St. John's Wort Beery Musings And Amusing Beers

Craft Beer Evangelism or St. John’s Wort Unfolds The Mystery

I’d like to expound upon an idea that’s been kicking around at the back of my head for a while now. I suspect that it’s a touch inflammatory, so I want to point out to you that it’s not meant as an attack on anyone in particular, but as more of an exploration of concept.

While I’ve been at brewing school, I’ve learned a very important lesson. Brewing is a business. Regardless of whether you’re A-B Inbev or MolsonCoors or a small batch craft brewery, your end goal is exactly the same. You want to sell beer; preferably, a lot of beer. You want to sell everything you can produce and then you want to expand. Whether your beer contains corn grits or not is completely irrelevant to this precept. You might be a monk, selling beer in order to provide funds for the monastery. You might be a craft brewer, selling beer that you have put your unique fingerprint on. You might even work for a huge multinational company selling beer that is the same the world over.

The brewer’s job doesn’t change. If the quality is insufficient, the beer won’t sell. There are other factors, of course, but it boils down to the fact that a massive, overwhelming percentage of the beer brewed worldwide is not brewed as an experiment or to delight craft beer nerds or as an indulgence of the brewer’s ego or as a fun collaboration between brewers. Even should it be the case that these things happen, and beer is brewed for these reasons the beer is typically not just given away. It remains a product.

I’m sorry to tell you that simply placing something in a barrel or using wild yeast does not make it any less a product. Yes, there is artistry involved, but that does not preclude the commoditization of the product. You are selling a mildly alcoholic liquid at a price point that is determined by a number of factors which may depend on governmental regulations in your area. There are no exceptions to this.

The method by which very large breweries sell their beer is determined by the amount of resources available to them. They have virtual omnipresence through billboards and radio and TV and magazine ads. It has ever been thus and it’s not very interesting.

The methods by which craft breweries sell their beer are far more interesting.

They are more interesting because they are smaller and more interpersonal and more directly applicable to the consumer.

Consider social media for a moment. If you’re a fan of craft beer, you’re probably following a number of breweries on your twitter feed or on facebook. Of course you do. You like that one beer they make. If you do that, you will be enjoined by facebook or twitter to follow more and similar accounts. You may know a number of people who work for the craft breweries that you’re following. You can put a face to the business, essentially humanizing it.

It’s important to remember that the social media accounts for breweries do not exist as a public good. They are a marketing tool, allowing you to know where things are on tap and when new releases are scheduled. In the case of facebook, you’re able to schedule events and get a general idea of the interest people have in that event. Be sure that facebook will remind you of the event if you have not yet responded to the invitation.

As a business model, this is pretty good, because it doesn’t cost anything to get a twitter or facebook account. It allows for the ability to bombard people with your message on a constant basis. It also allows for a controlled narrative in terms of the story of your brand and product. You need only post the positive reviews on your feed. You control public perception of your product and can portray your brewery as going from strength to strength without setbacks or failures, for ever and ever amen.

This is neither good nor bad. It simply exists this way. It’s a tool. It’s a method. It’s a weapon.

It’s a good one.

The astounding thing to me is that there’s so much content provided for these narratives, essentially for free. This is the role of the Craft Beer Evangelist. Consider this: There are something like 1400 non-brewery affiliated beer bloggers around the world, about 957 of which are in North America. I am taking these numbers from beerbloggersconference.org. I assume that the majority of them are unpaid. I am lucky to work for a newspaper syndicate.

Above all, the thing that constitutes success for the bloggers and beer writers is readership. In order to be relevant, you have to be read. One of the best ways to do that is to write glowing reviews of products made by craft breweries who will then likely link to your review. Other bloggers will also spread your observations.

This becomes a self-fulfilling echo chamber of feel-goodery. Eventually, bloggers write fewer negative reviews overall because no one will end up reading them unless they are particularly entertaining in their bitchiness. I mean, why would you bother writing something no one is going to read? What would be the use of expending your energy on an intellectually honest negative review of anything if the consequence is that it will potentially narrow your future readership?

This is one of the ways that the success and importance of craft beer becomes memetic. It becomes a culturally transmitted idea, which spreads as the market for craft beer spreads. It is generally dogmatic and proselytic. There is the underlying message that craft beer, any craft beer, is good. It is a concept that is reinforced continuously by the positivity of social media accounts of hundreds of craft breweries across North America. It is practically a catechism, inculcated every time you check a twitter feed. Onward, craft beer soldiers.

At this point, we even have feast days. I have never heard an adequate explanation as to why any of these exist, but I bet they sell a lot of beer.

What is the purpose of this, in the end? Your soul does not hang in the balance. Beerzebub will not be poking you with a flaming pitchfork if you drink a macro beer. The purpose is to sell beer. It may be really good beer, but it’s still beer. It’s a business first and an ideology second, if at all. Either way, it’s incredibly successful marketing which plays off the idea of an abstract and ill-defined evil against which we are meant to be fighting, when realistically all brewers are in exactly the same business.

Admire this: The self-reinforcing nature of it. The feeling of inclusion it engenders in its followers. The fact that it is only by design on a small scale at the level of the individual breweries and that the critical memetic mass that drives craft beer’s continued rise is the result of the conceptual gestalt.

CHEAP PLUG INCOMING!

Incidentally, I really like Cameron’s new Rye Pale Ale. It’s very tasty and you should buy some as soon as you have the opportunity. You can follow them on facebook by clicking here.

There. Maybe that’ll get me some retweets.

6 Thoughts on “Craft Beer Evangelism or St. John’s Wort Unfolds The Mystery

  1. ayearofbeer on April 6, 2012 at 2:15 pm said:

    I sometimes wonder if the opposite is true. Blogs I read consistently tend to be a mix of positive and negative thoughts. How can you trust someone if they only ever say great things about beer? Eventually they just sound like a marketing mouthpiece for whatever brewery wants to buy an ad. If something sucks or is just okay, have the guts to say so. Or at least that’s what I tell myself when shooting my mouth off

  2. Good read. Valid points, especially the macro vs. micro aspect. Beer evangelism; my blog does not count as I have no readers except my mom, and an IP that keeps coming from India. I think I just like drinking beer and taking creepy pictures of it.

  3. I agree with you that ultimately all brewers are business but (and perhaps I’m among the craft beer evangelists you mention) I still prefer to drink beers where I feel like the focus is on beer. Call me naive, but I still like to think that the majority of craft brewers are making beer because they are passionate about beer, whereas Inbev et. al. are passionate about making money (how else can you explain Bud Light Lime and Coors Light Iced T?).

    I know what you’re saying about the scene being somewhat self-serving but when they’re looking to take on billion dollar multi-national corporatins, they need all the help they can get, really.

    Also, funny point re: these made up “beer holidays.” IPA day? Really?

    New Beer’s Eve, by the way, is (ostensibly) to celebrate the anniversary of the end of prohibition.

    • Oh, I know about New Beer’s Eve, but I would counter with this point: every day since prohibition has been a celebration of its repeal.

      Mostly, the point is not my antidisestablishmentarianism, but about the way in which the memetic information is passed on and self replicating.

      Also, remember how I said several months ago I’d find a way to work the word antidisestablishmentarianism into a talk about beer? Apparently I succeeded.

  4. Pingback: » Cheers from our President Cameron's Brewing: Brewed (and blogged) by a connoisseur…not an accountant.

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