As the craft beer tide continues to swell, a fatal portent looms on the horizon. While the explosive growth of the industry is certainly great for job creation, economic stimulus and the overall appreciation of an artisan craft, I worry that we're entering a dangerous world of taking ourselves too seriously. I first raised this issue in an article for the beer blog Ladies Of Craft Beer , but the issue reaches beyond just the interaction between women in the industry. It is universal to craft beer.
With a more educated industry, including both producers and consumers, sometimes comes an air of pretentiousness, that malodorous stench emanating from those who are too big for thy britches. Indeed, I have even found myself at the helm of this unfortunate trend, giving a round chortle to those drinking beer I have deemed as swill. For shame, self, for shame. As craft beer becomes more available on the shelf, so too rises the tension between extreme connoisseurs and those just entering the market. Looking down our collective noses, a vocal scoff at a macro drinker can do more to curtail craft beer's growth than almost anything else. Oh, I'm sorry, newbie, I only drink sour beer aged on oak spirals from a Chardonnay barrel utilizing at least three stone fruits for flavor.
It's true; I believe in the power of craft beer. Not in a hokey marketing jargon sort of way, but in an economic, holistic, social and damn near spiritual way. I genuinely believe that some of the ills that plague our society could begin to be solved by people sitting down for a pint at their local pub and talking about what really matters. Craft beer is more than just the means by which you reach a pleasant level of inebriation; it's a lifestyle. How, then, can we evangelize this lifestyle in an inclusive, open way?
The mystical elements of craft beer are plain to see; creating jobs in a downward economy, the seemingly cryptic process by which water is turned into beer, and an undeniable trendiness of off-the-wall experimentation. These are all great things and, indeed, the maturation of the industry is something to be welcomed. However, craft beer still represents a small (if growing) segment of the overall beer market. If we agree that our goal as craft brewing industry members is to make craft beer as welcoming as possible, we need to open our arms (and perhaps close our mouths) -- letting people take their own journey towards craft.
Having a great beer list is, in my mind, one of the signs of pedigree in a bar or restaurant. However, even more important than a vast beer list to the growth of craft beer is an open mind. Perhaps one imbiber orders a macro pint amongst a mouth-watering selection of delicious craft beer. Rather than decry this individual as a backwards bumpkin with bad taste, why don't we try opening a conversation? In a modern craft beer world, macro beer consumption is seen on par with such heinous crimes as murder, thievery or sandals with socks. Perhaps that drinker prefers the macro light lager but, perhaps they might like to try something different. If their answer is a staunch allegiance to macro beer, that needs to be OK. People are allowed to have different tastes. If we start up a conversation -- what else is a bar for? -- we can learn more about who is sitting at the next bar stool. They may only drink Bud Light and don't plan on changing or they may be open to a friendly suggestion to try a craft beer. By immediately scoffing at a macro pint (and, thereby, its purchaser), we shut the door on an opportunity to engage in an open dialogue about what we love -- beer.
This is also true of beer events. Chris Lennert, VP of Operations at Left Hand Brewing in Colorado sees a disturbing trend and will bring industry scions together at this year's Craft Brewers Conference to discuss how we can, as an industry, manage the logistical and cultural aspects of craft beer events. As kegs upon kegs of craft beer pour at beer weeks across America, Lennert notices, "There seems to be this thing happening where people say, 'Oh, you drink macros and imports? You can't come to our event.' What's that about?" It's this exclusivity and snootiness, which Lennert says is antithetical to the purpose of these events, that could quickly cripple craft beer. He nails it on the head when he explains the purpose of craft beer events, "We're just trying to introduce as many people to beer as possible." Can't argue with that.
In a culture where apathy reigns supreme, where quick and easy often trumps true and good, craft beer is something to believe in. It's a culture, a lifestyle and a way of life. If we agree on a common goal to introduce as many people to craft beer as possible, we can agree that a welcome mat will work better than a slap on the face. I'm not a proponent of acoustic kumbaya next to an industry-wide campfire, but I do think a little welcome goes a long way. Like any evangelism, spreading the gospel of craft beer takes a delicate hand, open ears and an inclusive spirit. Let's spread the good word.