Mixing beer & politics can yield a dangerous cocktail. I recommend downing this combo while holding your nose. My wager is that those who read this blog are a thoughtful lot, & prone to contemplation about the bigger picture of beer, beyond what’s in the glass. We want to know more about the process, the ingredients – I imagine more than a few of us have made beer ourselves. We want to know about the history of the style we’re drinking, or if this particular brew has a funny or interesting story. We want to know who makes it, where, how far it travels to reach our hands. Ultimately, we want to know if it’s good, if it’s something we’re going to enjoy. And depending on your attitude, some or all of these factors may add up to the sum total of your appreciation – it might fill you with a certain pride or sense of fraternity to know that this tasty Hefeweizen was made just down the river, as opposed to across the country or the ocean.
Independence Day is very near, & I’ve found myself considering the word “independent” a lot lately. The U.S. celebrates its sovereignty as a nation, & for many the word equates to freedom, though there’s constant debate & evolution about what “freedom” entails. Independence, to me, is self-sufficiency, freedom from relying on others, freedom to define yourself, ourselves. “Independent” is one of the three criteria that the Brewers’ Association uses to define craft brewers – to fall under the BA’s definition of craft, a brewery cannot have more than 25% ownership or financial control by an alcoholic beverage company that is not itself also a craft brewer. The other two criteria, “small” & “traditional”, have morphed a little bit in the past few years – “small” changed from two million barrels/year or fewer to six million or fewer (with Boston Beer as the main beneficiary); beers made with corn, rice, & other adjuncts are now considered “traditional” (with Yuengling as the main beneficiary). But the standards for independence remain the same. Makes sense, considering that the BA serves as a trade group for many, many companies with minimal ability to represent themselves. It’s a big tent.
Patron saint Randy Mosher’s definition of “craft beer” is a little simpler: if a home brewer, past or present, decides what the beer will taste like, it’s craft beer. This, I think, gets at the spirit of independent brewing that we’re talking about, without putting the fine point on it that, understandably, the BA feels they need. It’s kind of like indie rock (of which I’m also a big fan) – there’s no defining aesthetic, but the principle is in the creator getting to make what they want to make, without undue pressure from investors or bean counters. Breweries have more on the line as far as making a profit & being self-sustaining, but you get what I’m saying. They make what they want to make, with the faith that the public will recognize it as a quality product & get on board. And for many, the indie-ness of it is part of the pleasure.
That said, here’s my PSA about knowing where your beer comes from & who’s signing the checks. I’m not going to draw lines & say that internationally-owned beer corporations are bad & domestically-owned beer companies are inherently good. Though the owners may be overseas, most of the big boys still produce beer in the states, employing thousands of Americans who are busting their busts day to day. I’d also be lying if I said that I find nothing questionable or unethical going on in the world of craft. But as an independent beer lover, you have the power to do your own research & draw your own conclusions as to what you want to drink & who you want to support. No matter how you spend your 4th
& whose beer passes your lips, please enjoy safely, responsibly, & independently. Cheers!