Brewing a Drunk Rant
A stream of consciousness is best relieved after several drinks. There’s no better time to characterize feelings, catalog thoughts, and best of all; write complete and utter bullshit without responsibility or sincerity. In other words, it’s time for a rant! I doubt I’ll end up anywhere around the white sands of articulation and rolling waves of substance, but I’ll at least attempt to maroon myself in a place that serves beer. All aboard the SS Drivel!
Ennui is largely to blame for my neotergic interest in home brewing. If any normal, sane, and decent person heard me say that, I’d surely get slapped across the face and deservedly so, but I’d turn the other cheek and respond in kind, “Hear me out, I highly suggest you drink some more bullshit from the musings of a puerile genius.” This person may be confused at this point, because people don’t talk like this, but they would surely be too intrigued to counter, too dense to protest, or too drunk to hold any reservations. I’d continue, “The brimful craft beer movement is a poseur avant-garde culture of proselytes clambering to set themselves apart with distinguishing labels, wild and exotic adjuncts, and the promise to belong to an exclusive culture of snobs claiming they can distinguish two hop aromas.” They’ll ask, “What’s a proselyte?”and I’ll tell them the truth, “After arguing with me for an entire evening, you are!” I’ll continue. While beer deserves to be good, to have a culture, and a flourishing market, it’s reaching a saturation point; there’s just too many cooks in the kitchen! Now let me share a poem with you drunk bar stranger.
The explosive craft brewery machine is a drunk gamble of roulette; a threat to a subset of dreamers-beget, dead-set to get wet from the sweat of their outlet, diving into debt and risking regret, and yet we’ll forget in some time beyond reset.
Disclaimer: If you disagree with everything I’m about to say, then you are probably an antiselyte, and that isn’t a thing, so by the transitive property…. With prohibition largely wiping-out the innovation of American brewing in the 20th century, we can now definitively say that beer is back, and with it more variety and choice than ever before. There are now over 4000 breweries in the United States, on par with the high water mark set by the end of the 19th century. Even assuming that there isn’t a major market crash in the next few years, capitalism has a way of synthesizing brands under large umbrellas. Who’s to say that Pliny the Elder won’t have an Anheuser-Busch label in several years? No market has infinite growth potential, and furthermore, the business of brewing is difficult. The die-hard fans that buy into brand exclusivity won’t drive business decisions when a check from Budweiser and world-wide distribution is on the table. I’m not saying beer is dead, but the modern culture of beer will change, and we’ll continue to see further bifurcation of the market. These days, the average person has no choice but to buy-in to a craft brew education. In short time, the Cellar Septet of beer cliques will react to this by sourcing a new theatrical season of traditional trends. Now for myself, no beer exists that I refuse to drink; be it the cold-flowing piss waters of Olympia, or the overrated Lagunitas akin Pliny’s of the world. They all share the same frozen glass and it all goes to the same place, but I can claim membership to this prevailing attitude just the same. Look no further than Exhibit A below:
These homebrews are my third through fifth batches of fairly drinkable, but mediocre beer. I’ve spent hours on the labels. They involved designing a model in SolidWorks, applying colors and textures, rendering in Photoview, importing to Gimp and playing with lighting levels, overlaying a Microsoft Paint landscape I once spent many hours drawing, and trimming out with some clip-art I found. They were then manually re-sized in Microsoft Word, transferred to flash drive, driven to Kinkos, printed on sticker paper for $1.50 a sheet, and tediously cut out one-by-one on the paper cutter. The result is an evolving label, but one that would find difficulty sticking-out on a store shelf. It’s arguable that I’ve spent more time on marketing a beer I have no plans (or current desire) to sell, than I’ve spent brewing a beer worth selling in the first place. Sure, it impresses the many people I share the beer with, but they get it free anyway. Perhaps it’s a source of pride. Perhaps it’s ego.
