Next Session Uncovers The Other Beer Economy

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For our 112th Session, our host will again be Carla Jean Lauter, a.k.a. The Beer Babe. For her topic, she’s chosen The Other Beer Economy, and I”ll let her explain what that means.

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Last year, the total economic impact of the beer brewing industry in the state of Maine was approaching the same scale as the lobster industry. Let that sink in for a second. Maine – which is arguably *best* known for lobsters – is shifting to an economy strongly supported by brewing.

Growing alongside of the boom of breweries are many small businesses that are supporting, or supported by the craft beer industry. Maine is now home to a malt processing facility, and several hop farms. There are multiple beer tourism-focused businesses that help connect visitors to the state’s best beer offerings. There are companies that create beer-related apparel for beer fans, some that have designed unique bottle openers and manufacture them in-state. Maine is also home to a company that manufactures and installs brewing equipment, and another whose sole mission is to clean the lines that serve up that beer to thirsty beer fans.

Yet, we rarely give these businesses a second thought. They are the second beer economy, often operating behind-the-scenes. I think we could give them a bit more credit for keeping things growing, sharing the products of our local breweries with more people, and sometimes even literally keeping the beer flowing.

For this month’s session, let’s talk about those businesses in the beer world that aren’t breweries. What are the roles that they can play? What opportunities still exist for new niche roles to be developed? What can local/state/regional governments do to encourage this kind of diversity of businesses around an industry?

I’m excited to hear your thoughts and stories.

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So this June 3, start thinking like a dismal scientist and look at the economic indicators, the market forces and the new economic models. To participate in the June Session, leave the link to your post in a comment to the original announcement or tweet your link to her at the @beerbabe on or before Friday, June 3.

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Beer Birthday: Alan McLeod

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Today is also beer blogger extraordinaire Alan McLeod’s 53rd birthday. Alan runs a good beer blog, called — curiously enough — A Good Beer Blog. I’m not sure what came first, the goodness or the blog. Anyway, though I’ve yet to meet Alan in person I feel as if he’s already a great, not just good, friend through our many conversations via e-mail and commenting on one another’s blogs. If you haven’t read his essay in the book Beer & Philosophy yet, rush right out and buy yourself a copy. He also published The Unbearable Nonsense of Craft Beer, with Max Bahnson, available as a Kindle single on Amazon, and last year co-wrote both Upper Hudson Valley Beer and Ontario Beer: A Heady History of Brewing from the Great Lakes to Hudson Bay. Join me in wishing Alan the very merriest of birthdays. Cheers, mate.

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Alan pondering the mysteries of Stonehenge at age 7.

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A night with bald pate, circa 2002.

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Contemplating a jump near Prince Edward Island a dozen years ago. Happily, he decided against getting wet.

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Letting everyone know his status as a VIP at an event in 2012. [Note: photo purloined from Facebook.]

How Will You Survive A Beer Midlife Crisis?

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For our 111th Session, our host will be Oliver Gray, who writes about Literature & Libation. For his topic, he’s chosen Surviving a Beer Midlife Crisis, in which the bloom is coming off the rose and he’s finding his excitement about new beers and breweries waning as the years roll on, as the barrels keep rolling out. And he’s wondering if he’s the only one. I suspect he’s not alone, as the number of blogs that go dark seems to be growing every day, as the internet continually evolves in the way we use it and communicate with one another online. But before you go to the dealer to pick up your new convertible, let Oliver explain what he’s talking about.

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Full disclosure: I don’t work in the beer industry. OK, yes, sometimes I get paid to write about beer, but that money does not my livelihood make. Despite pouring myself into brewing and beer culture for the last 6 years, I remain little more than an overly involved consumer.

I think that’s true about a lot of bloggers and beer writers. Some may work directly for breweries or distributors or behind the till in a beer store, but a lot of us toil in vocational worlds apart, spending our free time and free dollars on what can only (by definition) be called a “hobby.”

Recently, I’ve found my interest in said hobby waning. The brilliant luster of new beers and new breweries looks now, a few pounds heavier and a bunch of dollars lighter, more like dull aluminum oxide.

The thing I have embraced so fully and spent so much time getting to know and love, suddenly seems generally, unequivocally: meh. It’s like I’ve been living a lie, and everything I’ve done is for not. I’m having a beer mid-life crisis, yo.

Maybe it’s the politics of purchasing or selling. Maybe the subculture has peaked. Maybe this is the natural progression of a hobby that has no real tie to the industry behind it.

Maybe I’m way off the mark, and this whole thing is just a figment of my imagination.

But I’m willing to bet it’s not. All that talk of beer bubbles might prove true, but instead of a dramatic *pop* we’ll might see a slow deflation followed by a farting noise as some of the air leaks out and the hobbyist move on the spend their time and dollars elsewhere. It’s impossible to see the future, but if my fall from rabid beer fanboy to dude-who-drinks-beer-and-sort-of-wants-to-be-left-alone is indicative of a trend, I’ve got some signs to make a doomsaying to do.

What say you?

Do you find it hard to muster the same zeal for beer as you did a few years ago? Are you suffering through a beer-life crisis like I am? If so, how do you deal with it?

