Maureen Ogle takes an outsider's view of the beer industry, continuing a process she began in her 2006 book, Ambitious Brew. She looks at it with the dispassionate eye of a historian, and comes up with contrarian viewpoints that make Andy Crouch look like a mainstreaming cheerleader.
Witness her latest blog postings, which are cuts from an essay she wrote on craft beer for All About Beer's 30th anniversary issue (which I'd urge you to buy so you can read what she kept in the piece). There are three of them, and the 2nd and 3rd seem to largely say that contract brewing was controversial but is no big deal -- I got no problems with that thesis at all. I agree, and I regret the amount of money, time, and good feeling that was lost in the industry misunderstandings that revolved around it. I've said for years: it's about the beer, not where or who it's brewed by.
What I do disagree with is her first posting, a more general take, in which she writes:
The problem, [the late Michael Jackson] argued, was that the bottomless “pocketbooks” of the Big Six (at that time A-B, Miller, Stroh, Heileman, Coors, and Pabst) enabled them to “dominate the advertising scene” and thereby obscure consumers’ awareness of brewing’s lager-, porter-, and ale-stuffed nooks and crannies.I don't buy that. We got into a small, very civil discussion on her Facebook link to this post, in which I argued that craft beer is now widely known, to which she countered:
This “public ignorance” posed an “acute problem” for craft brewing. “No small brewery is itself an island,” he reminded readers. “None can succeed for long unless the . . . idea of small breweries is understood and appreciated by the consumer.”
He was wrong. Thirty years in, most Americans don’t know about or drink craft beer, and yet craft brewing is alive and well. [emphasis added]
I base that on my experience doing beer events for various non-beer groups (I do a lot of paid speaking). Very few people at them have ever heard of the beers on offer, all of them, of course, local craft brews. Also, the term "craft beer" has zero meaning to people outside the craft drinking/brewing niche. Again, that's based on my experience w/people who are NOT connected to or interested in beer.Well...my response was that people who aren't interested in American football may not realize that the forward pass revolutionized the game, but that doesn't make it any less of a revolution. In short, does the knowledge or opinion of people who don't drink beer, who are not "interested in beer," really have any meaning in this? I don't feel that it does.
Another point: is it the knowledge of the term "craft beer" that we're talking about? Because I don't like the term (even though I use it every day), and I don't think that most people who are aware of these beers use the term. They either know their local craft (like, for example, the thousands in Boston who drink Sam Adams or Harpoon and don't give a damn about anything else), or they call them "microbrews," a term just used today in the Wall Street Journal to refer to beers from small American and Italian breweries.
Microbrews (or 'mircobrews,' as I've seen it misspelled so many times on teh Interwebs that it's hardly funny anymore; likewise, "Rouge" and "nector") is the term a lot of people "still" use. I put "stupid quotes" around the word "still" because I don't really know why the beer police felt they had to change it, except to de-link it from the old definition as a brewery that made less than 15,000 bbls. a year, a size that Sierra and Anchor blew by decades ago. It's a perfectly good word -- by virtue of public acceptance -- if you want to distinguish the (practically) uniform light lager output of the major established breweries from the more varied output of the not-so-major...er, 'micro' breweries.
So I'd argue that we should disregard the awareness level of the specific term "craft beer" and instead find out if these non-beer people -- or more importantly, and validly, people who do drink beer -- are aware of any beers other than the majors; Sam Adams, Sierra Nevada, Fat Tire? How about non-mainstream types of beers from mainstream brewers, like Blue Moon? How about mainstream beers from non-mainstream breweries, like Yuengling?
Because while there are certainly still people out there who know nothing at all about these beers (or at least profess to know nothing about them for political purposes...), it seems less and less likely that their existence remains a mystery to the majority. I recognize the pitfalls of sampling a pre-selected audience -- I lecture the geekerie about it often -- but the buoyant growth of the segment, the assumption of knowledge in a growing number of news stories like the one noted above, and the continued introduction of beers like Bud Light Golden Wheat all are evidence of a wider knowledge...at least, among beer drinkers in general, and people interested in beer.
If people aren't interested in beer...well, really, who cares what they think about beer? I don't say that to be cavalier, I just point out that it's kind of like asking the average American citizen about...Austrian elections. If they don't care about beer -- as long as they're not one of that group who is trying to take beer away from us! -- why should beer care about them?
Discuss. Or discuss. Or discuss.