One dominant craft beer narrative has been that of revolution. For some time now, I’ve been documenting the usage of the word “revolution” in craft beer stories, stories of origins, purpose, objective, etc. In my book manuscript, I have a great deal of that narrative documented. But here is a short snippet from a recent piece I’ve written for an academic journal:
Beer culture, as well, shares this craft revolutionary rhetoric. “Call me a revolutionary,” Jolly Pumpkin’s Ron Jeffries states in the viral video, “I am a Craft Brewer.” Stone’s Greg Koch proclaims, “I must fully admit that I feel a bit of a revolutionary” (Kaplan 26). “The craft beer revolution,” beer writer Andy Crouch proclaims, “has always been about one beer, a single experience that shatters decades of programming big brewery advertising and changes the way people perceive beer” (Great American 15). “We’ve all played a part in the American craft brewing revolution that forever changed the beer industry,” Ken Grossman claims in Beyond the Pale, the story of Sierra Nevada (xviii). Revolution Brewing in Chicago. Revolution Brewing in Paonia, Colorado. Natty Greene’s Revolution American IPA. Olde Hickory’s Saison Revolution. There is no shortage of revolution within craft beer’s overall rhetorical stance.
The other and related narrative to revolution is the “crafty” narrative, based on the label that the Brewer’s Association circulated in order to differentiate between what is supposedly authentic (small breweries) and not authentic (breweries owned by one of the major beer conglomerates). The narrative gained significant momentum when Goose Island flipped to “the dark side,” then subsided with the rush of people last Black Friday who lined up for Bourbon County variants. The crafty narrative is back this week with the announcement that 10 Barrel Brewing, too, has been bought by In Bev.
Notice The Pour Fool’s outrage:
You do NOT, under any circumstances and for any amount of money, sell your craft brewery to a company whose stated objective is to bring about the ruin of that community.
There is, as The Pour Fool notes as well, hyperbole to this reaction of a small Oregon brewery (production around 40,000 barrels) selling out. Still, The Pour Fool is not alone in his anger. Echoing the revolution narrative and The Pour Fool’s response, Roger Baylor also reminds us that one small brewery does not change the option landscape.
Even more obviously, drinkers of better beer have hundreds — nay, thousands — of legitimate small breweries to choose from, ones that have not been irrevocably bastardized by association (and ownership) with a company that’s the closest thing to a Great Beer Satan as we’re likely to see in this world … as we know it.
Both, though, refer to one’s “soul” and losing it within their responses. The New School, too, refers to the loss of soul like characteristics when they remark that conglomerates such as In Bev
Either forgot or never really realized the popularity of craft beer or microbrew hinges upon the fact that it is made by people, not corporations, and for the love of the craft, not the money.
The Not So Professional Beer Blog posted a screen shot from a disappointed craft beer base upset with the sellout of one’s beer soul.
I’m a rhetoric person. That does not mean I have no opinion regarding small breweries who sell out to conglomerates or whether or not we should support mass production as opposed to the artisanal. It means that when I put on my professional hat, I am more interested in the discourse surrounding a moment (how do people talk about what is occurring; how do they repeat one another; what beliefs do they share) rather than my own moral stand. The narrative and rhetoric of the artisanal vs the industrial can be traced to William Morris’ 19th century Arts & Crafts movement. But the complexities of the artisanal vs the industrial can be seen in the Shakers’ (same time period) mass production of hand made goods (every hand made good looked the same).
What I’m interested in are tales of purity. Food culture and its beer culture cousin are subjected to and subject themselves to declarations of purity. There is an us vs them narrative at the heart of this purity and – real or imagined – it is hard to overcome that narrative when it is fundamental to one’s identity. Globally, purity narratives cause war and conflict (we were on this land first; we are the true nationalism/religion). In consumer culture, purity narratives extend from health issues (genetically modified food, trans fat) to economic issues (stay local) to issues of the soul (selling out).
Purity narratives are comforting. They are also hyperbolic. They also contradict themselves. Purity narratives help us navigate a confusing world of ownership. They also can bog down our choices when our choices are compromised (wait a minute….My saccharine free small production Tom’s toothpaste is owned by Colgate-Palmolive?). Purities turn into boycotts. Purities reflect our frustrations at a world increasingly consolidated into a few companies, into a few choices. Purities, at some point, obfuscate the contradictory makeup of every position we take and perform, what Roland Barthes called the pleasure of the text.
I, too, lined up for Bourbon County last year. According to my RateBeer database synthetic memory, I’ve had seven 10 Barrel beers. I’ve only had two Blue Point (In Bev’s East Coast purchase) beers. I’ve had a great deal of Goose Island, even a month or so ago purchasing a Rambler IPA and still disappointed that The Illinois never made it here.
Does this mean I’m happy that 10 Barrel is now in the In Bev empire? No. But it doesn’t mean I won’t buy another 10 Barrel again either. I’m not a person who is too invested in purity. One reason I left the English Department and am now the magnificent and glorious interim chair of a writing department is because English (in my experience as a member of four different departments) gets obsessed with literature as a pure experience. I like Dylan. But I also like Foreigner. I like Jarmusch. But I also like reality TV. I’m obsessed with craft rhetorics – the various ways members of the craft beer industry and their consumers communicate in writing and in digital environments. But I’m obsessed with them because of their complexity, not their purity.
And will I wait in line for Goose Island again this year? I hope not. But not because of a purity position. I simply hate waiting in line for beer.