08 Jul There Are Different Groups In Beer, But The Actions Of One Affect All
by Mark E. Lasbury for Indiana On Tap
first published December, 2019
There’s been so much going on in Indiana and national craft beer in the last year or so – sales on large and small scales, record closings, even more openings, process issues, etc. Depending on who in beer you talk to, some issues are very big deals and some are less important subjects. The fact that it really does depend on who you’re talking to led me to wonder about the idea of factions in beer and the reactions to things that crop up.
Populations in Craft Beer. It’s true that individuals have their own opinions, and this is one of the strengths of craft beer. How one brewery chooses to market itself isn’t how every brewery should do it. What one brewer thinks is a fad or a black mark on beer could become the next great style when run through the brain and the system of another brewer. What one drinker loves is likely to be the bane of another’s existence. The differences in how situations are approached and the opinions of various individuals is how the industry moves forward.
However, it is just as true that not all decisions are good ones, and what one group or individuals in a group decide to do has an effect on the other groups. Then it comes down to a matter of how individuals or groups react to those decisions. There is strength in numbers, so an entire segment of the craft beer industry having a singular opinion on an issue might carry more weight, but that rarely happens. Can opinions be lumped into piles based on the group within craft beer to which a person belongs? No, and that’s both a strength and weakness of craft beer.
I have seen that there are three general populations in beer – the drinkers, the brewers, and the non-brewers in the industry. I know those categories are broad, so let’s take a minute to dissect them, because even within groups there can be a wide diversity of activity and thought.
Drinkers. Huge numbers of articles have been written to divide and subdivide the various types of craft beer fans in the world – I don’t remember any in particular, but I’m sure that I’ve written on the subject. Casual drinkers, dedicated fans, beer geeks, beer snobs, every one of these groups will look at beer differently. As far as who I would listen to, it’s all of them, because they are all a pat of the craft beer community. As far as which ones I would consider when developing my own opinion, I drop out the casual drinkers and the snobs. Casual drinkers don’t know enough to weigh in on most issues, and snobs only express the opinion that makes them look the most knowledgeable or out of the mainstream – neither is of much help. But craft beer fans and beer geeks, they have opinions to which I should pay attention.
Brewers. This is the group that might be the most monolithic. You’re either a brewer or you’re not. You might be an owner as well as brew, and this throws a cog in the works, but any kind of brewhouse worker – from the cellarman who cleans the kegs to the Siebel-trained master brewer who has written and implemented 400 recipes – I consider you a brewer. However, this group may only be monolithic in their job description, they often have quite differing opinions, and I respect that.
Non-brewer Industry Folk. Even though drinkers are a wide ranging group, the people who work in and around beer are definitely the most wide ranging conglomeration there is in beer. They have very different jobs and very different experiences, but there are so many of them that it is hard to do anything but lump them into one big group. Owners, beer slingers, marketing specialists, distributors, salesmen, brand reps, and yes, writers – they all bring very different skill sets and experiences to the party, so it isn’t surprising to think they might have different opinions. But for all their differences, they also know more than most people in beer, so I take their opinions seriously.
Perhaps because of their diversity, this is a group I really like to talk to. Beer slingers are some of my favorite people in the world – each of them brings a different background to the rail, and I love learning how their experience informs their opinions. Owners know things that I can’t even begin to fathom, from taxes to scheduling hours to pricing everything under the sun. Where to spend money and where to save is, thankfully, something I don’t have to consider. Brewery, brand, and distributor reps talk to everyone and therefore their views are some of the most encompassing.
Things Happen. People from each of the above groups have opinions that are informed by their history and position in craft beer. Owners and distributors can see the same issues very differently, as can drinkers and brewers, etc. Yet when things occur in and about the industry, people within a group can have similar reactions, or they may diverge from one another based on personal experience. They might not always agree with those people within their group or people from one of the other populations, but one thing is for sure – things happen, and when they do, they affect all groups. The decisions of a brewer will affect drinkers, the decisions of owners will affect beer slingers.
None of the groups above are immune from having done things that others find troubling or deceitful, and then everyone is forced to deal with their actions. Whether it was Tired Hands Brewing’s brewers adding flour to their hazy beers to increase the haze, or Founder’s Brewing overlooking a person of color and then failing to address the issue correctly, or Trillium Brewing adding tequila to beers and calling them tequila barrel aged (illegal, BTW), brewers and breweries have fallen down on the job in many cases. Luckily, these situations are rare.
Others in the industry are just as culpable, Actual Brewing’s (Columbus, OH) owner was forced to step down amid sexual harassment and rape allegations (they were true). Beer slingers, rarely, give bad service when they suspect a bad tip coming their way (read here), and the sexually questionable (at best) labels from some breweries have brought unwanted attention to craft beer. Writers aren’t immune from stupidity either, as evidenced by the “satire” anti-#metoo article from Brewing News that came out this year.
Lastly, drinkers aren’t innocent in this either. A small percentage steal glassware, to the tune of thousands of dollars/brewery/year, and some even take tip jars from the bar. A few cut in line at releases, they con people online in trading and secondary sale forums; rarely people will steal cans from servers at beers festivals. There’s no group here that’s doesn’t commit really bad behavior and practices from time to time – but we all pay for it.
Conclusion. My point is that though there may be different groups that care about beer and they have their own opinions, what one group does can have a large affect on the rest of them. A choice made by one group or by one brewery does have a ripple effect on the rest of the industry and the rest of the people that love beer.
I don’t believe that craft beer benefits from monolithic opinions or actions. The strength of the industry is in diversity of thought and action. Therefore, when something occurs that can stain the industry – it’s up to the people in the industry to react in a way that builds the industry, not tears it down. That’s hard to do when there are people on all sides of the issue. You would hope that the best reasoned opinions will win out, but that isn’t always the way things go, either from a lack of experience, a lack of knowledge of a specific situation, or personal relationships that leads a person/group to defend or decry an event or opinion.
The take home message is this: if you love the industry – and you must or you wouldn’t give so much of your time, energy, and money to it – then don’t do something that could damage it. Because different people within the same group can see things differently, their decisions will not always be in line with others in similar positions – yet those other people will be affected by them, often painted with the same brush. One person, brewery, or group does something – and everyone else has to deal with the fallout. Don’t make the public or industry question your brethren because of your action. In the end, all they can do is withdraw their support to you, and you don’t want that.
banner image credit: Growler Magazine