Sticking To My Guns

After last week’s essay on what constitutes craft beer, a commenter pointed out that my definition would exclude Deschutes and Boneyard, as they entered into a “partnership”.

And here’s the thing: I’m OK with that. I like Deschutes, and I like Boneyard but the fact of the matter is, Deschutes effectively owns another brewery. They have distribution, which means that maybe not today, but eventually, Deschutes can and will turn to Boneyard and say: your beer needs to be like this in order to sell.

And since Deschutes distributes, Boneyard will comply. They’re no longer an independent entity. Neither is Deschutes, as their business model now relies on the ownership of a second brewery.

If Boneyard just got absorbed by Deschutes, then I’d say that Deschutes would still count as a craft brewery: they aren’t telling anyone who built their brand on a distinctly different model (very hoppy, very AVB intense beers) what works. Deschutes would just be incorporating the recipes and equipment under their brewery and continue making Deschutes beer, perhaps with new styles under offer.

All of which, however, is a way to dance around a larger point that I didn’t get to until that commenter pushed back on it.

It is, as Don Younger has said, not about the beer. It’s about the beer.
We shouldn’t live in a world where 5 breweries (or five of any business entity, see also: internet, food, banks, etc) are the only providers of what we want or need.

There should be space for small and mid-tier businesses to do their thing, too.

Because then, we can start having conversations about what matters; is this any good?

I don’t mention it too often, but ABInBev makes an incredible product, given what they do. I can have a Budweiser anywhere in the world, and it will taste like a Budweiser. I can have a Guinness anywhere in the world, and it will taste like Guinness.

That’s really hard to do.

If I can’t respect the effort that it takes, the skill-the craft-of making a beer taste the same anywhere in the world, then why even critique beer at all?

That those styles of beer are ones I’m not fond of isn’t the point. This is just about the skill it takes to do that. Plus, I won’t say I’m above a Bud sometimes. If that’s what I’m being offered, I’m not going to be snooty about it.

Because we have, at last count, close to nine thousand breweries in America. Do you honestly believe that every single one of those breweries are making excellent product? Hell, even good product?

The important thing about having smaller breweries is that we can just ask ourselves: is this good?

And good can mean multiple things! Is it a good beer? Is it good for the community? Are the employers good for their workers? Is the atmosphere a healthy one for anyone to walk into? Are the business practices as good as they can be from an environmental or social justice view? Etcetera, etcetera; we don’t, and shouldn’t, just focus on the one thing: is this product good?

Although I will admit that it is probably the most relevant question, even if it isn’t always the most important one.

Because part of why I avoid ABInBev’s products is because their business practices look skeevy as fuck to me from a “we’re corporate overlords who should get our way” perspective. They don’t want to just make a great product (and I don’t know that they want that, it’s just a by-product), they want all the money and do things accordingly. However, this is also why I don’t drink products from Melvin (sexism), Founders (racism) , or BrewDog (transphobia).

I had a friend in the industry tell me about shitty business practices of Old Town and Mt Tabor here in Portland. I don’t buy their product. It doesn’t matter if they’re ‘craft beer’ or not. I have the ability to choose, so I will. Not everyone does and I don’t judge them. Should I hear that Melvin or Mt Tabor have fixed their issues, then I’m happy to give them money for something I like!

But the badge of ‘craft beer’ shouldn’t be the determining factor-and maybe it never should have been.

3 thoughts on “Sticking To My Guns”

  1. My quibble (last week) is that I read your proposed definition of craft as being synonymous with independent. Which is fine, I suppose, though if “craft” doesn’t convey more than independence, can we not just say “independent”? But if “craft” does (or should) convey something more – maybe about the process, care, or skill in making; quality or type of ingredients; community involvement; or whatever – then it doesn’t seem to me that defining craft by independence tells us much more than defining defining craft by size.

    All that said, I think you’ve hit on the more relevant questions above. Is the beer good, and is it produced by a brewery (independent or otherwise) that you’re comfortable giving your money to? To me, though are far more important than size, independence, or “craftiness.” Cheers!

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