For a very long time, some of the best Hoosier Beer Geek content never made its way to the public. We regularly have very lengthy email conversations about any number of topics going on in the world of beer. Here is one such example.
Did anybody read (New Albanian Publican) Roger Baylor's latest musings?
I just did. We're in that same boat. We all know there's bad beer being served, and we're saying nothing.
This isn't a new problem. This is a problem that has been there as long as I've been drinking craft beer - which, admittedly, is only a fraction of the time Roger has been drinking craft beer. I cannot name a single brewery that I've never tasted a flawed beer from. And I mean a "the recipe is off and/or the end product has an issue" flaw, not "I don't like this beer" which happens sometimes too. I'm serious about this. If I've had a decent sampling of the brewery's catalog, I've had at least one beer that I can tell they shipped because they can't afford to dump it.
Much like Roger, I don't choose to write about it. Honestly it's because I don't think it does anyone any good. I certainly won't encourage you to drink that beer, but I'm also not going to rain on your parade and tell you why it's bad if you actually like it. If you approach me and point out that the beer is bad, sure, I'll offer constructive input and commiserate with you. Where it gets difficult is that I truly believe no one is intentionally brewing bad beer. Everyone is creating a product that they're proud of. Maybe you can't afford a Quality Control team. Maybe you can't afford to flush 10 barrels of beer. Maybe by the time you've attempted to save the beer through additional hops and malt you've just created a beer 3x more expensive that you can't afford to dump even more than you couldn't afford to dump the original product. Brewers know that serving bad product results in consumers having a bad opinion of your product and therefore not buying it in the future.
So why waive the red flag and say "Brewery X is selling you bad beer"? Unless you have some sort of personal vendetta against Brewery X, why would you want them to fail? Wouldn't it be more constructive to talk to a brewer with Brewery X and let them know your findings? And even if you do, remember that you're talking about their baby. Just as you probably wouldn't walk up to someone and tell them that their baby looks messed up, you shouldn't walk up to a brewer and tell them that their beer tastes messed up. It's a delicate matter and it needs to be addressed as such. And posting on the internet that Brewery X's baby looks messed up isn't going to fix Brewery X's baby.
I think I see two axes to Roger's post.
When we started writing this blog, we didn't know any brewers or industry people, and we reviewed from strictly the standpoint of "Do I like this beer?", and some beers got less favorable reviews. If folks have been paying attention, they can probably see that it's been a very long time since we torched a beer, and that it only happens in cases where the beer is undeniably bad.
Instead, like Roger, we're guilty of self-censorship, or maybe even sins of omission. But it depends on your definition of omit. If your definition is as straight forward as to leave out, then we're all guilty. If your definition has more to do with something left out, not done, or neglected - have we neglected to insult someone's baby? Is that really a sin?
But at what point do you look at that baby and finally say to the parent, "You know, you should probably have had that rash looked at months ago"?
On the other hand Roger writes "I find myself dreading those occasions when I must stand up in front of people and preach the gospel of craft beer. Why am I being bothered?"
You might think he got there by not believing in the gospel anymore. But I think "Why am I being bothered?" points somewhere else. It's like when we started the website - we were out there waving a flag as hard as we could. And then one day we looked down and realized that someone built a castle under us.
"A castle! They've built us a castle!"
And then we take a tour of the castle and realize that it's not the way we would have built it. Maybe we'll skip a few rooms when we're giving the tour. And the castle has multiple flagpoles already, so why bother climbing a turret to wave ours? And come to think of it, how much of this castle is really ours anyway?
Maybe it's better to just go home and plant your flag there?
Does it do anyone any good to call someone out for making bad beer? What are the repercussions of a place making bad beer? A place can hide behind the moniker of "support local" for only so long, but ultimately it is about the beer in the long run.
I certainly don't want to put words in Roger's mouth, but his musings to me represent something I've been thinking about for quite some time. Craft beer really isn't all that much fun for me anymore. I really want it to come back around, but it just hasn't. The more I put myself on the fringe and then come back into the fold the more that things piss me off. I've only been in the craft beer scene for about 10 years, and so many people have been drinking and making beer for decades longer than me, but I feel we (an entire craft beer collective) are ruining the chance to truly create an amazing beer culture right now. I was one of the worst offenders. I let a brewery get bigger than beer, and I let it stay that way for a very long time, but I've come to the point where I resent much of the beer culture we are building. Places tried to run with the Us vs. Them mentality for so long, but now that we have nearly 2000 breweries online it has become an Us vs. Us issue. I'm a firm believer in a rising tide lifts as ships, and protectionism is a proven way to kill your brand, your market share, and your product. I'm bothered by things like tap takeovers, breweries twitter feeds, RateBeer, BeerAdvocate, Ebay and the constant flow of marketing B.S. that flows from places. So many breweries and craft beer fans rip on BMC's marketing practices, but I don't see much difference than what they are doing than many craft breweries are doing. I don't fault anyone for making a buck and trying to grow their business, but ultimately it must come down to making great beer. That means not pushing shitty beer to the market in the first place. I understand the economics behind that doesn't make sense, but if a new consumer to your brand is behind that sip the economic damage over the life of that consumer is much more painful than dumping a batch of beer. It means not adding ingredients to a terrible batch of beer and then try and pull the wool over your consumers heads by claiming you brewed a new beer. Consumers are more intelligent than that.
I look at a place like Three Floyds. They don't have a marketing budget, and they knock it out of the park on just about every single beer they make. They have built a reputation with me that would take something quite awful to sway. But if they did stop making great beer I wouldn't support them anymore (That had better not happen, but I'm just using that as an example). I've had way too much bad beer in this town from places pushing beer to market. Does that hurt craft brewing or help it? When the numbers come out people all like to point out that craft beer is growing, but they neglect to point out that overall beer consumption is down. What does that mean? BMC people are coming over to craft, but are new drinkers coming into the fold? The numbers for the faux alcho-pops would say no. Is craft still rising, but just setting the stage for its collapse? I don't know, but I do know what we are building as a culture is not the reason I got into great beer. I do indeed lament the days of people just bonding over some great beer. It isn't enough now to just be drinking a beer, but now it matters who you are drinking.
Perhaps I've just got sand in my cheeks lately, but I do know I resent the culture I was part of building. I just want to get back to drinking good beer with my friends. I plan to do just that.