BeerDorks.com: Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries

 
October 18, 2006

Enemies Of Homogeneity

The Beer Dorks’ whack-job manifesto.


Hi. My name is Eddie Glick. I want to talk to you about beer and why you should drink locally or, lacking that, regionally brewed beer instead of the stuff brewed by some faceless corporation a million miles away. Don't get me wrong, I love good beer, no matter who is producing it. But we as Beer Dorks know—or should know—that beer is much more than fermented sugar water in a glass. Beer is about history. It’s about culture. It’s about community. Add all those things up, and you have the word heritage.

Nearly every country on Earth has some form of beer heritage, from the rich brewing legacies of Germany and Belgium to the countries in Africa and Asia and South America. As Americans, our beer heritage was robbed from us. Initially by Prohibition, followed up by Word War II, and—what may have been the most destructive force of all—the homogenization of the American culture during the latter half of the 20th century.

Prior to World War II, America was still made of basically local cultures constrained by geography. The rise of radio, television, movies, automobiles and the interstate system allowed people to see, hear and experience the countless unique cultures and sites across the country. But at the same time Americans just plain weren’t ready to handle all this … this new. They wanted some familiarity when they traveled in their Chevies and Fords across country. Enter the chains. Restaurants, gas stations and motels were the first, but what has followed is mind-numbing, from Starbucks to Walmart to Home Depot. American beer saw the same thing happen. The consolidation of the brewing industry didn’t happen within its own isolated sphere. Customers weren’t demanding different, bolder beers only to have their pleas fall on deaf ears. The majority of Americans in the 1950s and ’60s plain didn’t want anything but tasteless sugar water. They wanted their Budweiser and Marlboros and Beatles and I Love Lucy and McDonalds. They wanted what everyone else wanted. An entire generation came of age inundated by this ant farm mentality. These global corporations were a part of their life. Their culture. Their heritage. The homogenization of America was all but complete.

But—it’s taken damn near 40 years—the worm is starting to turn. Cable television, satellite TV and radio, and the Internet are allowing people to discover what they like, instead of being cajoled, tricked or even forced into buying, watching, listening to the latest new creation from corporate America. And the same thing is happening with our palates. Americans more and more are opting to buy from their local gourmet shop rather than the chain grocery store, eat at the mom-and-pop German or Italian or Mexican place around the corner instead of going to McDonalds and, most importanly, sip a pint of handcrafted beer at the local brewpub rather than buy a Bud Light.

But of course the chains aren’t going to go down without a fight. So big beer gives itself a brain transplant and focuses on making a product that tastes like, well, beer instead of churning out semi-amusing TV ads. And I’m not saying don’t drink it. What I am saying is, taste being equal, drink that craft brew instead. As the saying goes, drink local. Capitalism is a form of democracy, and your money is your vote. So vote small-batch, handcrafted beer, brewed by people who care about, even know, their customers. Because when you buy big beer, a large chunk of that money disappears from your neighborhood. And big beer doesn’t care about craft beer or, actually, beer in general. They care about money. And homogenization is cheap. If it weren’t they wouldn’t be doing it.

So when you drink your local craft brew, you’re getting more than just a great beer. You’re investing in your neighborhood, your community, your local culture. Meshed together, these hundreds of thousands of local cultures across America are creating a new beer heritage, one that, right now, is producing the best, most innovative beers in the world. And don’t you for a damn second think of taking that heritage for granted.