipated, and has gone through a few edits and revisions.  However, I think it is almost ready.

The Beer Counselor

Hello, again

It has been over a month since I posted and wanted to let everyone know everything is well.

I took some time off to study for, take, and recover from the Cicerone exam.  I found studying for the exam and working 50 hours a week at my job was exhausting so I’m currently on a mini-vacation. However, there will new posts coming in the next day.

I will post my thoughts on the Cicerone exam and the thing I learned studying for it.  I will tell you my palate is better then before, but I realized some other interesting things studying styles.

I will also have a post on my thoughts about the Wicked Weed sale.  I am actually glad my break to study occurred during the sale and the resulting social media outrage. I not only took a break from writing but also a break from Twitter in a meaningful way.  That may have saved my sanity during that week.  Anyway, I just wanted to drop a post and let everyone know what was going on with me.

Stay tuned to this space later today for the new post.

Beer Counselor Fun Fact, 4/24/17

The article in today’s One Article got me thinking about something.

Here is a fun little fact that many don’t know about how grocery stores work, at least here in NC.  Let me back up.  Retail store shelf space is laid out in these things called planograms.  They are just as they sound: the plan of how each store is laid out.  It is not just what departments are where in each store, but what products and specific brands are placed where on each shelf.  Most large retail companies either have internal groups that handle it or they farm it out to companies that specialize in planograms.

That brings us back to grocery stores and their beer/wine set ups.  These planograms, at least the beer planograms are done by one of the two big beer companies you are thinking about as soon as I said big beer companies.  There is input from the grocery store chain and some chains are starting to put all planograms in house, however still with input from the big beer companies.  By and large however the big beer companies decide how much shelf space everybody gets.  Now, the shelf space is mostly divided up by distributor with the distributors of ABI and MillerCoors brands getting the bulk.  Then it is further divided among their “craft” brands and then finally any craft brands and self-distributed beers.

Now, whereas your frozen pizza shelf placements are mandated by corporate headquarters and stocked by the store, beer and wine are stocked by the distributor.  So, while the main beer sets are set by the planogram and stocked by a distributor, the smaller craft brands are picked at the store level and stocked by whoever distributes that beer.  The grocery store staff doesn’t touch beer or wine.  That puts smaller brewers at a disadvantage.  All the store manager wants to see is full shelf space, they don’t care what is in that shelf location as long as it isn’t empty.  The big distributors that handle the big brewers have sales reps who all they do is work the off-premise accounts like grocery stores ordering and policing their shelf space.  A small brewery self-distributing doesn’t usually have enough people to do that even just for local grocery stores.

That is why all these new breweries are competing with each other for shelf space in places where most beer is sold more than they are competing with the big beer companies.

When institutional racism is mentioned, people believe it means institutions are actively discriminating against people of color, women, or gays/lesbians.  It usually means the institution was set up in a way to often unintentionally benefit the majority group.

Because alcohol laws differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction even within a county, it was easier for grocery store chains to let the big beer companies and distributors create their beer sets.  When there were fewer than 200 breweries that made sense.  AB gets this Miller gets this and then whatever weird German stuff that makes it over can go here and will put malt liquor and 40s over here for black folks.

Many of the beer and alcohol laws that govern us to this day were written at the same time those decisions were made.  Now, the world done changed and those who benefit the most from the way the things were always done and the way laws are written will not give up those advantages without a fight.  Even if that fight is probably doomed.

 

An Argument For Beer Criticism

We live in a time when everyone can be a critic. Anyone can go on Rotten Tomatoes and rate the last movie they saw.  Anyone can go on Yelp and review the last restaurant they went to.  Anyone can go on Untappd, RateBeer, or Beer Advocate and rate the last beer they drank.  Anyone can start a blog and write about whatever movie, album, or book they just enjoyed or hated.

It is the democratization of criticism.  However, is it criticism worth listening to?  I recently read AO Scott’s Better Living Through Criticism.  It is an interesting book for anyone involved in any type of creative endeavor. He wrote the book as an argument for the need of the professional critical class.  He explains the origins of criticism, how it is practiced by professionals, and the goal of good criticism.  The book also serves as a for users of Rotten Tomatoes, Good Reads, and RateBeer to criticize better.  So from Mr. Scott’s general thoughts on criticism to a more specific area of criticism:  What is a beer critic?

Let’s start with is the point of the existence of critics.

A critic is a “professional appreciator.” The best critics have the ability to be moved emotionally by a piece while at the same time explaining to you why they were moved.  A critic should be able to take the component parts of a work apart, examine them, and tell you why they work or don’t.  Yet, at the same time the critic should be able to convey the emotion conveyed when those parts are assembled.  In other words, tell you why a certain camera angle at a precise moment can move you to fear or happiness or tears.

