Provocative title, yes? Good, because that’s what it is meant to be, but imagine for a second if I really meant it.
Imagine if I wrote a column about how important it is that every person writing about beer should be doing it as their sole source of income, with no “day job” or sidelines to keep the rent/mortgage paid and the lights on. Now imagine further that I implied through said column that those who do not write full-time are somehow less worthy than are those few of us who do, and that the fruits of their labours, ie: the articles and reviews they pen, are therefore by definition second class.
You’d probably think at best that I was rather full of myself, and most likely also that I’m an ass. And so you should.
Now change the above scenario to brewing rather than writing, and brewers in brick-and-mortar breweries and contract or so-called “gypsy” brewers rather than full- and part-time writers. Only this time you needn’t imagine it because it’s happening now. Again.
I’ve been writing about beer for 23 years, so I’ve lived through all this a few times now, and I’m here to tell you that it’s an utterly undignified debate. It smacks in turn of protectionism and claims of superiority, or at least greater legitimacy, and it is utterly meaningless to the vast, overwhelming majority of those who drink craft beer.
Why? Because like me, most of them don’t care whether the beer was born in a wholly-owned or sometimes borrowed brewery. They care whether or not it is good. Period.
Is there reason for the craft brewing industry to be debating owned breweries versus contractors – what Tim Webb and I have dubbed ‘beer commissioners’ – and “gypsies”? Yes, there may be, but internally. It’s a brewer-to-brewer and owner-to-commissioner debate, folks, and something that only looks petty and mud-slinging to outside entities. And what’s more, it will have no positive effect on the audience for your beer, so there is zero benefit to making it public.
(To those that say this is a fight for legitimacy and that the public will turn against beer commissioners if they know the true nature of what they do, I have three words for you: Boston Beer Company.)
When the craft beer biz gets together, as it did last week in Washington for the 6,400 person strong Craft Beer Conference, there is a tendency to forget that much of the beer drinking world is still blissfully unaware that alternatives to Bud and Coors Light even exist But it remains the reality that only the very fringe of the beer cognoscenti, itself a tiny, tiny minority of beer drinkers, is interested in this sort of internal debate. For the rest of the world, all that matters is what is in the glass.
Or, to return to my imaginary example, what’s on the page. And so far as I’m concerned, that’s the way it should be.