The Craft Beer Movement: Insider or Outsider?

“I can’t believe I became part of this movement,” I said to Hannah as we sat on the couch watching TV one lazy post-work day. I continued, “Of all the things I could’ve gotten into, it never ceases to amaze me that I got into something that is actually now a thing.” How did I know that craft beer and home-brewing were going to become as big as they are? How did I know that my love for craft beer would grow into something much more, something bordering on obsession?

The truth is, I didn’t know, but now that it has become this thing in my life I’m grateful. And I can’t help but think my own involvement helped spur the movement along. I like to think that my research and involvement helped it grow, in my own small way, as I immersed myself into craft beer culture throughout and after college. But maybe I didn’t. In 2007, craft beer was already a thing, home brewing was already a popular pastime, enjoyed by middle aged men everywhere, Minnesota already had several cart breweries and more in the works. I was just another supporter, standing watch as craft beer exploded in my face.

But Surly Brewing didn’t really open until 2006. It didn’t really become popular until the following year when it entered the main stream. It was no longer for bicyclists and beer geeks, it was for the people. People like me. Which makes me wonder, if there weren’t people like me, where would the craft beer industry be? I’m just a fangirl, going to beer fests, pretending I know more than others and that I have some claim to the movement, a little piece of the MN faction.

I could have picked anything else to devote my time to, to become my hobby or pet interest and cause in life. In the past I cared about more important things like HIV in subsaharan Africa, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, corporate social responsibility; not that I don’t care about these things anymore because I do, I just don’t blog about them. I don’t think about them on a daily basis. I don’t drink them. I don’t consume them. That’s what draws me to beer and craft beer culture. It’s more than a drink, a theory, or a product, it’s a way of life. It’s a way of life I share with many others, that gets me excited when I meet a kindred spirit who likes what I like and drinks what I drink, it’s my own little club that I can choose to share with others, and when I do, it’s oh so meaningful.

But then I meet people who are part of the movement who I don’t like: the middle aged man who loves craft beer and wants to financially support a brewery but who thinks I’m nothing more than a little girl who’s interest in craft beer is “cute.” We are not kindred spirit, we are not in the same microculture. He is everything that is wrong with the movement, elitist and demoralizing. And what about the beer snob, someone worse than me, who insists my favorite craft beer is not worthy of such title, and has plans to start the next new local microbrewery? I am them from from years past, small and stupid, my tastes unrefined and my knowledge sub-par. He is everything that is wrong with the movement, superior and disrespectful.

And then there’s me, for I too am at fault. With my knowledge I too alienate people, haughtily explaining why a room temp pint glass is better for beer than the frosty mug they grew up drinking from, scoffing at the only “local” beer on the menu at a fancy restaurant in Iowa: Leinenkugels. Have I gone too far inside the movement such that everyone else is an outsider? Such that anyone else who wants to be part of the movement, can’t be, or isn’t good enough to be?

That’s not what it’s all about, and that’s not the way to keep the movement growing and changing. That’s what keeps it stale and stagnant, the same old people making the same old beer because they know best, they know the most, they have the most at stake. Thinking that your thoughts and opinions dont matter because you just dont understand. It’s not your way of life.

In the most recent issue of the Beer Advocate magazine, on the list for what to expect in 2013 is “a stronger backlash toward those who take themselves and craft beer too seriously.” Truth. Beer is for fun, beer is for drinking, and sometimes we just need to shut the hell up and enjoy a cold one, whatever glass it comes in. So this is my goal as we move into 2013: enjoy craft beer. Love craft beer. Share the love, don’t hoard it or save it for insiders like yourself. Support knowledge and the quest for knowledge so that other people too can claim the movement for their own because it is also theirs. It is a cause worth caring about, but first people have to learn and embrace why it’s worth caring about to begin with and they can only do that if the movement is open and caring of them too.

Happy New Year and cheers to 2013!

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