More “Beer Wars” Fallout

My good friend Jay Brooks has taken issue with some of the criticism levelled at the movie, Beer Wars, which premiered last week and has fostered much discussion in the beer blogging community and elsewhere both before and since.

I have not seen the film and so will make no comment of its relative worth, save for the tangential observation I made last week. I will, however, take issue with the following lines from his post:

The beer community, and many bloggers in particular, have never seemed so divided to me. See here I was enough of an idealist to think we were all in this together.

Well, Jay, no, we’re not all in it together. And that, my friend, is a sure sign of the maturing of the craft beer market and very much a good thing.

Back in the early days of craft brewing, when I first started setting myself up as a beer writer, I was from time to time chastised for not painting a positive enough picture of this beer or that one. Once I was even taken to task for failing to laud an early and very amateurish attempt at beer publishing. And in each and every instance, the reasoning cited by the deriders, whether implicitly or explicitly, was that we were “all in this together” and so I must therefore show at least a degree of support for every craft beer effort, no matter what I think its ultimate worth.

I said “no” then, and I say “no” now.

Taste is, of course, highly subjective, but generalizations may certainly be made regardless of personal palate or preference. A mass-market lager like Molson Canadian, for instance, will show distinct flavour differences when compared to another mass-market lager, such as Budweiser, but few will argue that the two beers don’t also bear stunning similarities of taste. And if I am going to criticise those brands for failing to provide sufficient complexity and character to be interesting quaffs, then it would be highly hypocritical of me to turn around and laud the merits of a third beer classed in the same category, simply because it is brewed by a smaller company. Which is precisely why I didn’t do it then and don’t do it now.

Along those same lines, Beer Wars marketed itself directly to aficionados of craft brewed beer, not to mention the hoards of beer bloggers, and so it must likewise accept the responses of those same people. That we’re not all falling head over heels to praise its efforts is not a depressing thing at all, but rather a sign that the craft beer market and its adherents are now confident enough and mature enough to handle both reading and writing criticism of something obviously intended for their consumption. If the emperor is indeed wearing no clothes – and again, I must stress here that I have not seen Beer Wars and so have no idea whether I agree or disagree with the praises and critiques thus far posted – then it’s good that a number of people are now comfortable pointing out that reality.

That fact is, Jay, that while the economic playing field in the beer biz is still wickedly unlevel, and is likely to remain so for some time to come, craft beer is now and has been for a while the solid winner in the battle for media attention. When was the last time someone commissioned you to write a story about Bud Light Lime, for instance, as compared to your last craft beer assignment? To coin a phrase, we’re here, we’re beer, get used to it!

5 Replies to “More “Beer Wars” Fallout”

  1. Hear, hear!
    Jay, I love you like a brother — I think, never had a brother, but saying “I love you like a sister” doesn’t seem right either — but I was shocked to see you say this:
    “This was an opportunity for the craft beer segment and its fans to show the media and the world that it is supportive as a group. That craft beer can, when necessary, speak with one voice for a higher purpose. Again, what was I thinking? Of course it’s not. Instead, I feel like what it showed was a chaotic, diverse group that can’t agree on anything.”

    I thought that was our strength! Diversity! We’re not monolithic (or mono-stylic, if you want), we don’t all like the same kinds of beer, we don’t all make it the same way, we want variety! Or just a shitload of hops, but at least that’s different from the mainstream.

    I think I remember the book you’re referring to, Stephen, and I agreed. And I saw that as a major advancement for craft beer, that we could take off the kid gloves and stop supporting the sub-standard efforts just because they were one of ‘us.’

    We don’t need a united front in craft beer. We need different ideas, we need healthy debate, and we do not need someone, anyone, any group telling us what is good to say or think. We make up our own minds. That’s what has made us interesting, and successful.

    Jay talked about coming tantalizingly close to a tipping point with craft beer. From where I stand, we’ve already hit it, and the chain reaction has begun.

  2. Well said, Stephen. I was struck by that same paragraph of Jay’s but never followed up on my immediate urge to register my dissent (you’ve done that better than I ever would have in any case). Jay is one of my favorite beer bloggers/writers but off base this time.

    By the way, when you started this blog, I opined on my site that you would find it so much fun and so easy that you’d soon stop considering it “temporary.” How am I doing on that prediction?

  3. Yeah, yeah, I understand all that. Can’t a fella’ have a moment to be idealistic? You’re all correct, of course, and I said as much later on. I said the “all in this together” bit to show later on how wrong I knew I was.

    Stephen, I certainly agree when it comes to reviewing a beer, or a brewery, or service at a brewpub, but I feel this is a different animal, outside our normal area of critique. As such, I didn’t (and don’t) feel the same rules apply.

    And Lew, I’d like to believe we’ve hit the tipping point, as you suggest, but then why is craft still only 5%? I would think we’d have to be a bit higher proportion of the total to claim such a thing.

    I also think we’re talking about two different things at times. I don’t disagree that we need diversity or that it’s one of our strengths, but it seems a bit like sibling rivalry. We can pick on each other, but we’re protective (or should be) if someone not related starts picking on one of us. In a sense, that’s what the movie was about: the bully.

    And that’s the sense that outsiders have. Take a look at all the comments I got over this (and I also got several e-mails). The people who commented that are civilians, that is who were seeing this story for the first time, also got the sense that the industry was being overly critical as a group of insiders.

    And I almost hate to mention this, but I did get an assignment last year (or was it 2007?) to write about Miller’s success with Miller Chill, but didn’t do it because I was too busy at the time.

    Brandish me all you want. I love the four of you, and think of you as kin, but I’m keeping my naivete and my hopeful optimism. I’d rather be wrong.

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