Introducing the Debate Series by John Gillespie
The rise of New Media has given us something that, as a Civilization, we have never had before. With a few clicks of a mouse and some quickly typed words it is possible to find any opinion you could ever want to find on any subject. From social media, to blog posts, to online journals, magazines, and newspapers there is always someone out there willing to defend a certain viewpoint on just about any issue. Beer is no exception.
We read these opinions because we agree with them and want affirmation and the satisfaction of seeing our own thoughts repeated, or because we disagree with them and enjoy the righteous anger and indignation that comes with reading something that is so OBVIOUSLY wrong!
There is also the extremely rare case where we realize that every argument has two sides and the only way to form an educated opinion is to explore as many facets of an issue as we can. (I’m no statistician, but from what I see on the Internet I would guess about one in every 10 million people does this on a regular basis.) And while I joke about this lack of objectivity I am certainly guilty of it in many cases. One way to help this issue, however, is to present both sides of the argument in the same forum for equal consumption. At least then we can say that we heard the other side’s argument, even if we still disagree with it.
In that spirit, we debut the new Beer Busters Debate Series.
Debate: Passion or Paycheck?
The recent purchase of 10 Barrel Brewing Company in Bend Oregon by Anheuser-Busch InBev set off arguments all over the craft beer universe. Responses ranged from congratulations for the financial jackpot that the company just hit to profanity-laden diatribes calling for a boycott of the brewery and all of its products.
It is no secret that a large part of the attraction of craft beers comes from the authentic nature of artisanal beer making that is either inherently suggested or outright claimed by the breweries themselves. People who support the decision made by 10 Barrel (and others) to sell to AB-InBev say the backing of a large, powerful corporation will only enhance those practices and make the products available to a wider audience.
Detractors claim that it is a betrayal of the spirit of the Craft Beer movement and that artistic practices and product quality will inevitably take a backseat to the bottom-line profit motive under AB-InBev ownership. There is also the consideration of selling to a company that has openly attacked the Craft Beer segment in its policy and business practices in the past.
How should we, as fans of craft beer, respond to this news, and how should it affect our purchasing decisions (if at all)?
Purchase as a Positive by Steph Heffner
I was one of those people. When I first started to drink craft beer, I refused to drink anything associated with AB-InBev. I would Google beer names and read beer labels before purchasing a bottle. I would make faces at people purchasing six packs or ordering a pint of AB-InBev owned beers. I was a beer snob, and I’m not proud of it.
Then I experienced that moment when I realized that one of my favorite all time beers is owned by AB-InBev. Gasp… Franziskaner Hefe-Weissbier is one of my favorite beers ever. The 5.5% ABV German Hefeweizen is perfection in my eyes from the hazy orange hue with an impressive fluffy white head to the aromas of banana and citrus and the fresh, fruity, and spicy flavor. But alas, the Franziskaner brand is owned by AB-InBev.
Perhaps I should thank AB-InBev. The Franziskaner brands are widely available in the United States, both in bottles and on draft, and I am able to fulfill my need whenever I am craving the German brew. Most small breweries can only dream of having the worldwide distribution of AB-InBev.
The bottom line is, I love this beer. Perhaps you like the same beer. Or maybe you dislike the beer I drink. That’s okay. Drink the beer you like. Explore new beers, try new styles, explore new breweries. Meet the brewers, ask questions, understand the process. But drink the beer you like. Really, that’s all that matters.
This may be hard to hear, but it’s not always about the beer. Beer is business. Breweries need to make money to purchase quality ingredients, to operate a brewing system, and to make delicious beer. It seems like a new brewery is opening every second in the U.S. right now, and most of them will not succeed. Many will fail because they simply make bad beer, but many will fail because they do not have the funds or the means to spread their brand.
Support beer. Buy beer. Drink beer. And don’t judge other people for the beer they choose to drink. Perhaps offer them a sip of what’s in your glass instead. I mean, come on, who doesn’t love some Goose Island?
Purchase as a Negative by Wayne Baker
First off, let me say that I actually tend to agree with a lot of what Steph has opined on this issue. I do love me some Goose Island, Sofie is one of my favorite beers. Also, I firmly believe that snobbery should have no place in the craft beer world (tempting though it may be sometimes). Judging someone harshly for drinking a “macro” beer says more about the judger than it does about the judgee.
That said, allow me to play devil’s advocate and consider the broader implications of acquisitions such as AB-InBev’s purchase of 10 Barrel. Yes, it may mean wider distribution and a perhaps well-earned pay day for the brewers who put in the work and passion to perfect awesome brews. But, as a long-term trend, is it a good thing for the industry? Probably not.
Whether you think 10 Barrel has sold out or simply taken the rightful fruits of their labors is irrelevant. Craft beer is about the product, first and foremost. Obviously, anyone who crafts an exceptional product deserves not only recognition, but to earn a decent living or, maybe, even retire to tropical locales.
Selling off to a company that makes no effort to hide their disdain of craft beer while taking every opportunity to cash in on it may not be the most ethically unassailable maneuver, but it is unquestionably their right to do with their business whatever they want. Besides, no matter what people say, everyone likes money.
But there is more to it. Craft beer is a community, it’s an experience. It’s being able to meet the people who make the thing you love, in the place where it’s made, built by those people. It’s about shared experience and revelling in the variety and always seeking out something new. A rare beer that takes effort to find, or a good beer shared with great people, just tastes better.
These things are lost in consolidation, corporatisation and homogenization (and perhaps several other “ations”). The personal connections are lost and innovation and experimentation are stifled when beer is more about profit and treated like a franchise, with sameness always the safest bet.
Plenty of craft breweries have made it pretty big on their own merits. When the dust settles in this currently overcrowded market, when the passing fancy of take-it-or-leave it craft beer drinkers moves on, those who make truly fine beers will remain standing – and they won’t need a pile of corporate money to stand on. Some of their beers will be in bars and bottle shops everywhere, but some will remain local and harder to find, there will always be the thrill of the hunt.
That, or every beer on earth will be owned by the same company, like B.E.E.R. Inc. (it’s an acronym because all villainous conglomerations have acronyms for names). Companies like Wal-Mart thrive despite how much people claim to despise them because, in the end, a good number of people want convenience and to save money enough to ignore the negatives. But craft beer isn’t about either of those things. As long as we, as beer enthusiasts, continue to be willing to spend the money and make the effort to seek out truly great beers, the people who make them will be in good hands.