May 13, 2009

Mug Shots

Why we fight for better beer

“One of the truest tests of integrity is its blunt refusal to be compromised.”

This quote by the Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe appears at the end of “I Am a Craft Brewer,” a four-minute video created by Greg “Arrogant Bastard” Koch. It was screened during Koch’s keynote speech in Boston, during the recently concluded annual Craft Brewers Conference.

In the video, craft brewers from across the United States take turns reading a manifesto of revolutionary intent and recapping the achievements of craft brewing, detailing the positive principles that the better beer movement supports — local commerce, community commitment, environmental sustainability — and reiterating the malice and vacuity of the monopolistic status quo, which made revolt necessary in the first place.

Koch’s typically uncompromising beers — Double Bastard, Old Guardian, Vertical Epic and others — have always been favorites of mine. Now, like Frank Capra’s memorable World War II documentary series, Koch has given us an inspirational reminder of “why we fight.”

 

“Craft beer is innovation, independence, curiosity and collaboration, character and family.”

American craft brewers have revitalized a domestic industry, served as an impetus for brewers and brewing entrepreneurs worldwide, helped reanimate moribund brewing cultures, and provided a renewed, vibrant ethos that encompasses the best that beer can be.

As with any dynamic, constantly evolving movement, the ever-expanding American craft beer consciousness cannot be confined to the fermented liquid in the glass. It is an ethos all its own, a lifestyle, a way of looking at the world and, as with most worldviews, it cuts both ways — necessarily. Craft beer stands “for” and “against,” and this duality is forcefully stated in Koch’s video. 

 

“We must draw hard lines. We must expose those who would seek to capitalize on what we have created.”

I’ve been drawing those hard lines for more than 25 years, ever since my first day at the package store, and I’ve tasted thousands of different beers. Even so, my own education is ongoing, but long years of experience in the “better beer” game have given me a solid foundation of knowledge, as well as the confidence to express what I know, allowing me to pursue my prime mandate of teaching beer.

Consequently, make no mistake: My personal integrity, which represents the sweat equity I’ve earned during all those years in the trenches, absolutely compels me to tell the whole story — positive and negative, for and against — and while there will always be gray areas, some matters are painted in black and white, such as my certainty that price tags cannot be affixed to one’s ideals, honesty and commitment to living what’s true — and for better or worse, that’s what I do. I live them, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Moreover, neither ideas nor ideals can be contested with mere dollars. However, they can be contested with improved ideas and ideals — assuming they exist.

Is beer as important a topic as politics, healthcare, unemployment, war and peace? Admittedly unlikely, and still I remain prepared, willing and eager to show that elements of each are surely present in the study of beer as an art, a science, a business pursuit and a beverage that makes life more livable. 

•••

This week is American Craft Beer Week, and the Brewers Association (www.beertown.org) has released a Declaration of Beer Independence. Excerpts follow: 

“The beer I drink furthers our culture and teaches us geography and helps to nurture a sense of community, and helps to make the world a better place, and I declare to practice the concept of ‘Informed Consumption,’ which has me deserving to know if my beer comes from a small and independent brewer or if it is owned by a mass production brewing company.”

“I want to know why so many of my local beer brands are not available in many of my favorite restaurants, bars and beer stores, and I encourage beer sellers to offer a wide selection of beer styles and beer brands that includes beer from my local and regional breweries.”

“I therefore declare to support America’s small and independent craft brewers during American Craft Beer Week — May 11-17, 2009, and beyond.”

Quotes are from the Koch video, which can be viewed here: www.vimeo.com/4432533. Roger Baylor is co-owner of the New Albanian Brewing Co. in New Albany. Visit potablecurmudgeon.blogspot.com for more beer.