Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Defining "Craft Beer." Again. And How It Made Me Think of The Cure.

Beer writer Andy Crouch has a thoughtful post up on his blog, titled "Is It About Beer or Beer Politics:  The Brewers Association's Baby Step." The Brewers Association (BA), whose stated purpose is to "promote and protect small and independent American brewers" is changing their definition of "small" as it relates to craft brewers. From the press release:

  "In the BA's craft brewer definition, the term "small" now refers to any independent brewery that produces up to 6 million barrels of traditional beer. The previous definition capped production at 2 million barrels."

  The press release goes on to mention that this change allows the popular and still-growing Boston Beer Company (maker of Samuel Adams beers, many of which I love, by the way) to keep its membership in the BA as a craft brewer. I don't know if this is the only reason for the change, but they're the only brewery named. In his post, Mr. Crouch writes that there's a sizable portion of the craft brewing community that doesn't think Boston Beer Company belongs, and equates them with mega-brewers like InBev (makers of Budweiser beers and much, much more). He, on the other hand, applauds the Brewers Association's decision, calling it inevitable. "Like a woman who is perpetually turning 29, Boston Beer has been coyly telling everyone that its beer production numbers were below two million barrels per year for at least a few years after many people believed it likely blew past that number." Mr. Crouch goes on to talk about the definition of "small" and "craft beer," as well as the rising voices of pro-exclusionists.

  While I don't always agree with Mr. Crouch (mostly on his snobbish attitude towards us common-folk bloggers), I do agree with him on this matter, and think he lays out a good, readable argument for including Boston Beer (and other craft brewers associated one way or another with "big beer") in the craft brewing club. I think it's worth a read.

  As for me, who am I to say what is and isn't craft beer? I suppose that's why we have groups like the Brewers Association, because somebody has to draw the line. Or do they? I wonder when "craft beer" became a defined thing as opposed to an adjective, like "good beer." If craft beer is beer that's made well, with as much thought given to the quality of the ingrediants and effort into production as to how much money can be made off it, I think Sam Adams still counts as a craft brew. And frankly, I've had some "craft beers" that tasted like bottled Bud with an artful label. Not to mention that Boston Beer has done a lot to promote the idea of quality-over-quantity-beer for a long time. Kicking them out of the club isn't a very nice way to thank them.

  It's hard, when you find something and fall in love with it, and find a small group of like-minded individuals, to not become possessive. It's hard to let your special thing become mainstream. Why? Because in all honesty, that love is self-serving. Your membership in a tiny clique of people appreciating this thing made you cool. If everybody likes it, you're not cool anymore! You're just another person who likes this thing.

  I always think back to my phase in middle/high school when I LOVED the Cure. I owned their Goth-phase stuff like "Boys Don't Cry" and "Standing on the Beach." I had Cure buttons on my backpack, a Cure poster on the wall. And then in 1989, the Cure released "Disintegration" and it all blew up. There were pop-chart hits, hugely popular videos on MTV, the prom-ready single "Lovesong," and all of a sudden, everybody liked the Cure. I mean everybody. For chrissakes, cheerleaders liked the Cure! It was ruined! I quickly shed the buttons, pulled down the posters, and sneered at all the latecomers, as me and the other "misunderstood" kids ranted about how the Cure "sold out" or whatever.

  This (somewhat embarrassing) story reminds me of the craft beer snobs and their pro-exclusion attitude. They don't want craft brewers to succeed and gain wide appeal, because craft beer "belongs" to them. Only they understand how to appreciate it. But if you truly love something, shouldn't you want it to succeed? We have to let go of craft beer as our badge of coolness, let go of this idea that craft beer is a club that can pick and choose who can join. Don't we want more people opening up their palates and trying something new? Don't we want to share good beer with our friends, our family?   

Posted via email from Scurrilous Tosh

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