Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Plea for Beer

Swiss theologian Karl Barth wrote, in volume 1 of his Church Dogmatics, that people are not able to "let God be God". I wonder at times if we have the same affliction in the beer loving community? Are we incapable of simply letting beer be beer?

I have written before that I think the term "craft beer" is daft and that I believe "microbrew" to be effectively meaningless. All that is truly important, at the end of the day, in the beer world is not how much beer a brewery makes, whether or not the company making the beer is foreign owned, publicly traded or a cooperative or even the form of dispense a brewer deems most suitable for his or her product. The defining aspect of any beer is the desire for more.

I have had many a beer from a "small, independent and traditional" brewery, to use the Brewers Association's definition of a "craft brewery", which sucked, just as I have enjoyed plenty of beer from the multinational corporations which form an effective Anti-Craft in the minds of some. The things which surround the liquid in the glass are just that, peripheral.

Rather than rambling on, I'll let Monty Python describe the situation far more clearly that I can....

7 comments:

  1. Is this a rugged individualism you've learned in the US?

    That which you regard as important is important for the individual. For the collective, the campaign, such things are subjective and therefore divisive. If beer lovers wish to display a collective (people's) front, it is necessary to fall back on criteria they agree upon: size, ownership, dispense.

    To dismiss these as mere periphery is to accept Mrs Thatcher's dictum that there is no such thing as (beer) society.

    You aren't a team player, are you, Al?

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  2. More a case of not seeing foreign ownership, kegs or multinationals as necessarily the enemies of "good" beer, and despairing at the seemingly constant in-fighting within beer society as to who belongs and who doesn't.

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  3. While it may be a sign of a brewer's quality that their beer is made in smaller batches, not owned by a multinational corporation, or dispensed only in 22 oz bombers on lees, it is certainly not a certainty or a prerequisite. Still, much that is produced in the mass marketing manner fits the profile of cheap, lowest-common-denominator...well, mass marketed! I see this tendency among craft beer aficionados as a corollary to wine snobbism. I would also connect the sentiment to those who are currently "occupying" certain parks and public areas around the country (evil corporations spoiled my last batch of homebrew!).

    Nice comparison to Monty Python's splinter group socialist skit! It fits.

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  4. Attacking beer snobbery is one thing, but it doesn't automatically follow that there are no distinctions to be made. It's all very well to quote Barth, I think his statement is close to meaningless. I'm not sure it illuminates what 'letting beer be beer' is supposed to mean. There is a distinction between beer that is deliberately flavourless and mass marketed, and beer that is brewed to taste good. The size of the brewery may be a red herring, but there are financial pressures, the larger a brewery gets, to make its beer blander and more widely marketable. I don't see any issues with wanting to support the (generally) smaller guys, who brew with the aim of producing something tasty and excellent as their main goal. The reality seems to be, that without such support, larger companies with less interest in brewing tasty beer tend to squeeze smaller ones out of the market, and we are left with nothing decent to drink, as happened here in Ireland, and has only recently started to change.

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  5. "I don't see any issues with wanting to support the (generally) smaller guys, who brew with the aim of producing something tasty and excellent as their main goal".

    Neither do I.

    I think the root of the problem is an assumption within certain sections of the beer drinking community that "craft" equals good while "macro" equals bad. That is the situation I was trying to address in the post.

    I very rarely drink beer from the multinationals, but given a choice between Pilsner Urquell and some of the alleged pilsners brewed by "craft" breweries, I will take the Urquell every time (even pasteurised it is better than many). Pilsner Urquell is a clear demonstration that a SABMiller company can make world class beer.

    Let me give you an example of the kind of thinking that really pisses me off, a friend sent me this comment about the Olde Mecklenburg Brewery in Charlotte, NC from Beer Advocate (and I am leaving in the atrocious spelling):

    "I would work on more ideas about making some more BA freindly beers. German lagers work decently locally but if they ever want to expamd
    the business in America they might need to sidetrack the purity laws. Making intresting and new beers works better."

    What kind of ejit wants to tell a brewery to ditch their entire business model for the sake of being cool with the Beer Advocate brigade?

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  6. Well I agree with most of that. I certainly don't think that small is good and big is bad.

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  7. I think small, local breweries are worth supporting, and are therefore good. If their beer is not up to scratch, I think they are more open to feedback and change, so can be potentially all good beer ;) I think, in the Beoir case at least, craft brewery, or craft beer has that kind of meaning. It's these kinds of breweries that need support (for many reasons, taste just being one), and the definition works for our purposes. Certainly, in terms of choice, big companies didn't help Ireland, so perhaps we have a different outlook.

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