Volume 24, Number 2

Commit A Revolutionary Act: Drink A Craft Beer

Fred Schepartz

Wanna commit a revolutionary act this summer? Of course you do. Don’t we all?

Then drink a craft beer.

Okay, that’s not really a revolutionary act, and that is more than a little hyperbole on my part. Still, it’s a beautiful day today, and my thoughts are tending toward sunny afternoons at the dog park and warm evenings sitting outside the Malt House drinking, yes, a craft beer.

After all, it’s summer, a good time to lighten things up a bit and maybe recharge the batteries a bit as well. And what’s better than sipping a nice, cold brew while enjoying a pleasant evening in the great outdoors?

Nothing is better, especially if it’s a craft beer you’re enjoying.

Hell, beer is good, and a good beer is very, very good. It reminds us of exactly what Ben Franklin was talking about when he espoused upon the wonders of fermentation:

Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards, there it enters the roots of the vines, to be changed into wine, a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy.

No doubt he could have just as easily been talking about beer, especially if a wonderfully crafted ale had been handed to him at his favorite public house.

But the real hop of truth in this discussion is not necessarily what craft beer is, but rather what it is not.

Craft beer is not what is derisively referred to as “yellow beer,” a pale, lifeless lager that tastes more like corn than anything else.

Craft beer is not made in a mammoth, dehumanizing industrial setting where all creativity is stifled.

Craft beer serves not as a fulcrum to either devour or destroy the competition.

In fact, craft beer knows not competition. Craft beer knows craft beer. Other concerns are secondary.

Oh, and craft brewers are not necessarily big players in the political arena. Perhaps let’s start here. For instance, the largest craft brewer in Wisconsin is New Glarus Brewing. According the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign’s donation database, New Glarus Brewing employees made donations totaling $10,395.00. Since 1996! And it appears that those donations went roughly equally to Democrats and Republicans.

Meanwhile, Miller Brewing employees (MillerCoors, actually) donated $52,220.00 to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, from July 1, 2008 to June 4, 2012. And with this money came influence. As reported by ThinkProgress, June 10, 2011

Tucked into Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) much-discussed budget was a little-noticed provision to overhaul the state’s regulation of the beer industry. In a state long associated with beer, the provision will make it much more difficult for the Wisconsin’s burgeoning craft breweries to operate and expand their business by barring them from selling directly to restaurants and liquor stores, and preventing them from selling their own product onsite.

The new provision treats craft brewers—the 60 of whom make up just 5 percent of the beer market in Wisconsin—like corporate mega-brewers, forcing them to use a wholesale distributor to market their product. Under the provision, it would be illegal, for instance, for a small brewer located near a restaurant to walk next door to deliver a case of beer. They’ll have to hire a middleman to do it instead.

But, yes, MillerCoors is the Mr. Potter of the beer world, and yes, it’s easy to be a beer snob and kick around the Millers of the world with their yellow swill. I’m sure Mae West wasn’t talking about ales, stouts and porters when she famously said, “put it back in the horse.”

But what is most important to consider is the kind of world we want is a world full of craft beers, where the Millers and Budweisers are consigned to the dustbin of history.

It’s about good taste that tastes good. First and foremost, craft beers are made from real ingredients that you can actually taste. Granted, some craft beers feature challenging flavors that are not for everyone, but I prefer that to a beer designed with a generic flavor meant to not offend rather than challenge.

And this is no trivial manner. Craft brewers are able to work hand-in-glove with the growing organic farming movement, and thus, higher quality ingredients are available in much greater supply. The result is beer made from whole food ingredients instead of syrups and mashes processed in large industrial settings.

Craft beers encourage creativity. If there’s any competition in the craft beer movement, it’s about who is making the better and more interesting beer. Yeah, sometimes it’s about reinventing the wheel, and maybe I didn’t care for that chocolate mint beer that tasted like a Girl Scout cookie, but I sleep better at night knowing I might run into something new and different that I never would have thought of in a million years.

And it is worth noting that much of the craft beer we’re seeing these days, especially as the operations get progressively smaller, is coming from home brewers who have taken the leap of faith to turn an avocation into a vocation.

Craft beers are about community. Most craft beers are strongly grounded in a sense of place. Maybe it’s an operation that started in somebody’s garage. Maybe it’s the case of a home brewer who started a nano-brewery/tasting room, but it harkens back to the days or yore when every small town in Wisconsin had its own brewery and when most taverns brewed their own beer. These operations depended on the community for support and hence, gave back to the community whenever possible.

For instance, Hydro Street Brewing Company in Columbus, Wisconsin, quickly became an important gathering place in a community that really has very little in terms of drinking and eating establishments.

Or, also for instance, WORT 89.9 FM Community Radio, Madison, Wisconsin, recently held its annual block party. A major fund raising aspect of the WORT Block Party is the No Crap On Tap beer sale, which features a variety of local craft beers, where the brewers donate kegs of their finest beers, and the proceeds go to WORT.

Oh, and yes, I know Miller does plenty of charitable events, but as we know, when big corporations do events like that, it’s mostly about public relations and getting the tax write-off.

But perhaps therein lies the biggest difference between craft beers and commercial beers. For the craft brewer, the business model is about living in the community where they do business. What is good for the community is good for the brewer, and what is good for the brewer is good for the community, as opposed to the Millers of the world where the goal is to warp and bend and twist the world around them to best suit their selfish desires.

Or to put it simply, it’s a sustainable economic model versus a model of profit maximization.

Or to put it another way, which is perhaps a bit more ephemeral.

Recently, I had the privilege of sitting on a panel discussion about class markers. A point that I brought up is that while food and drink (as well as art) can be class markers, they don’t have to be. Just because one is working class, that does not mean they are incapable of enjoying art or literature or great food and drink. Granted, these pursuits can be expensive, but they don’t necessarily have to be.

At a certain point during the panel, I found myself thinking of Philip K. Dick (after all, it was a science fiction convention), and I couldn’t help but wonder how he might look at class as an identity that is superimposed upon us. We have no choice in the matter, and perhaps we don’t even know that there is this whole identity that is imposed on us and controls much of what we do and who we are.

But we do have choices, and here’s one we can all make. Don’t buy that 12-pack of Miller Lite. Buy a six-pack of any craft beer. Your taste buds will thank you, your digestive track will thank you, the brewer who crafted your beer will thank you, as will the people who grew the hops, grew the grains and grew whatever ingredients the brewer thought might make your beer taste great.