This is a pretty interesting article from outside the usual fanboy circle of craft – but it still illustrates an analytical tendency that hinders discussion. Consider this:
It’s no secret that without Jim Koch and Boston Beer as standard bearers for the industry, craft beer would not have its current identity and the trade group is loathe to lose its most effective cheerleader.
You can take this sentence at least a couple of ways. Either (i) Koch has been a major cause of the success of US craft or (ii) he has shaped US craft to meet the needs of Koch and in doing so brought others along with him. The trouble is both suggest a “but for Koch” implication which is not realistic even if it is seductive. We must keep in mind that, while craft has made him massively wealthy, the man also believes yogurt helps him be less drunk. Because he is human and few humans lack their own weirdnesses.
Good beer has been made for millennium after millennium by millions of people. It has satisfied literally billions of humans over hundreds of billions of experiences in both its functional and pleasurable aspects. It is in a real sense the cause and effect merged. But there is a tendency to ignore that reality and place upon the head of those who harness – or shackle – beer’s inherent continuity with a gold star. I suppose it’s due to the need to get ones hand around the scale of beer’s place in our cultural heritage. But beer is too much like a virus for that. It’s too much like an independent phenomenon, slightly separate from the people who brew it.
Koch is not the cause of the success of Shocktop as the piece suggests. Beer itself is. It’s brewed by so many to such ready profit exactly because of its simplicity. We are in a time of transition away from the exceptionalist fallacies of the last ten years back to the reality of diverse pervasive skillful brewing. It is very similar to the post-Revolutionary era as well as the early colonial period. They are each eras before aggregation occurs. Then… it occurs. It’s cyclical. Koch has just been repeated the pattern of E.P. Taylor starting in the Canada of the 1920s before moving on to the UK, using his understanding of merger and acquisition. He is just like the Rutgers brothers, Anthony and Harman in New York City in the mid-1700s creating a vertically integrated brewing dynasty across Manhattan. He’s like the Hanseaticbrewers’ guilds in the 1400s leveraging the new opportunities of hops. He has asserted control. If he had not filled the space of the controlling craft aggregator someone else would have. It’s not the stuff of alternate universe fantasy to point out the propensity of brewing to provide for this. There’s a reason all the home runs in sport are hit in baseball. Because it provides for it.
This is a nice segue. I need to get back into the records to study brewing in North America before 1850. There is such a wealth of databases to work through that it would be more than a disservice not to. Primary records which tell their own story. No spin doctors. Maybe. Gotta watch out for those who give themselves a gold star or who sidle up next to them. Gotta keep an eye out for them.