For our 14th Session, the topic has turned decidedly personal. Our host, Stonch, has chosen the topic “beer people” with the knowing wisdom that “enjoying beer is as much about people as it is malt and hops.” It seems great minds do think alike, because I’ve actually been thinking about this a lot lately, but more on that later on.
|In a broad sense, I think the beer industry and its legions of true fans (oh, what to call them, what to call ourselves?) are all so closely involved precisely because of the people. We may all be drawn in by the beer, but we stay because of the people. I’ve worked in many different industries from the military, music, video, retail, and even the law and I’m here to tell you that far and away the finest people I’ve met are beer people. Sure there are great people everywhere, but there is a much lower ratio of assholes in the beer business than in any other I’ve encountered. So great literalist that I am, I’m going to write today not about a single individual but about the great collective beer people. We’re here and we love beer!
I’ve been involved with beer since I was a kid, really, and I started thinking about it in a more studied way when I lived in New York City in the late ’70s. My involvement grew again after moving to California in the mid-80s, but became much more serious for at least the last twenty years sometime after I started homebrewing and wrote a bar guide to Silicon Valley in the early 1990s. Since then, I’ve been a beer buyer, contract brewer, festival volunteer, judge, tasting organizer, magazine manager and writer. In all those pursuits, I’ve encountered great swaths of people from all walks of life, socio-economic groups, ages, etc. all thrown together by one commonality: beer.
Having been on the business side of beer for a number of years, I got to know a lot of the folks at distributors, along with brewery sales representatives, brewery owners, merchandisers, marketers. In many ways, it’s a different world from craft world, the big companies have so many layers of people each doing one small part of the whole. And even though I often criticize the big brewer’s products and especially their business practices, for the most part the on the ground employees are usually pretty terrific people. It’s especially true at Anheuser-Busch, where I’ve met enough fine people to be impressed with their hiring methods. And Miller and Coors have some great people working for them, too. Seriously. You might not think so for all my complaining, but notice I’m rarely ranting against the employees, only the policy and decision-makers, and more often the consequences of those decisions.
With the small companies, as you’d expect, there’s a lot of multi-tasking with most employees (and usually the owner/brewer) doing all of the jobs. With them, there aren’t many layers from top to bottom, and as a result there’s much more transparency, warts and all, with the way they operate. But surprisingly, even with being so overworked, most still manage to have a positive outlook. It’s actually quite amazing to me. I’m sure they must be as busy, stressed out and pulled in many directions as any other overworked, underpaid segment of the economy. But for some reason, they manage to be enjoyable company, too, somehow. Not surprisingly, most are someone you’d like to have a beer with, and it’s remarkable to me that this is nearly universal, at least in my experience. It’s the primary reason I’m so supportive of the industry and generally will do whatever I can to extol the virtues of good beer. It may have been the beer that got me involved in the beer world, but it’s the people that keep me passionate about it and make it a joy to be a part of.
Eight days ago, it was Michael Jackson’s birthday. It would have been his 66th. One of the things I always liked about Michael’s writing was how much of the brewer’s story he liked to tell. Oh, there was always a lot about the beer itself, the process by which it was made, and so forth, but at the heart of his writing was always the personal story about the men and women who made the beer. I’ve always thought knowing the back story about the beer and the brewery adds something intangible to enjoying the beer, too. I suppose the more you know about anything, the more or better you’re able to appreciate it. I know there are a lot of people who insist “it’s all about the beer,” but I strongly disagree. Like anything crafted by the hand of man, the beer did not magically appear in a vacuum. The blood, sweat and tears of the brewer are what brought the beer into existence. His experiences and the decisions he made up to the point he made that beer you love has a lot to do with how he made the beer, why he decided to make it that way, and how it tastes. To deny those factors is like trying to appreciate Van Gogh’s Starry Night without knowing anything of his life, his trials and tribulations, his challenges with mental illness, his relationship with his caring brother and so on. For a fascinating illustration of how knowing more about the artist adds to your appreciation, rent the DVD collection the Power of Art by Simon Schama. He takes eight well-known artists’ most famous pieces and give them context, by telling the story of how each painting came to be. It’s an amazing glimpse into the creative process and brewers are no less artists for using a palette of hops, malt, yeast and water.
INTERNATIONAL BREWER’S DAY
Ever since I saw this “Have You Hugged A Brewmaster Today?” sticker on the door to the brewery at San Francisco’s 21st Amendment Brewery & Restaurant, the idea of starting a holiday to honor the men and women who make the great beer we love has been percolating in my brain. So I’m proposing now that we set aside a day as International Brewer’s Day, a day to raise a toast and honor all the brewers in the world. For the date, I’m proposing July 18, which is the feast day for St. Anou of Metz (also known as Arnulf, Arnould, and most famously as St. Arnold), one of the patron saints of beer. This is the way holidays begin, just by a group of people deciding to start one and spreading it from there. The real trick is acceptance as a holiday. So I suggest we start out small and on July 18, similar to the Sessions (but only once a year), as many who are interested write about a brewer you feel is worthy of recognition.
I’ll post and send out details later this month and I’ll create some graphics and put up a website for everybody to use and link to. If you like the idea, consider helping to spread the word about it. But in the meantime just think about a brewer you’d like to profile. The idea, in my humble opinion, would be to tell their story in whatever fashion you feel comfortable with, be that an interview, essay, video or what have you. Hopefully, over time it will grow. Perhaps one day there will be events honoring the best brewers out there at breweries, bars and restaurants all over the planet. We probably won’t see cards at Hallmark anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.
Brewers have given so many of us the pleasure of their artistry and enriched our lives with their beer since civilization began. So I think it’s time we recognized their efforts by celebrating their lives, their commitment and their craft. We’re all beer people, but without the brewers what would we be drinking?
As the old Czech saying goes:
“Blessed is the mother who gives birth to a brewer.”