While telling you why something does or doesn’t work or is or isn’t beautiful is important in some sense, what exactly is the need for critics?  Is a critic someone who defends the traditional, champions the unknown/underappreciated, or are they cheerleaders for what’s popular at this very moment?  To answer that, lets break it down into 4 sections: How do creators see critics; How does the public see critics; What do critics think they are doing; How does all that effect what the modern critic actually does.

Series and rigorous critics consider themselves part of the creative process.  A slightly removed part, but a part nonetheless. Most critics began their critical lives as creators.  Most movie critics studied screenwriting or directing.  Most book reviewers have a manuscript or two tucked away somewhere.  Most beer writers have sat in garages on Saturday morning boiling wort.

The critic stands between the creators and the public fostering a conversation between not only those two groups but for creators and for the public to have among themselves.  To me the critics job isn’t to tell anyone whether a movie, album, book, or beer is bad.  It is to tell you whether it is successful in attempting to do what it attempts to do.  Good or bad are value judgements that can only be made by individuals.

Creators see critics as meddling know-it-alls.  Dilatants sitting outside the creative process throwing stones and making assessments about things they know nothing about.  When faced with a bad review, creators will often fall into, “They just didn’t understand what I was trying to do.” Here is the critic’s defense: Good reviewers usually have an excellent idea about what the creator was trying to do.  In a world where the critic and the creators are in a dialogue, the critic is free to tell the creator I know what you were trying, but you failed and here is why.

The difference between a critic and a website reviewer is the Untappd user will give a beer 1 star and put the comment “this sucks” with it.  A critic explains that the beer was an attempt at something new and creative and then why the beer failed.  Unfortunately, creators often lump both of those reactions together.

The public sees the critic as a utility. The reason people love rating websites is that they point them in a direction.  Critics help cut through all the clutter and noise to find the stuff worth enjoying.  There is a finite amount of time in the world and too much of everything.  Around the world, almost 3000 movies come out every year. In the US alone, somewhere around 300,000 books come out every year.  There are over 4000 breweries in the US and if you say they each produce around 7 beers each, you are looking at almost 30,000 different beers.  The critic in part should strive to make the average consumer’s life a little bit easier.

So, combining those points of view, what is it the critic actually does in a modern world?  The critic has no job if the public doesn’t read him. So, a job of the critic is to find the worthwhile and present it to the public in a clear and concise way. A good review should get across the basics of a beer and whether it is worth your while to seek it out and drink it as quickly and as entertainingly as possible.

A critic should also write the review so that the creator can get something out of it.  By saying what worked and what didn’t with as little judgement as possible, makes the review more palatable for a creator if it is a “bad” one.

The critic and the creator should also engage in a continuous conversation about what they are doing and where their creations stand with respect to the past, present, and future.

That is an important conversation.  In beer, annotated styles are snap shots in fixed point in time.  Styles shift and change as the public’s appetites change, ingredients become more or less available, and as the brewers (who are creative people) take chances with their creations.  Take the ubiquitous IPA. Just in the last 10 years the American IPA has shifted and changed.  If you consider what we call an IPA with the first IPAs shipped from England to India, those beers only have a passing resemblance to each other.  In my mind, it is important for critics and creators to talk about what was, what is, and what the future may hold.

So, what is it I want to do as a beer critic.  First, I want to explain why a beer is successful or isn’t successful.  Meaning, did the brewer do what they set out to do?  I want to tell you that so you can make the decision as to whether you like it or not.  I never want to use the words good or bad or any of their synonyms in a review.  I can only tell you what it tastes like. I can only explain whether I think it is a successful interpretation of the current style guidelines, a return to the original intent of the first brewers of that beer, or whether it is the herald of a shift in the style.

Second, I want to think about where beer is going.  What will affect who, what, where, and how beer is made in the future.  We are at an interesting time in beer.  Two things are occurring simultaneously: Consolidation is creating ever larger beer companies as beer drinkers are getting more localized in the beer they want.  I think the growth we have had for the last five years will slow.  Urban areas are getting saturated with breweries and those breweries will start to close and consolidate with each other.  However, it is the smaller towns and more rural areas where growth will continue with breweries opening up in 15,000 people towns away from urban centers allowing everyone to have a beer to call their own.  While at the same time the big beer companies are no longer going to build breweries pumping out the same beer all over the country.  Instead they are buying regional breweries and helping them flood their local markets.

I’m making my life harder.  I started off, just wanting to drink and write about beer.  Now, I’ve elevated myself to the role of critic and all that I put into the meaning of that word.  God, this will be fun.

