I should probably write something about Craft Writing: Beer, The Digital, and Craft Culture. After all, Hoperatives has. And Stan has. And Kevin has. And Digital Relativity has. And a few others have as well. I know I need to write something about the event I organized. But what? I am a writer. Shouldn’t I, too, write?
This is not the first event I’ve organized. I’ve organized many events at four universities. But this event, this event about craft beer and writing, was different than anything else I have done. I am used to inviting academics for academics. Craft Writing was not that kind of event.
A year ago, as Networked Humanities ended, I had an idea to do an event on craft beer and writing. There are plenty of events devoted to drinking beer. But how many are devoted to the writing we find in craft beer? Every industry supports writing (food, science, medicine, technology) and yet, we often don’t showcase the professional writing being done in craft beer. The blogs, journalism, memoirs, histories, arguments, tweets, social media, reviews, and so on. . .. we know that they exist, we know that they are important, but why are we not discussing them in an organized event? I knew of no event that focused only on the writing in craft beer. So, I began to plan this event, and I worked on it over the year. Finally, during the week leading up to February 15, I realized: This shit is about to go down. When you realize this shit is about to go down, you get nervous. When you realize this shit is about to go down, you realize people (people!) are about to descend upon your city and campus, and that these people expect something to occur. And that point accompanies every event I organize. The week it is about to happen, the nerves can really kick in. Shit is about to go down.
Shit did go down. In a good way. When I started planning Craft Writing, I asked myself: will people come? Will academics look down upon the event (beer? WTF?) and would beer people look down upon the writing aspect (hey, where’s my beer?)? I’m sure some colleagues thought the concept not worthy of their more “serious” attention: social justice, global politics, identity and the other repetitive trademark gestures popular in academia. I can’t say that university promotion or marketing beat down my door to help push the event. The local beer community immediately was supportive. DH and Country Boy were among the most supportive and enthusiastic. Still, I wondered: Would anyone come?
People came. From Portland, Baltimore, Chicago, Michigan, North Carolina, Tennessee, Indiana, Ohio, Georgia, Louisiana, Virginia. People came. Academics. Industry people. Brewers. Beer bloggers. Beer writers. Enthusiasts. People came. People came to hear about beer and writing. About beer and writing. I have to keep repeating that last point. If there ever was any doubt that a general interest in this industry’s writing exists, this event proved that doubt wrong.
Often in academia, we claim a desire to be involved in a given community, to contribute to the community, to perform outreach. These communities include the town the university or college is located in, a specific group of people bound by a common identity or cause, a business. With Craft Writing, I wanted to position UK and my department to be (Writing, Rhetoric and Digital Studies) within a specific part of the specific community we call the Kentucky craft beer scene. The success of craft beer over the last 30 years is no secret. But in recent years, we are seeing that success explored and discussed in a variety of writing platforms: magazine articles, blogs, books. Not that there wasn’t writing all along during the industry’s trajectory; there was. But the maturity of the industry has also given way to a maturity of voices interested in discussing that industry. If Craft Writing has played a small part in helping support the young craft beer community in Kentucky (and “small” is the right word), then I’m happy. If that is so, we have brought attention to craft beer and writing, of course, but also to craft beer in Kentucky and the amazing, smart people who are not only making the beer, but who are also contributing to the overall knowledge and ideas shaping this young industry. In the larger network we call “craft beer,” Kentucky has a part to play. It has ideas to share and help develop. Craft Writing hopefully has helped a bit in foregrounding the state’s role within that network.
Because with each brewery that comes online, with each new beer made, with each new market developed, with each new person affected by what is really the overall effect of food culture, we see the metaphoric database of ideas and stories associated with craft beer grow. The growth of craft beer is about the development of a market, of course, but it is also about the growth of culture. And culture is always about writing.
I know Garrett finished the day with the declaration that “beer is people.” But I want to add to that declaration my own take. I invited seven people who had no idea who I am to speak at a beer writing event at the University of Kentucky. And all of these people said yes. Why? I am not in the craft beer industry. I am not a craft beer writer. These folks did not know me. During Craft Writing, attendees kept asking me: how did you get these people to come?
I have no idea. And if there is a story to be told here about how an academic who specializes in writing, rhetoric, and digital media could convince (without much effort) individuals from a completely different industry to mine to travel to Lexington and to talk about something that is not always showcased as the main part of that industry, that story may not have a South Park “I learned something today” styled conclusion. My answer to the “how” is only: I don’t know. But even that point is not entirely true. If there is a reason that these individuals came to Lexington to speak about writing and beer, it is because: Beer is people. These are some excellent people.
I was fortunate to spend a considerable amount of time with the speakers during the two days that they were in Lexington. These are amazing, friendly, funny, smart people who not only do I respect and admire for the writing they do (and in some cases, the beer they make), but who also were open, down to earth, people who I enjoyed talking with and getting to know a little bit. They took my tiny bit of advice regarding what to speak about, and they rocked it. But in addition to their talks, they rocked it in person. Shit went down. In the best way possible. I met and interacted with some fantastic people. Beer is people, indeed. And these people are brilliant people who I hope I am lucky enough to spend time with again in the future, whether in Lexington or some other event (maybe even another writing event) somewhere in this little world we call craft beer.
Thanks to Oliver Gray (who I was also glad to meet) for these images: