Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Renaissance of Tomorrows Brews

    “You can't be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline. It helps if you have some kind of a football team, or some nuclear weapons, but at the very least you need a beer.”
    -Frank Zappa

Imagine you're walking through your local grocers looking for a beverage for this evening. You encounter the beer aisle.  As quiet as these shelves may appear they are actually one of the most politically active war fields of our time.  This is a conflict in which microbreweries from around the nation and around the world are fighting with every penny and every drop. This treatment will contrast the cultures of major brewing corporations' in their attempt to own the numbers in consumption and conformity versus the culture of the privately owned microbrewery, who's goals for social, psychological and intellectual stimulation benefit communities economically and socially at a grassroots level. The struggle touched upon herein is brutal, but in the end I feel that the Microbrewer Beer Culture will prevail.  Beer culture for the small brewer is a culture united in defending and constantly redefining flavor and people's choices, they are the freedom fighters of the beer world.

The best way to define the microbrew culture is to delineate it using the anti-culture of  the macrobrewing corporations. The two largest breweries in the world are Molson-Coors and Anheuser-Busch of the Budweiser brand. Through multimillion dollar marketing campaigns and a government lobby that supports both political parties with equal generosity it is no wonder that all their money has gone to the support and creation of a brand identity and not to brewing a palatable beer. Sentiments like  this can be heard from all over the beer drinking world, but most notably from Anat Baron, former CEO of Mike's Hard Lemonade and creator of the documentary Beer Wars. In Beer Wars, Ms Baron goes through and identifies the struggle of the independently owned small business owner that toils daily to market and find funding for their beverages while watching large companies such as Anheuser-Busch go so far as to replicate a prototype and sell it under their name in order to bully out the small time operator—whether they make money at it or not. It saddens me to say that in this text on beer culture we have yet to discuss quality let alone taste, however this just goes to show that in this power game it is not about the product but about strong power houses defending their status through economic and legal intimidation. Our weapon? Good beer!While money talks the rest of this country is brewing up a stranger more wonderful elixir in order to take down the fire breathing corporate dragon. Craft beer and craft beer culture embodies the characteristics of family, home town pride, and all the joy that you get on a warm summer day sitting down to sip a nice cool glass. In short Craft Beer Culture is America at it's purest. While major companies sell us the idea of an All-American beer at our baseball games, NASCAR races, and product placement at every turn complete with Old Glory's colors as part of the brand identifier, foreign owned companies such as Anheuser-Busche are anything but American. To be American is to have freedom of choice, to strive for the best, and to have a say in what you're consuming. Where else but in America can we go to our bountiful super markets and decide to eat Thai food, Ethiopian food, Mexican food, etc. and not leave our 12,000 square foot fully refrigerated heaven of florescent lights and fresh produce? Shouldn't our beer be the same? It isn't. Our freedom is being impeded without most of us even being able to identify it as it happens . I walked into a local Albertson's where there was a marketing “planogram” of how the beer is to be displayed. Directly at 5'4” off the ground, and stretching from front to back, right in my face is the red, white, and blue boxes of major brewing companies and their subsidiaries and corporate partners (of which there are many.)  Literally two companies dominating over 80% of the available space. Where was the craft brew? If it is there at all it is either at bottom shelf or top shelf locations depending on the brand. How can this be?  Macrobrewers exert a heavy influence over the distribution company, and they also pay the grocers enormous sums of money to ensure their products dominance on the shelves, all the while spending billions on advertising to ensure the product moves. Or even worse, like in Beer Wars, they will buy out a smaller market owner to place their product where they want it moving small competitors out of places they payed for or discussed.

Economically speaking while these companies do employ thousands in places like Bakersfield, or Milwaukee, these jobs are perhaps just as tenuous as that of the Detroit auto worker back when US cars were being out-classed by foreign competitors. In contrast, places like my home town of Fort Bragg, CA are being saved by the brewing industry creating jobs and pride. Fort Bragg, CA is a small town of about 5,000 people who's numbers continue to plummet after the loss of the  logging and fishing industry. North Coast Brewing Company has saved a small town on the verge of economic collapse in the last 10 years by becoming the largest employer in the city. Similar stories go for Lost Coast Brewing Company, Mendocino, and Anderson Valley. Keeping the economy moving in the small towns of our country is part of what gave this country its life and soul and these privately owned breweries know that. This is why they produce the best beer they possibly can with local ingredients and to standards that these towns as a community can stand behind. Last month I attended the 14th Annual Boonville Beerfest which was hosted by Anderson Valley Brewing Co. There were approximately 50+ breweries in attendance from all over the country including Dogfish Head from Delaware, Stone Brewing from San Diego, Flying Dog from Colorado, etc. People came from all over to taste beer listen to music and camp out. There were t-shirts sellers and non profits there benefiting many local programs. The entire feel was of elation and of course home town pride for everyone involved.

