I grew up in a suburb just outside of Detroit. It was there, in my youth, that I started to form my identity; and while forming that identity I always found myself gravitating to things that were different. When I was growing up and other kids we’re listening to Nirvana and Pearl Jam, I was into The Misfits and Black Flag. When the kids in my neighborhood were raving about the blockbuster hit movie Independence Day I was hunkered down in my basement watching old vhs copies of Dawn of the Dead. Now as an adult I see my 16 year old niece chasing some fad that involves rappers and $100 yoga pants and just watch her with a puzzled look on my face. Whenever the conversation comes up about her behavior my father is right there to remind me “but you were a weird kid..”
Now before I turned 21 I wasn’t picky about my beer, let’s face it when you’re underage you take what you can get. However I still remember my first beer after I turned 21 was a pint of Guinness. Not craft, but certainly not the most popular option in a beverage industry dominated by the Bud light Frogs, Penguins, and other animals used as pitchman for fizzy yellow beer. I turned 21 12 years ago and at the time craft beer, which was still called micro brew at the time, was a rare option in the bar. Then somewhere in that 12 year gap between turning 21 and today (the memory is fuzzy at times) craft beer options started infiltrating my bars and local liquor stores. As craft beer became more prevalent I found more and more beers that I like. So once again I found myself diving deeper into an interest that, at least at first, was some weird thing that the masses didn’t really care for.
Somewhere shortly after high school my interests in music and movies changed, or more accurately stopped dead in their tracks. Frozen in time, encapsulating my interest in mid 80’s-late 90’s punk rock and effectively killing off my interest in modern horror movies. The movies just became something that I stopped caring about for the most part, so I won’t rant about why I hate the reboot of Evil Dead. However, the music was different, the bands I listened too had a way of expressing my thoughts, feeling, angst, etc. Eventually I took up the notion that punk rock was dead because all the bands that I liked were either broken up or, possibly because they were good at making music, signed to major record deals which was a cardinal sin in my eyes. What can you be pissed off about if you’re making millions of dollars to sing songs and tour the world? It was a contradiction to everything I thought punk rock represented.
So here we are in 2016 and my formerly weird interest of craft beer is painting me into a corner of reliving my experience with the maturation of punk rock. It seems like every week there’s some independent brewery that is selling out the corporate overlords of Anheuser Busch triggering an instant outrage amongst craft beer aficionados that is shortly followed by a tweet or blog post that essentially says “hey, we might have taken AB InBev’s money but we’re not sell outs!” The craft beer community collectively declares some sort of pseudo boycott against the newest offender then goes and gets in line for a Bourbon County tap event.
At some point some of those bands that I got into who didn’t want to “sell out” to a major record label started making strides in a different direction, they started building their own record labels. Bands like Bad Religion, The Offspring, Rancid and Nofx went on to form the record labels Epitaph, Nitro, Hellcat, and Fat Wreck Chords. Recently we heard about the alliance of two established craft breweries, Southern Tier and Victory, uniting under the banner of a new parent company Artisanal Brewing Ventures. Craft brewers joining forces to form a holding company to help these companies grow all while maintaining their independence. That’s great and I love the idea of forming some corporate machine that is presumably less evil than the other corporate machines that are trying to take over the little guy, but it does open up the question of just what is craft beer anyway? If you look at the brewers association’s definition of a craft brewer the first word to describe craft brewing is small. Weird when you consider that companies like Boston Beer Company, Lagunitas, New Belgium and Sierra Nevada are at the top of the Brewers Association’s top 50 list for 2015(2016 numbers aren’t out yet). Don’t get me wrong, each one of the breweries in the top 10 on this list produce beers that I really enjoy, but when you can walk into a local CVS drug store and walk out with a 6 pack of New Belgium beer are still a small brewery? Sure doesn’t feel like it when you’re stocked right next to Bud Light LIme-A-Rita.
So what’s the point of this article, and why did I title it Craft Beer is Dead? Clearly the industry is thriving. In many ways craft beer is already bigger than I ever thought it could be and the craft beer boom is showing no sign of slowing down. But much like the day that Punk Rock died craft beer is going through the same change. The product isn’t going anywhere and brewers will continue to make new funky creations that will make me stop and ponder what’s in my glass. But the idea of staying small and local seems to be a dying art. Truly local breweries that exist in any town USA are diamonds in the rough, especially in the event that they stay content being a local flavor. On the other hand, companies that make a most of their profit off of bottling and distribution are really just a big business now, and I’m becoming ok with that. Unlike the days of my youth in which I was often stubborn, and frankly stupid I am realizing now that big doesn’t always mean bad.
At the end of the day when I order a beer all I really want is that beer to taste good. Regardless of their recent partial acquisitions by big conglomerate parent companies breweries like Lagunitas, Founders, and Dogfish Head still consistently make beers that I enjoy. I think I’m past the point of trying to label these companies as to what they are and how accurately they reflect the label craft. Yes I still prefer giving my hard-earned money to a local business, I like the idea of supporting my community and the breweries that help enrich the community. But I also like beer, and a wide variety of beer. If the day comes that Lagunitas starts making their IPA taste like some mass-produced lager I’ll stop buying it, but until that point I don’t care to complain anymore. 0
Brewers of the world, please just keep making good beer. I don’t care what you call it. I appreciate the independence of what the craft beverage industry has come to represent. It’s clear that many of the independent brewers that opened a business ultimately went into business with the intent of making money. I can’t blame anyone for wanting to maximize the profits of their business, it’s not like they can’t go home and brew whatever they want for themselves in side of their multi million dollar mansion right?