Yet Another Update

I’m no longer moving.  I’m no longer trying to get my cable/internet/phone working (at least for now).  I’m no longer buying crap for my new apartment.  I am now home.  I’m still getting my voter registration sorted out, which is made ridiculously difficult to keep that scourge of voter fraud from occurring by silly hoops to jump through (check out Media Matters for more statistics, but from 2000-2014 of the 1 billion votes cast there were a grand total of 31 cases of voter fraud).

Now with all that crap out of the way, I can concentrate again on writing and beer (and reading Ulysses and Hamlet).

I have a beer review in the hopper and I hope to get another one for next week.  So, I am back on my plan to do 1 or 2 reviews a week (working on my palate so I can take the Cicerone exam) and writing 1 or 2 other blog posts per week.  The Five Articles will start back on Sunday.

It feels good to be back and it feels even better to be home.

Home Again

By Riction - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12647939

By Riction – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12647939

I have been in the process of moving for the last week. A friend called me last night and as I said to him, all my stuff is in my apartment now.  My stuff still needs to be unpacked and put in the right place.  So, I have gotten back to Charlotte.

So, I have gotten back to Charlotte. It has been eight years since I lived here.  My displacement was not voluntary.  I made some mistakes and ended up being taken in, in the place that I was born.  I thank my mother and everyone at Lowe’s for a bed and a place to work.

Now, I have returned to the place I was happiest (outside of my halcyon days in Chapel Hill).  I am working in beer and I’m living in a place I love and I have a direction of where I’m directing my life.

Tomorrow I’ll be back to my normal writing schedule. The Five Articles will reappear and starting next week I’ll start adding a couple of new features.  I actually fell happy now.

What Kind of Week It Has Been, 3/20/16

Before I get into what I wanted to write about today, I wanted to say something.  I’ve been gone for a while from this space.  I am an obsessive workaholic with trust issues.  That means I sometimes throw myself into my work to the point of physical or mental collapse and ineffectiveness.  That is what happened last week.  Through my own stubbornness and issues, I managed to simultaneously work too much and fuck up almost everything I touched while doing so.  It was a nice trick.  Anyway, last week has passed and now onto whatever the future holds.

The one thing managed to do successfully this past week was read.  I’m reading a couple of books right now, but the one I that has the most to do with my beer writing is Better Living Through Criticism by AO Scott.  Scott is the chief film critic for The New York Times.  He is a good read as well as a good reviewer.  What he attempts with this book is explain what a critic’s role in art is and how you can use that to make your enjoyment of art better.

I have long considered good craft beer and good craft brewing to akin to art.  At its best, it is an expression of the skill and creativity of brewers as they find ways to express themselves within the boundaries of what brewing is.  If it isn’t then we should all just drink Budweiser.  The best thing and most damning thing about Budweiser is that you can drink a Bud from any of its breweries around the world and it will taste the exact same as one from another brewery.

This is way of viewing brewing that many if not most, even in the craft beer community, do not have.  Beer is a product. A commodity to be manufactured, sold, and consumed.  When your job is to sell beer, it can be hard to remember how creative a brewer can be and should be.

Recently, I tasted a beer from a brewer who I respect more than most others because of the creativity and risks that brewer always takes with his beer.  I hated this beer.  It was an attempt that was unsuccessful as a commercially viable beer.  As a person tasked with selling beer to bar patrons, I was annoyed that this expensive beer was bad and unsellable.

As a writer who aspires to be a beer critic, I am fascinated by this beer.  Tasting it, I saw exactly what the brewer was trying to do and I could also see why it was not successful.  I struggled with how to define what was wrong with the beer in a different context then, “this is bad.”  What was bad about it; why did it turn out wrong; what was the brewer attempting; was he successful with that attempt; if he was successful, why didn’t the beer work.

I’ve always gravitated to reviews of beer and other acts of art that were more than just is this good or bad.  I want more than some star rating or whatever.  I want more than this sucks. That is all that most consumers and bar owners care about, however if we are to grow as a beer drinking community there has to be more than that.  We have to ask the next logical question after a beer is declared to suck:  why does it suck?

In his book AO Scott lays out three questions at the base of what a critic does.  I am paraphrasing here to gear the questions more towards beer, but here they are:

  1. Did you taste and feel that?
  2. Did you like it?
  3. Be honest.

To me, the most important part of that is, Be honest.  As a critic, you must be honest about what you taste, what you feel, and how it affects you.

To do that a critic must develop the skills to identify what he is tasting and the vocabulary to describe it.  They must also have the skill to do that in an effective and clear manner.  Again, above all else the critic must be ruthlessly honest with himself first and foremost.  That means understanding your predilections but not letting them define you or your criticism.

