I wanted to do something a little different today. This past week I found myself writing about success and failure. Most specifically this story about Boston Beer Company and later as a contrast this story about Highland Brewing.
I don’t think I stated it outright, but I implied that, at least in the short term, Highland can be more successful than Boston Beer because it has made the right choices over the last 2 years. As a reader rightfully pointed out, Boston Beer still sells a crap-ton of beer and Jim Koch is still a billionaire. Maybe they are still doing something right even if investors are antsy that they aren’t making as much money as they were.
So, as is my want, that led me to think about why I find the Boston Beer story so interesting and why I find the Highland story just as interesting. The reason came to me on my morning walk.
I was just thinking about what makes a fictional narrative and characters interesting. The fall. All the great stories (at least the ones that I like) are about failure followed by what happens next. Basically, fiction is about characters who want something. If that thing they want is driven by failure it makes the story more interesting.
Boston Beer is interesting because they are floundering a little. What they do next is what I care about. How do they satisfy stockholders and the craft beer community at the same time? Is that even possible?
Highland has satisfied the craft beer community, but does that translate into better sales? From talking to our distribution rep, preliminarily yes. They are selling more Highland than they did before the change in their lineup.
If I came off as unfair or unduly critical of Boston Beer, that was not my intention. There are others in the craft beer community who don’t share my reticence. That is another thing that I find interesting. I think Boston Beer and Jim Koch see themselves as the little craft brewery that could. I think many in the craft beer community see them as a mini version of AB-InBev. That dissonance is great.
Boston Beer and the whole of craft beer is more interesting to me now than before. It’s fun when everything is going great and everyone is making money and finding success, but it gets fun to watch when that stops. When the traditional bon homme of brewers starts to give way to the realities of working in a finite business space, it reveals more about everyone involved.
I often see things as a failed fiction writer and a lover of reading. Often, I see things as a novel unfolding in front of me complete with characters and story arcs. Craft beer is no different. Because craft beer is at this middle stage, there are so many interesting characters and stories to tell.
Ernest Hemingway is one of my favorite writers. Not just for his work, but his thoughtful analysis of the craft of writing. One of the things that I’ve taken away from him the most is his insistence that the writer be empathetic towards his characters. That is a goal of mine going forward in my life. To be empathetic towards everyone and everything I encounter especially those I write about.