Referring back to the Cellar Septet; The massive American Light Lager giants are the George Garvey’s of the modern brewing movement. George Garvey is the central character in Ray Bradbury’s short story, The Watchful Poker Chips of H. Matisse. This story is present in Bradbury’s 1955 collection of short, macabre stories titled The October Country. Much like Garvey, American beer is traditionally bland, simple, and devoid of character. The craft beer movement is the Cellar Septet, excited to discover a traditional , unrecognized phenomena hiding in plain sight. No story better captures the central dichotomy of trending interests than this one, positing the following; a latent fad of rising popularity ceases to be upon its discovery of self-awareness. In other words, exclusivity drives trending movements, and any hipster worth their weight in irony can confirm that an idea loses its appeal the moment it becomes interesting to the masses. Beer has been a traditional staple of the working American man for over a century, and yet Bradbury summed the attitude of the craft movement succinctly fifty years before it happened; “Beer’s intellectual. What a shame so many idiots drink it!”
Is this all a grand rant or a story with a point? I’ll make two and draw a line: Firstly, beer isn’t going away. At its worst, it will always be enjoyed by the working class, the college-aged, and the hobbyists, however, the current popularity of beer and its staying power warrants consideration. In other words, the craft movement is just a painted poker chip away from jumping the shark. At various points, Mr. Garvey recognizes the interests and identities that the Septet subscribe to. Unaware of the irony in his situation, he attempts to fit in to the group, all but driving them away from their original attraction. The beer giants are here to stay: Anheuser-Busch, MillerCoors, and Pabst to name a few. Their market share is in no imminent danger, and the volumes and pricing they offer are a scale that is very difficult to attain, but they also recognize the interest in craft beer. These corporations are capable of swallowing brewery start-ups under their blanket or investing in their own, a surefire bet to further inflate the market and run the small guys out of business.
Established microbreweries are of course relatively safe. Sierra Nevada is firmly rooted in our hearts and mind, Lagunitas is everyone’s gateway to craft brew, and Dogfish Head has found a niche in experimental, exclusive recipes. That being said, those operations were the catalyst for the modern movement rather than foundations. Micro and nano-breweries are springing up by the day, and this trend simply presents a math problem. A bell curve exists in the market which suggests that a select few breweries will produce outstanding beer, few will make undesirable beer, and most will produce mediocre brews. By the end of our story, George Garvey has become the very thing he was mocked by; a grotesque caricature buying into a fad, missing fingers and embellishing a fake eye. Here’s the rub; Garvey had a full time job, a house, a wife, and a common sense needed to make it through the grind. In short, Garvey was established, and he had the overhead and capital to take some risks with his image. In contrast, the Septet entirely depended on theirs.
I encourage everyone’s effort, but the main point is that a majority of modern brewery start-ups will fail in the next decade or two. Two much of a good thing can lead to sensory overload (much like my first Pliny), and I find myself more often picking established staples over high-margin experiments in the beer aisle. Anecdotal evidence at best, but I’ve had plenty of characterless beers as of late; brews I will neither recommend nor buy again, and if any group of people is more discerning of craft quality than me, it’s the rest of the beer snob market. Furthermore, the working man will continue to drink between the established piss waters and the established pseudo-craft brews, but what of the promising start-ups? The vocal champions of these nano/micro dreamers are also the same territorial trend usurpers in the Septet, and the rising mass-interest side of the equation can all but extinguish the driving force behind craft brewing.
My second point is more succinct, if not totally related to my rant. The home brewing community is pretty awesome. Everyone I’ve met has been helpful, welcoming, and open to answer the same dumb questions from beginners over and over again. I’ve had some gratifying and rewarding conversations with homebrewers, be it their set-up, their process, or just taking a moment to reflect on the value of the hobby. Be that as it may, there are also some real assholes, and they turn a wonderful open hobby into an exclusive, boastful, endeavor of vainglory and narcissism. Vainglory is coincidentally the name of my next batch so don’t steal it! Here’s the end of my line: Don’t be an asshole. Everyone makes beer now, and yours isn’t special. In fact, mine is better. And you can’t have any.
So that’s it. If my train of thought managed to even leave the station, it surely broke down on its way to the beach I suppose. Without a hint of irony, C&K Brewing will one day claim a slot in 1001 Must-Try Brews in The Greater Northwestern California Region, risen from the determination of such an idiot, a bore, nay, a man capable of paralyzing you, rococo with the talent to induce stupor, deep slumber, or stoppage of the heart. A colossal norm!