If not, put me in my place!

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So this May 6, begin working on your comb-over, get the convertible out of the garage and start writing. Are you still excited by the beer industry or getting world-weary and jaded? Does the pfft of the bottle or can opening still give you that thrill of anticipation or does it instead fill you with a sense of dread or apathy? Oh, look, another new IPA, this one with mooseberries. To participate in the May Session, leave the link to your post in a comment to the original announcement or tweet your link to him at @OliverJGray on or before Friday, May 6.

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Next Session Takes On Twitter

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For our 110th Session, our host will be Sean Inman, who is on a Beer Search Party. For his topic, he’s chosen a tiny Twitterific topic, which he explains concisely, as befits the topic. Apparently Twitter is strongly considering lifting the 140-character maximum that has been its defining feature since it debuted in 2006, and replacing that with a limit of 10,000.

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So, before the 140 letter limit is lost, how about us in the beer blogging realm take one last crack at “original” Twitter.

Some possible routes to take:

  • write your own beer theory in multi-parts. Be it 1/15 or 1/20
  • use Twitter for your own craft beer April Fool’s Day prank
  • channel your inner web troll and go all negative on a topic
  • debate or applaud the points made by Daniels in under 140 characters
  • talk about brevity and how it affects writing about beer

You can do it on Twitter or on your own blog or both. Just no Instagram.

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So this April Fool’s Day, say a lot with a little, or say a lot with a lot, just don’t stay silent. To participate in the April Session, leave the link to your post in a comment to the original announcement on or before Friday, April 1.

Beer Birthday: Knut Albert

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Today, it’ also the 56th birthday of Knut Albert Solem from Oslo, Norway, who has one of the premiere beer blogs in Scandinavia, Knut Albert’s Beer Blog. Though I’ve never met him in person, we have corresponded a time or two through blog comments or e-mail and I certainly enjoy his perspective on beer. Join me in wishing Knut a very happy birthday.

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Hoisting a pint (photo nicked from Knut’s Facebook page).

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Knut near water, the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland actually (ditto).

Next Session Raises A Glass Of Porter

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For our 109th Session, our host will be Mark Lindner, who is the Bend Beer Librarian, and writes the By the Barrel in Bend, Oregon. For his topic, he’s chosen the beer style Porter, and wants us to explore what he calls a “highly variable style.” Jon goes on to explain what he means by that in his announcement for the March Session:

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Porter

“The history of porter and the men who made it is fascinating, for it deals with the part that beer has played in the development of Western Culture. Conversely, of course, much of porter’s growth was the result of profound changes in the nature of British society. It is also a microcosm of how our industries have developed; events in porter’s history explain the structure of the modern brewing industry, not only in Britain, but in the other major Western countries.

Porter is intimately tied in with the Industrial Revolution, in which Britain led the world. Through the growth it enabled the brewers to achieve, it was instrumental in the development and technological application of a number of important scientific advances” (Foster, Porter, 17).

I am not talking about your long dead relative’s porter—although you might be—but about all of the variations currently and previously available. Hey, feel free to write about the porter of the future or some as-yet-unrecognized sub-style of porter.

There are English porters, Brown porters, Robust porters, American porters, Baltic porters, Imperial porters, Smoked porters, barrel-aged variants of most of the preceding, and so on.

With as many variations as there are it is hard to believe that porter is perhaps a neglected style. Then again, it did disappear for a while [see Foster, Porter, and others]. Of 14 beer people asked about overrated and underrated styles three of them said porter was most underrated and no one suggested it as overrated in our current market climate. [Yes, I know that is from Thrillist; feel free to ignore it.]

I would like you to sit down with one or more porters of your choosing. Pay a few minutes attention to your beer and then use that as a springboard to further thoughts on the style.

Possibilities include:

  • Contrast and/or compare two or more of the styles
  • Contrast and/or compare two or more beers within/across porter styles
  • The history and development of the style
  • Your love/hate relationship with any porter style
  • Baltic porter – ale or Lager or a mixed fermentation?
  • Is hopping the only difference between English and American styles?
  • Food pairings with your favorite porter or style of porter
  • Review the porter(s) you are using as a creative springboard
  • Construct a resource along the lines of Jay Brooks’ Typology style pages, see for example American Barley Wine or Bock [I’ve already collected some of the information below for you.]
  • Recipe and procedures for brewing your version of a great porter

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So what is your favorite porter? Or do you like them at all? What’s your take? You know what to do? To participate in the March Session, leave the link to your post in a comment to the original announcement on or before Friday, March 4. Or e-mail your URL at mark (.) r (.) lindner (@) gmail (.) com, or tweet your link with the hashtag #thesession and it wouldn’t hurt to add him, too, using @bythebbl.

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Still my favorite Porter, so good he could even make Don Younger smile!

Beer Birthday: Chris Nelson

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Today is the 50th birthday of Chris Nelson, better known as The Beer Geek. Chris and his wife, Merideth Canham-Nelson, recently completed an around the world beer festival tour, but are still traveling the globe searching for great beer. A few years ago his wife also published Teachings From the Tap, her account of the year they spent circling the globe visiting beer destinations. Join me in wishing Chris a very happy birthday.

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The first “official meeting” of the Bay Area Beer Bloggers. From left: Merideth Canham-Nelson, me, Chris, JJ (the Thirsty Hopster), and Gail Ann Williams and Steve Shapiro, both from Beer by BART.

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In front of the Rocky statue in downtown Philadelphia during our trip to the first Philly Beer Week.

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At the OBF media tasting: Rick Sellers, from Pacific Brew News, Merideth and Chris Nelson, The Beer Geek, and Meagan Flynn (at right) with her assistant, Annalou, former publishers of Beer NW during the 2007 Oregon Brewers Festival.

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Chris, at right, with Shaun O’Sullivan, Merideth, and Jeff White in Pub Talk Radio in Monterey in September of last year.

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Chris and Merideth at Pangea in 2012 (photo “borrowed” from Facebook, by Virginia Vasquez)

Stay Snowed In For The Next Session

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For our 108th Session, our host will be Jon Abernathy, who writes the Brewsite in Bend, Oregon. For his topic, he’s asking us to consider being Snowed In, which is in fact his topic. Jon goes on to explain what he means by that in his announcement for the February Session:

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The theme is “Snowed In,” and I want it to be open-ended. It’s the first week of February—we are solidly in the grip of the winter, which means hunkering down from the cold and, depending on where you live, waiting for warmer days to thaw out the ice and snow. But perhaps it’s one of those winters, where the snow starts falling… and falling… and falling some more, and the next thing you know, schools are closed, there’s four or more feet of snow on the ground—and you are effectively snowed in and not going anywhere.

For those of you living in the southern climes who don’t have snow to worry about, perhaps it’s some other stormy situation keeping you indoors—hurricanes or tropical storms, for instance. You tell me—I live northerly!

So what’s next? That is what I want you to write about—as it pertains to beer, of course! Not sure where to start? Here are some suggestions to hopefully inspire some ideas:

  • What style(s) of beer do you prefer for this cold weather? Open one up and write about it.
  • Do you dip into the stash or cellar, and drink something special? Does the occasion warrant it? Why, or why not?
  • When you know the weather’s coming, do you stock up on a favorite or go-to beer? What makes you pick this particular beer?
  • Are you a homebrewer? Maybe this is the perfect time for a brew day—what would you brew? Have you brewed in the snow before?
  • Alternatively, perhaps you have a hodge-podge of brewing ingredients lying around but nothing definitive—could you MacGyver up a homebrewed beer from only what you have on hand?
  • Imagine you were snowed in at a cabin in the mountains for the winter. What one beer would you want with you, and why? (Think “desert island beer” but colder.)
  • There’s plenty of time to catch up on reading; what beer book(s) would you read? If not a beer book, what would you be reading—and what beer would you pair with it?

I hope these can get you started, but feel free to write about whatever you like, as long as it has something to do with beer and being snowed in, on Friday, February 5.

So what does winter mean for your beer consumption. Does it go up or down. Does being stuck indoors effect it? And how does the weather change what you choose to drink? Lots of questions but since these beers won’t drink themselves and you won’t find any answers until you start drinking, I guess you know what to do. To participate in the February Session, leave the link to your post in a comment to the original announcement on or before Friday, February 5.

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Announcing Typology Tuesday: A Session About Styles

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So at the risk of annoying a great many people, I’ve decided to charge straight ahead this year into the hornet’s nest. I love the monthly Session, a.k.a. Beer Blogging Friday, and was thrilled that it was saved last year and continues to soldier on. But I’ve also wished almost since the beginning that it was all about the beer, not that the broader topics aren’t interesting. On the contrary, they’re often very compelling and interesting, especially seeing how disparate people think about them.

But I’m also fascinated by the idea of beer styles, types or kinds of beer. How should they be codified, and of course the ever present question “should they be codified?” So I decided this year to make a conscious effort to think more about different kinds of beer and what makes them unique. And that’s the basic idea behind “Typology Tuesday,” a monthly exploration of different types of beer, with no hosts and me doing most of the work. If you want to join in that would be lovely, and it couldn’t be easier, and I really hope you will. All about Typology Tuesday is in greater detail below, and will also live permanently on a page where all of the previous Typology Tuesdays will be archived. While I won’t be asking for help hosting, there is plenty of opportunity to make suggestions, participate and help shape the inevitable ensuing debate.

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What is Typology Tuesday?

 
Typology is “the study of types,” in this case, of course, I mean types of beer, or “Beer Typology.” I have a love/hate relationship with beer styles. In many ways I believe them to be unnecessary, especially for brewers. But for consumers, they can be quite useful, and provide some sense of consistency for ordering. If you’re thirsty for a hefeweizen or a pale ale, knowing what those are and what you’ll be getting if you order a frosty beverage calling itself by one of those names seems pretty important. And of course, for commercial and homebrew judging, putting like beers with other like beers makes the job of judging much easier and ultimately more fair.

It’s also a bit like music, specifically jazz, but all music, really. I grew up playing jazz (and classical) music, and there’s an almost rite of passage for up and coming artists to perform jazz standards, putting their own spin on songs already very well known. Anyone can do original tunes, designed to showcase a performer’s talents, usually written by that performer, but it takes real talent to be able to take someone else’s song and make it your own. And I think that translates to beer, as well. There are great original brews, but it in some ways it’s more impressive when a brewer makes something amazing within rigid guidelines that nails the style parameters. It’s great when you do something with no rules and no limitations, but it’s at least as impressive when you can create something original and amazing within a structured environment. Yes, rules are meant to be broken but Johann Sebastian Bach is just as marvelous precisely because his music stayed within the confines of baroque music. It took later musicians to break those rules and usher in the period of classical music. Without rules, neither movements would have happened. Instead it would simply have been a free-for-all.

So that dichotomy may seem contradictory but its push/pull nature is, I think, a necessary one. Perhaps it’s like Schrödinger’s cat. Beer styles, or whatever we call them, both matter and don’t matter simultaneously. It’s as if they were in different dimensions and matter on some levels, while not in others. I think that’s why we can never definitely say they do or don’t matter, because it just depends; depends on the circumstances, or the context.

When Stan started The Session, a.k.a. Beer Blogging Friday, in early 2007, many of those early Sessions were about specific styles. But bowing to the wisdom of crowds, the topics have veered off in many directions, only occasionally coming back to stylistic topics, not that there’s anything wrong with that. I even wrote An Open Letter To “The Session” in a vain attempt to steer us back in a stylistic direction, but more people were interested in a wider range of subjects. In the end, I’m just really happy that people are still interested in participating in the Sessions, and that it’s still continuing on.

But I find myself returning time and time again to the subject of beer styles; what they mean, why they are (or aren’t) important and how they should be classified. Are there too many, not enough or are we simply going about organizing them in the wrong way. I know there will be those who think the exercise is futile, and that we should not even try to continually categorize different kinds of beer. But I’m wired that way, and I know I’m not the only one. I love to organize things, feel fairly compelled to do so, and can’t help but feel it’s an essential part of my humanness. As humans, I think we all tend to categorize and organize our surroundings, to a greater or lesser extent, and I think I’m probably on the high end of that spectrum.

So I want to make more of a concerted effort to explore the nature of different kinds of beers, how they can, or should, be organized, divided, dissected and shuffled around, preferably with one in my hand. And that’s the idea behind “Typology,” “Beer Typology” and “Typology Tuesday.” To talk about different kinds of beers, what makes them unique, and where they fit into the taxonomy of all beers is my goal. I’d love to have your help, and include different voices in the journey. Obviously, this is not for everyone, and if the idea fills you with contempt and scorn, please restrain the impulse to bludgeon me with acrid criticism and walk away. Above all else, I want to have fun trying to better understand beer’s diversity, and while that certainly doesn’t preclude critical thinking, criticism and disagreements, they needn’t be disagreeable in and of themselves, especially with an ultimate goal of enjoyment with education. 2016 marks my 25th year working at some level in the beer industry and writing about beer, and even though I know more than I did in 1991, I still feel like there’s a lot to learn and more of a journey ahead of me than behind.

I hope I’m not alone in wanting to better understand beer at both the individual level and the wider and widening landscape of beers, plural. I hope that there will be others who share that desire to keep learning, to keep drinking, to keep wondering.

How to Participate in Typology Tuesday

 
If you write a beer or beer-related blog, please consider joining me on this project about beer styles or types of beer. It couldn’t be easier. It will be sort of like The Session, but also a little different and, hopefully, even a little easier. First of all, there will be no hosts, so you’re off the hook there.

As the name implies, Typology Tuesday will take place on a Tuesday, in this case I’ve chosen the last Tuesday of each month, which should make it at least a few days before the regular Session, and in some cases will provide a week or more in between them. This also gives you the weekend to pick up a beer or beers in a particular style or type and try them, and then another day or two to do your write up about those beers or whatever else you want to contribute. Plus, I’m a big fan of alliteration; just can’t get enough.

The topic for each month will be announced at the beginning of the month, probably no later than the first weekday, but I’ll try to have the schedule up at least a few months ahead on this page for anyone who wants more advance warning. And the topics themselves will simply be the type of beer to highlight and talk about. When the announcement is made, I’ll also provide a style guide using multiple resources to create a page that include lots of information about the type of beer being featured for that month. Use it as a jumping off point, or follow the links provided to delve deeper, or ignore it altogether. Your choice.

Then on or before that day, write a post on that style, type, kind or whatever of beer. You can essentially write about whatever you like, with the only proviso being it should have something to do with the featured type of beer. After your post is published, please let me know it’s up so I can include it in the subsequent round-up. You can send me the URL to your post either by e-mail to Jay (.) Brooks (@) gmail (.) com or by leaving a comment on the original announcement post, or even by including the hashtag #Typology in a tweet.

I would encourage each participant to use the Typology logo for your posts because it lends consistency to all of our efforts and makes it easy for readers to know and understand that your post is part of a larger project. But it’s by no means mandatory. They’re free to use, of course, but please don’t hotlink to them. Instead, please download them and host them on your server or use a photo hosting website like Flickr or Photobucket.


That’s the basics, I’ll also archive each session in a similar format as I’ve done with the Sessions. The first type of beer for the last Tuesday in January — January 26 — will be American Barley Wine.

I’ll also create a sort of style guide for each kind of beer that I’ll publish concurrently with the announcement of each month’s style. Look for the one on barley wine later today. Drawn from a variety of sources, it will hopefully be a resource to get you thinking about that particular kind of beer and get your mental juices flowing with what you want to say about it. That should also give you several weeks to think about the style of beer up for discussion and even learn more about it ahead of time.

Almost anything is fair game. You could simply review beers in the style. You could discuss its history, how it’s changed over time, or why it shouldn’t be considered a separate style at all. It’s up to you, I only ask that you make it relevant to the discussion about each particular kind of beer, and keep the discussion civil and respectful.

That’s about it. If you have any questions, leave a comment or send me a note. I hope to see everybody’s first posts in about three weeks.

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Session #107: A Friendly Discussion of Friendships

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The 107th Session is hosted this month by Dan Conley, who writes the brewery blog for the Community Beer Works in Buffalo, New York. For his topic, he’s asking us to consider whether breweries are our friends, or not, by bluntly asking the question. “Are breweries your friends?” Dan goes on to explain what he’s looking for in his announcement for the January Session:

To be in business nowadays you pretty much have to have a social media presence. This is especially true in the beer world, where some breweries have basically built themselves on their personality. And yet, at the end of the day, we’re also selling you something.

I believe this is the first Session to be hosted by a brewery rather than beer blogger. [It’s not, but he’s correct that there haven’t been many. Ed.] How do you feel about that? Do you want your feeds clear of businesses, or do you like when a brewery engages with people? Can you think of anyone who does it particularly well, or poorly? As the person who does our social media, which I think is very good (although not quite good enough), I struggle with this problem. I’m on both sides, and rather than come to any sort of conclusion of my own I thought I would make all of you write about it.

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So to answer this question, I think we have to know what friendship is. I know that sounds like a stupid question, but I don’t think it really is. I tend to think that we all define what it means to be friends differently, not to mention that there are numerous levels of friendship. There are many different schools of thought about the differences in friendship we have among the people we know, from acquaintances (someone we barely know) to our best friend, partner/spouse and family. Some put family in a different category altogether, and I guess that makes sense since you can’t get rid of a family member who continually annoys you. You can stop talking to them and make a point of never being around them, but that doesn’t change their status: they’re still family. So for our purposes, I’ll avoid family and concentrate on people we choose to spend time with.

Not surprisingly, there are myriad theories of friendship. One of the simplest involves four levels. For example, the Institute of Basic Life Principles sets their levels as follows:

  1. Acquaintance
  2. Casual Friend
  3. Close Friend (Fellowship)
  4. Intimate Friend

That one seems like a good start but seems too broad to be very useful, as it leaves little room for nuance, setting up a lot of either/or situations. Friendship seems more complicated than those four. Still others have more, as many as six or seven. For example Cherie Burbach, who calls herself a “Friendship Expert” lists six Stages Of Friendship and another blog by Steve Schappell called Life, Relationships, the Universe and everything details The seven levels of friendship.

  1. Acquaintance
  2. Mentor
  3. Online Friend
  4. Friend
  5. Good Friend
  6. Best Friend
  7.  

  1. General Friend
  2. Work Friend
  3. Activity Friend
  4. Outer Circle Friend
  5. Inner Circle Friend
  6. Close Friend
  7. Girlfriend/Boyfriend/Best Friend

Those are, of course, just examples. I’m no social scientist and haven’t been studying the “friend” question for years. But I have friends, of course. And they’re certainly some friends who are closer than others. In my own experience, you start with people you don’t know at all, strangers, or more charitably friends you haven’t met yet. Then you meet them, you become acquainted with them, and voilà, they’re acquaintances. It’s a start. And sometimes they do become friends, at least at some level. Some may never rise above the casual level, but others will climb the ladder, so to speak. Here’s my own unscientific take on the levels of friendship, based solely on my own experience and thinking about it for the last couple of days.

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  1. Strangers
  2. Acquaintance
  3. Casual Friend
  4. Associates & Colleagues
  5. Good Friends
  6. Your Gang, Crew, Group, Tribe, Inner Circle, Posse
  7. BFF / Partner

And below is me spitballing what I mean by the levels of friendship in my pyramid.

  1. Strangers: This is essentially everyone you don’t know personally, meaning you have not met them or been introduced. It would include people that you know, meaning you know of them, perhaps even know their name, which would include famous people and personalities, friends of friends, people you’ve seen at work or at school or in your neighborhood or at the grocery store checkout line, etc., but you haven’t actually spoken to. This is without a doubt the largest group of people, containing billions and billions of people, but it’s also brimming with possibilities, because we can meet new people every single day. That’s why I jokingly subtitled this “friends you haven’t met yet.” Every single person in this group has the potential, however unlikely, to move into the next category.
  2. Acquaintance: These are people who are not quite your friends yet, but who are also no longer strangers. These are people you are acquainted with. Not only do you know their names and probably something about them, they also know who you are and you have, at a minimum, spoken to them. You probably have at least something in common with them, perhaps a mutual friend or you share work, a team, a hobby or maybe fit into some other venn diagram circle with them.
  3. Casual Friend: These are slightly more familiar than acquaintances. They’re people you’ve probably had a conversation with, but it was likely about the weather or whether the Giants will win the World Series this year (The answer to this is “yes,” BTW), nothing too deep or profound. You’d say hello to them whenever you saw them, and might even stop briefly to exchange pleasantries or shoot the shit. They’re most likely friends of other good friends, or new to your circle of acquaintances for some reason. Some will move up and become better friends, while others will likely stay in this friend purgatory where things remain pleasant enough but never grow more intimate. Maybe you just don’t click, maybe you don’t have enough shared interests or see eye to eye on some issues. But it doesn’t have to be a negative, either. Casual friends are the laboratory where all your friends come from, these are just the ones that didn’t quite make it up to the next level. They have their own set of good friends, and so do you. But they’re nice people and they make up a significant portion of your world.
  4. Associates & Colleagues: These are people you interact with on a professional level, often at work, but it could also be in other pursuits like hobbies, your school or some other organization you’re involved with. When you see them, you probably talk primarily about those shared groups you’re both involved in, but you also can spend time socially and know something personal about one another. Your discussions are generally more lively, longer and would likely involve alcohol. This is the level of friendship that would include having a beer. You associate with them in bars. After a hard day at work, you meet up with them for happy hour. At the end of the day attending a conference, you’ll see them at the hotel bar. You’ll feel comfortable walking up to them or they’ll wave you over to join them. They’re becoming your drinking buddies.
  5. Good Friends: These are people you make plans to spend time with. You make a point of scheduling time together. You’ll also drink with them, usually a lot, but they also know where you live, have been to your house, and maybe even crashed there a time or two. If you don’t live in the same town, they always call when they’re visiting wherever you live. They know a lot about you personally, probably started out as a colleague or associate in something. Maybe you went to school together or shared time in some mutual pursuit, and after a time grew closer and closer. You probably exchange Christmas cards.
  6. Your Gang, Crew, Group, Tribe, Inner Circle, Posse: These are the good friends you spend the most time with, and identify as your group of friends. They’re the ones you invite to impromptu backyard barbecues, birthday parties or other holiday brouhahas. You plan out events with them well in advance, many of them annual or regularly occurring. They make up the people in your wedding party, the groomsmen or bridesmaids. They know all of your intimate details. They know what you like to drink. They’re the ones you’re nervous to have meet your new girlfriend or boyfriend. What they think about you matters, at least to you. They have your best interests at heart, and you look out for them, too. People in this group would hold your hair back while you puke your guts out, and some might even clean it up afterwards while you sleep it off. These are the people in most of your group photos, your drunken revelries, the ones with shared histories and hilarious tales that are told over and over again. People not a part of this group often feel left out at a group event because they don’t get all of the inside references. Even if you move away or drift apart, you stay friends for life. They’re like family you choose.
  7. BFF / Partner: This is very small group. It’s your husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend, whoever you’re intimate with and have made a commitment to, along with perhaps one or two other people who you would feel comfortable asking to be the best man or maid of honor at your wedding, or perhaps godfather or godmother to your children. This is who you’d call first to bail you out of jail. This is who would call you when they need a ride to the emergency room. You have almost no secrets from these few souls. They know everything about you, and they still like you. They’re true friends in every sense of the word.

One thing I’ve also noticed from observing my kids is that the younger you are, the easier it is to make friends, and especially to identify people you’ve just met as friends. I think we grow more reserved, more private or more guarded. Not everyone, of course, some people are naturally more gregarious and talkative. They usually become salespeople. I’m certainly not one of them. That’s why I became a writer: less talking, more quiet time. But I certainly notice that it’s increasingly harder to open up to people now that I’m in my mid-fifties.

When I worked in an office, with other people in it, I hung out with work friends from time to time, and in fact that’s where I met my wife, when she started working for another lawyer in the same office. Twenty years later, she’s a lawyer and I work from home and take care of our kids. So the only people I see, apart from a few exceptions, are family and people I work with, which now consists of mainly people who also work in the beer world at some level. 2016 is my 25th year writing about beer and working at some level within the industry. As a result, I’ve met a lot of people in the same field, having at least beer in common, and in some cases much more.

I recognize that beer is a business. It has to be. It can’t really be anything else and the brewer or brewery owner who doesn’t keep that in perspective is likely going to fail. I’m not blind to the fact that I can help (or hurt) a brewery by writing about it, but also a brewery can help me by giving me something to write about. There’s certainly a symbiosis. But they are people, too, just like you and me. Since I’ve been doing this for such a long time, I have known quite a few other people who have also been at this for years. And some of them have remained acquaintances, while others have become casual friends or even close ones. There’s a certain inevitability to that, as far as I’m concerned. I believe I’ve remained professional, or at least tried to, but people are, I think, drawn together by shared experiences. And as a result I do count several brewery owners, brewers and people who work in the industry as my friends. What level of friends? It varies, of course, and some are closer friends than others.

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Am I worried about that? Do I think it’s made me “tainted” or somehow beholden to anyone? Emphatically “no.” A few people think that a journalist should never be social and keep an arm’s length with the people they’re writing about. And they’re welcome to that opinion, and can conduct their affairs as they see fit. I have, however, grown weary of hearing how corrupt I am for such behavior if I don’t hold myself to the same standard that others would impose on me. I feel confident that the majority of my readers don’t care or don’t think I’m being untrustworthy with them with whatever I write about a beer or a brewery.

I also think readers like to see a glimpse into the personality of the people who brew their beer. And I don’t think I could bring that level of intimacy about a person I’m writing about unless I actually had a real relationship with that person, knew them for far longer than the time it took to call them up for an interview. My friendships, at whatever level, provide background and context that I doubt could be created any other way then simply living among the people in the industry, and mixing socially within it. Like many journalists, I suspect, I hear countless rumors and information provided off the record precisely because I can be trusted to keep that information private. But I also think that I can therefore have a better understanding of events, their consequences and what they might mean because of the background and context that I’ve built up over the last quarter century. I like to joke that I know where all the bodies are buried, but there’s some truth to that. I have institutional knowledge that I believe has significant value that I wouldn’t otherwise possess if I’d remained at arm’s length from people in the industry.

That does not mean, naturally, that I couldn’t or wouldn’t write critically about a beer or a brewery if it was appropriate, in my opinion. But every journalist has to choose for themselves, with their readers in mind of course, what they write about. And with obvious exceptions, I generally prefer to write about positive things, good beers worth drinking and breweries making good beer, especially when it comes to work where my audience is primarily consumers, unlike the Bulletin, which I suspect is more trade-oriented in its demographics. So I’ll continue to count others in the beer industry as my friends, some as close friends, some as simply casual acquaintances but all of them the reason I love my job, and I will continue to do so as I see fit.

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But Dan’s question is “Are breweries your friends?” Which is a slightly different question. The Supreme Court may have declared corporations to be “people,” but the rest of us know how absurd that is, and can tell the difference. So while I’m perfectly at ease having friends in the beer industry, breweries themselves, and especially the ones large enough to have a staff beyond just the founders, the Mom and Pops, and the solo operations, are clearly businesses. And if they’re corporations — as many are — then they have a duty to shareholders (even if they’re just themselves and a few investors) to maximize profits and do whatever it takes to remain profitable. They want, and really need, your money to stay in business. Is there a difference between small, medium and large corporations? I think so. The small and some of the medium enterprises incorporated solely for liability protection, but function like they are accountable to their customers and the wider world. Some of the medium, or regional breweries, and many of the larger ones do not, and function more or less like any big corporation, which is to say the profit motive is the primary reason for virtually every decision. And for the most part, we all know who those businesses are.

But what about typical consumers, people who don’t write about beer, don’t dissect it or subject the industry to scrutiny on a daily basis? Are the people who simply drink a brewery’s beer or even are fans of them also “friends” of the brewery?

A few years ago, I interviewed Tony Magee, owner of Lagunitas, for a profile of him I wrote for Beer Connoisseur magazine. I first met Tony in the mid-1990s, maybe a year or so after he’d started out, before they’d moved to their present location in Petaluma. So around two years ago we met for lunch and I turned on my tape recorder (now just an app on my phone, but somehow that doesn’t sound as poetic) and talked for about three and a half hours. We did talk about the brewery, and the beer industry, but also touched on a bewildering array of fascinating tangential topics, too. One interesting idea we talked about was the relationship of the beer drinker, especially fans, to the brewery, and how they function a lot like tribes.

And while that particular incident was borne of necessity, it is indicative of the seat-of-the-pants philosophy that marked early success at Lagunitas. Magee made decisions based on what seemed to be right, using his gut and voracious appetite for information for guidance. And he listened to his customers.

“After Fritz Maytag, I don’t think any craft brewer ever took a risk and things would become risky only when their shortcomings caught up with them. Consumers built the industry. Period. As you look backwards, you might think you caused this or you caused that but the truth is that there’s this set of desires out there and it could have been craft beer, or nicotine-free cigarettes or it could have been electric cars or a clothing thing but there’s this thirst for a connective thing in life. Take all the tattooing that goes on today. You know I don’t tattoo, right, but this anthropologist was writing, saying that he thinks it reflects the death of a culture, that culture has abandoned its people and they do tattooing in order to build tribes.”

“There was a guy I ran into a while ago,” continued Magee, “and his daughter was an academic doing her thesis at MIT and she was writing a socio-anthropological paper about the ‘new primitives,’ and I really think craft beer is all about that. The tribe wills things into being, through collective thirst, and they’re always looking for that desire to be fulfilled. And it could come in lots of different forms, but in this case it came in the form of craft beer, and when the tribe — these people from a dying culture — recognized that they could see something in it, and then those consumers nurtured the breweries. They were willing to accept the brewery’s failures. This is why we could sell so much beer when we weren’t making very good beer. And why nobody got upset when our bottles would explode during the early 2000’s.”

