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All In The Family: Craft Beer and Community

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Arguably, it has become cool not to care. Admirable is to live a life so mired in sepia-toned disaffect that we aren't sure where the irony ends. In a sour economy, this is something that scares people. There is something about economic turbulence and leads us to cling tighter to those things we hold dear. Craft beer is one of those things to me. Or, better put, supporting craft beer allows me to support other things I care about.

Let's forget for a moment that craft beer seems to be the saveur de la semaine among hipsters far and wide. Even despite its growing popularity, craft beer means community. It's more than just a bubbly, trendy libation. It's a statement. A vote. Supporting craft beer means stronger connections to our communities and to each other.

What does your dollar go towards when you purchase craft beer? Let's start with the basics--the ingredients. Many, if not most craft brewers take as much care in selecting their ingredients as they do with the actual brewing process. This means two things--local and quality.

While the term "local" has perhaps been so greenwashed it nears meaninglessness, helping the farmers and purveyors in your community is a win-win. In Colorado, like many other states, that means supporting local barley growers, hop farmers and local suppliers of other tasty vittles that will aid in the production of craft beer like peaches, herbs or pumpkins. Out in our Tank Farm sits a large, white grain silo. This gleaming behemoth is filled weekly with Colorado malt. By using grain that is largely Colorado grown and Colorado malted, those dollars stay in state. It's not just us; countless craft brewers across the US use ingredients grown in their communities. Some even use ingredients grown at their brewery.

Indeed, we know that just because something is local, doesn't mean it's necessarily high quality. By using a combination of local, domestic and foreign ingredients, craft brewers push the boundaries of American quality. By introducing innovative products, techniques and style from outside of our communities, craft brewers encourage local suppliers to compete on a global scale when it comes to quality. If we push our local purveyors to provide products of the same quality as our suppliers abroad, it strengthens our farm systems and builds our connection with our community. Ingredients, however, are just the beginning of craft's influence on community.

Many craft brewers, not just the one I happen to work for, have a serious amount of pride: pride for their product, pride for their hometown and pride for their culture. This pride leads people to stay put, to put down roots and hunker down. Craft beer is here to stay in your community.

A question we often get on our tours is, "So, do you guys just sit around a drink all day?" While it's not uncommon to see our employees enjoying happy hour together, we live by a "work hard, play hard" philosophy. The true value of a craft brewery in their community is not the hard work churned out by dedicated employees, but rather the familial feeling between coworkers and the inclusive hand outstretched to bar-goers. If you're in our bar or you have our bottle in your hand, you're one of us.

Each dollar spent on craft beer supports this sort of familial pride. I like to joke that I work with 45 brothers and sisters. That is to say, I work with a bunch of people who genuinely care about each other. These are the people next to whom's sorry ass you stand or sit all day and then voluntarily hang out with when you clock out. Or you help them move. Or you dog-sit for them. Or you let them take leaves of absences to help an ailing family member. Or you talk to them about real things that matter to you. While we all may be wildly different in interests and personality, we care about each other. In a culture where coolness correlates to not giving a crap about anything or anyone, this is an inspiring rebellion. A small, yet meaningful swat at apathy.

In an industry so obsessed with quality over quantity, there is a certain appreciation for the product and, indeed, the person enjoying it. I don't mean to say that it's all sunshine and kittens rolling in fresh grass, or that every craft brewery is filled with employees who would readily offer up a kidney for a coworker. But craft brewing, perhaps more so than other industries, fosters a familial care, a genuine interest in the well-being of those around you, including co-workers, customers and, heck, even competitors. When all the other noise quiets, isn't that one of the most important things we can do as people?

So, when I'm standing in front of a beer cooler, deciding how to spend my dollar, I think of these things. I encourage you to do the same. Craft brewers care about the product they put out. They care about the people with whom they make those products. Most importantly, they care about you, too. So, give them a try. Join the family.

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