As humans, I think one of our jobs is to accept our mistakes and the bad things that happen to us and use them to grow and keep ourselves in the life we want to live.  For me, weeks like last week, remind me of the things I hold important to the life I want to lead.  I am reminded to remember every decision I make has to be with purpose, and that I must live consciously and stop coasting.  Trying to understand beer and place in a context of our shared humanity is how I choose not to coast.

Of Alternative Music And Craft Beer

1991-1994 was a great time to be an alternative music fan.  August 1991 was the release of Ten by Pearl Jam.  A month later Smells Like Teen Spirit hit the country. That was the moment we alternative music thought we had won.

We, the weird, geeky kids everyone else made fun of were on top of the world.  We weren’t the cool kids.  What we had done was bring the cool kids into our world.  The musicians everyone was listening to were just like us.  They had been the ones dressing weird in high school.  They were the ones acting weird.  They were the ones reading weird books.  They were the ones drawing weird pictures.  Now, they straddled the world like colossuses.  It felt like we could do anything.

Then it ended.  You can attribute it to Kurt Cobain’s suicide.  Or, maybe it was Pearl Jam warring with TicketMaster.  Somehow it all ended up with Creed being a hit band.

I have much the same feeling right now as a craft beer fan as I did as an alternative music fan in 1992.  Craft beer has the same critical buzz. Craft is in every magazine and on every bookshelf.  Entrepreneurs are figuring out how to make money using the words craft beer.  It is a heady time.  It is also a dangerous time.

Back to Creed.  I’m sure the guys in the band are nice enough.  OK, maybe they have their issues, but who doesn’t.  Creed as an entity doesn’t matter.  In this case, they represent the idea that grunge music could be broken down into a scientific formula for success.

One-part muddy guitar + one-part gravelly voiced baritone lead singer + one-part flannel = successful band.

There is a soul in art and music that you can’t capture by the use of certain chords and instrumentation.  What money men and accountants forget is that the thing that makes art great, its soul, can’t be codified.  Great music is more than just chords and instrumentation.  Much of the music that came after Nirvana sounded fine.  It provides a good soundtrack to your time spent in a bar or a coffee shop, but it doesn’t make you feel.  It is missing that ineffable thing that soul actually is.

You can taste soul in beer as much as you can hear it in music.  Budweiser is a solidly made beer.  Each can taste like the can you had 5 years ago.  Making beer taste the same or close to the same from batch to batch is the holy grail.  That is a hard thing to do.  Ask any brewer.  However, that doesn’t mean Bud has any soul.

The company that makes Budweiser isn’t a brewery.  It is a beer company that manufactures and sells beer much the same way Goodyear manufactures and sells tires.  For them, beer is a commodity.  Its purpose is to appeal to the broadest possible audience at the highest possible price to produce the greatest profits.  That formula leaves room for no soul.

Think of it another way.  You can eat macaroni cheese that comes in a box.  It tastes fine in a pinch.  The macaroni and cheese your mother makes from scratch taste wholly different.  The Budweiser you drink could be brewed in Virginia or it could be brewed in China.  You won’t know the difference.  The beer you get from the brewery 10 minutes from your house could only be made in that particular place by those particular people.

That will be craft beer’s saving grace just as it has been the saving grace of good music.  There are independent music labels popping up every day.  Bands tour constantly.  They connect with people at a grass roots level every day all over the world. Going forward, the most successful breweries will be the ones who continue to innovate and connect with the public at a grassroots level.

Some of the most financially successful musical acts today get little to no airplay on traditional popular radio.  However, they play to sold out concerts night after night and get plenty of airtime on independent radio stations and online streaming services.  They find a way to connect with their audience on a grass-roots level almost person to person.

Big music companies stripped music of its vitality by dumbing it down to the least common denominator.  They stripped it of what makes it vital and kind of scary. Big beer companies are doing the same thing to craft beer through purchasing existing craft breweries and creating faux craft brands under their own umbrella.

 

Hey – he’s the one
Who likes our pretty songs
He likes to sing along
And he likes to shoot his guns
But he knows not what it means
Don’t know what it means
— “In Bloom” Nirvana

Most people don’t want to think too much when it comes to their beer.  They just want something to drink. They don’t know what all these words mean and they don’t care.  They just want to get a little buzz and they will get it from something that tastes good enough unless they are convinced that there is something better.

People have so many choices to make in their lives that they don’t want to think about choosing the music they listen to or the beer they should drink.  They want someone to curate those things and tell them what is good and what is important.

If the big beer companies are allowed to curate, they will do it in a way that maximizes profits.  They will drown the world in the least offensive, least creative, most soulless, cheapest beer possible.  Beer that is merely close enough to good.

It is incumbent on us, the people who love craft beer, for all that it is and all that it can be, to stand up and make sure the big beer companies aren’t allowed to convince people that just close enough is good enough.