Magee believed this plays into the idea of consumers and broken hearts, where consumers grow to love certain brands, and really want them to succeed, in fact actively nurture them into being successful. But at some point the brand has to continue to deliver. He points to one large and beloved California brewer, as a prime example. “What they did — the need that they satisfied — was consistency, predictability and a clear thing, you know. Well, that was plenty. But it found its limits. Because you also need to be able provide people with variety, challenges and engagement. So now they’re all over that. But it wasn’t until they started doing that, that they began growing again. They responded to the love. They didn’t betray it by denying and saying, ‘No I’m going to give you this instead.’”

“The biggest brewers now want to drive people, as if they were a herd. ‘It’s a herd. We need to manage it. We need to cut out our segment and try to drive it to our side.’ Craft beer, by contrast, is still cultivating its market. Craft beer is a currency of social interaction within tribes. There’s no reason why the future of craft beer won’t be local. It’s where that value is most evident to people.”

And I think he was onto something there. Again, I think it’s analogous to music. Craft beer fans, especially early adopters, feel like they discovered something akin to a new band or musical movement. They feel like they’re in on a secret that until recently less than 10% of the population was aware of, much less when it’s about a single brewery. And I do feel that people feel a sense of kinship or even ownership in that brewery’s success. And who can fault a brewery for feeding that desire? I really think it’s not at all cynical in most cases. I also believe that many, if not most, small brewers feel a reciprocal kinship with their core customers who did help them succeed. In may not be, strictly speaking, “friendship” but I think it does share some similar elements and their associated feelings. I also think that partially explains why some people seem to feel betrayed when a brewery sells to a larger beer company, precisely because the brewery did such a good job of helping them or letting them feel a part of their “tribe.” And again, in my experience, I think that affection for their consumers is genuine for most brewers. It’s only when they begin to grow and make the seemingly unexpected business decision that it jars people out of their happy place.

TEAM UNITY AND COOPERATION

In the end, I think breweries can be, and often are, your friends, or something akin to that. It may not be the same sort of friendship that you experience with actual people, but it does provide some of the same emotions and often makes you feel like you belong or are a part of something in the same way belonging to a circle of friends with shared interests does. I know that technically, the real answer is “no” because people can’t be friends with organized entities, it requires “two or more people.” But that, I think, is too black and white, and oversimplifies people’s relationship with businesses. People have long been willing to essentially advertise a company’s brand by volunteering to wear a t-shirt, hat or other article of clothing or decoration that contains the businesses brand, logo or imagery. And in many cases, people actually pay for this privilege, handing over their money to buy this merchandise. Why would any sane person buy a shirt with the Nike swoosh on it, or any other company’s logo? It’s because they identify with whatever they perceive the brand to stand for on an emotional level. They believe it expresses something about their own personality that they want to identify with, and want others to see in them. And that’s as true for breweries as any other business.

If you stepped back from being part of a brewery’s tribe, you’d have to notice that they needed you to succeed. Somebody has to buy their beer or they won’t stay in business and can’t keep making it. So why shouldn’t they treat the people who are responsible for their continued success as nicely as possible, as “friends of the brewery.” From their point of view, that’s exactly what their best customers are. It’s smart business to create compelling merchandise with their logos, brands and beers on them and make them as cool as possible so people will want to wear them. Not only does it provide another revenue stream, which can be quite lucrative, it also spreads awareness of their brand in a more personal or intimate way than you could ever achieve with traditional advertising. Every person walking around in a logo t-shirt is a walking billboard. If the brand is perceived as cool, so is the person wearing the shirt. That’s gold if you’re a business.

Is it cynical or overly calculated on the part of a business to cultivate those perceptions or emotions so that their brand does resonate with consumers and especially their fans? I don’t think so. We all want to belong to something, even the people in those breweries, so there’s a part of this that’s human nature. Why not tap into it? A brewery owner wants his business to succeed, of course, and there any many paths to achieve that, not to mention that success is defined differently for different people. Some are content to achieve a sustainable level of profit while others are always trying to grow and make more, while others are somewhere in between. Making great beer is a good start, but with 4,000+ breweries vying for your attention and your wallet, that’s not enough. Every brewery needs their beer brand to stand out, to mean something to the people drinking it, enough so that they do feel part of their tribe.

Until, of course, they make a business decision that’s seemingly at odds with the perception you had of their brand. Then you feel like they tricked you, even though they really didn’t. They may have helped, but you convinced yourself you were part of the tribe, indeed its membership is largely self-imposed. You decided you identified with the brewery because of shared ideals or some other intangible emotional response. Few breweries did what Rogue managed by creating actual membership cards to the Rogue Nation, their tribe of fans. But the effect is the same everywhere. When we make an emotional investment in a business, it’s the ultimate marketing tool, but there is also a potential cost if you don’t keep it in perspective.

I think many breweries do want to reach you on an emotional level. They want to be your friend, or at a minimum want you to think that they are you friend. And I think they really are at some level, though not usually in the way you probably think. It may be that they’re “friendly” rather than your actual friend. But in most cases, that’s enough, especially if you’re able to stay objective and keep it in perspective. So I think brewers and breweries are in “the friend zone,” just don’t mistake that for more than what it is.

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