In a previous anthropology class I discussed beer as being a catalyst for human civilization using modern day tribes from Mexico and Africa as basis for primitive brewing styles and motives. Through research I deduced that large corporations were breaking down the importance of beer in these cultures that had made beer not only an intricate part of day to day social life but also as a means of  trade and networking. These corporations do this by making beer cheap and readily available making certain customs useless. What I would like to do is compare these same ideals  and concepts to our American Tribe. In Ozzie Simmons' book on drinking in Peruvian communities, he discuses how making beer a community effort and allowing drinking in a community reduced fear and violence and even alcoholism in said community. Alcohol has had the same effect on people for thousands of years, nothing has changed except the potency of our drinks, thus I propose the same would go for our tribe. The distance between us as individuals brewing in regards to craft beer is miniscule. I can walk into Tustin Brewery and look for John Porter (their current brewmaster) and pick a bone with him regarding a specific beer or ask him for advice on my own private home brew. I doubt the CEO of Anheuser-Busch could tell me if Budweiser is top or bottom, cold or warm fermented- And if I had a problem with his beer who would I go to? This was proven in Beer Wars when Anat tried to talk to A.B.'s CEO about bullying and he refused to answer a single question or come to the press for any reason. What does this create for our consumers? Well, on one hand we have a major corporation trying to sell a lifestyle choice of an American Beer with only one universally acclaimed bland lager as their major selling point. There is obviously a serious disconnect here. The action of me going to a super market to buy a 30-rack of Coor's Light to mindlessly throw back beer is as cold as the image of “the ugly american,” glutes firmly planted in their lazy-boy, watching an equally mindless program on television. The lack of quality combined with the lack of choice is terrifying, mind boggling, and borderline Orwellian.  On the other hand, you have someone who has flavor in mind, perhaps dinner and even perhaps to watch tv, but the action is different- you don't buy craft beer by the 30's because you don't need to. Nor do you buy craft beer to affirm to your peers that you are not a homosexual nor an eccentric.  The culture behind craft beer sparks not only conversation but pride and brotherhood. The trip to the store becomes an exciting moment of the day- “What am I going to drink tonight?” You ask for suggestions, you read about it, you're always looking for that next wonderful beer. There is a progression and life in this culture that promotes calm community interactions and not just cold consumption. A perfect example of this was at Boonville Beerfest.  There were approximately 6,000 people visiting (in a town of 500) and during the 5 hours of bottomless beer tasting there were only 2 members of law enforcement to be found for miles. At that they were calm and collected even through good humored bating and through the whole thing nobody got out of hand. This however is not the same for the Budweiser Pool Party in Las Vegas, no. With almost the same attendance, security was almost as thick as the guest list. However, when I called the Hard Rock Hotel they wouldn't tell me if there was any violence or injuries. Between advertising and the distance of the ivory tower, major brewing companies have created an anti-culture celebrating underachievement and steady consumption in a controlled setting. In short, they do everything they can to keep  us prisoners of our own ignorance.

Beer Culture celebrates choices through different styles of beer, for those of us willing to open our minds to new flavors you will be surprised to know that there is a beer for every pallet. Sweet, Savory, Sour, Smokey, Smooth and Bitter, beer is as diverse as we are. Every culture has beer. Even our now dry brothers in the middle east were once a brewing capitol of ancient times. It's our human way of coping, celebrating, and enjoying life no matter what cultural background you come from. This is why it's important to support your local brewery and local brew pub. By getting involved and drinking local, you are supporting local economy and organizations and you are celebrating choice. Beer Culture is about our freedom and how we can be unique and express ourselves through the beer we drink. Much like art is left to the individuals interpretation, the beauty is truly in the eye of the beer holder, allowing their taste buds to become detectives in a mysterious malty tour of hoppy discovery. I am proud to be a discerning beer drinker and home brewer as are most in the beer culture. Let our voices be heard and support local brewing, in short make beer, not war.

    “Good People Drink Good Beer” -H. S. Thompson

Works Consulted
•    Beer Wars (2009) Directed and Written by Anat Baron, Ducks in a Row Entertainment,
•    Simmons, Ozzie G. (1962) Ambivalence and the learning of drinking behavior in a Peruvian community. David J. Pittman and Charles R. Snyder, eds. New York, John Why and Sons.
•    Beer (2010) Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved May 5th, 2010.
•    Hard Rock Hotel (702) 693-5000 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting            (702) 693-5000      end_of_the_skype_highlighting
•    4455 Paradise Road
Las Vegas, NV 89169

Events and Notes:
•    I drank with Brewmaster at Tustin Brewery and we discussed his involvement in local events and marketing.
•    I attended 3 BevMo beer tastings, at the El Toro location (held most fridays from 5-9).
•    I organized a beer tasting for several personal friends who are home brewers where we tasted a novice Stout that blew us all away.
•    In May I attended the 14thAnnual Boonville Beerfest in Anderson Valley, and Craft Beer Week at Stone Brewing Co. San Diego.
•    At all events I asked people how they would define beer culture the most popular responses were as follows: “Freedom”, “Taste”, “Friends”, “The story of the underdog against the man”, “Good beer, no shit!”-H.S.Thompson


Post a Comment