This is one of the sadder passages I have read about exploring brewing history in a long time. It’s in an excellent article by Joe Stange in which he is kind enough to have mentioned me:
At the recent Craft Brewers Conference in Philadelphia, there was an unusual morning roundtable totally devoted to historical beer styles. New Belgium brewmaster Peter Bouckaert moderated the panel, which included Brewers Association president Charlie Papazian, Colonial Williamsburg brewmaster Frank Clark, and Brasserie de la Senne brewer-historian Yvan de Baets. Audience members participated in the conversation, including several brewers and author Randy Mosher. Suggestions ranged from an open yeast bank devoted to ancient strains to an online depository for primary documents, including guidance on things like obsolete weights and measures, heirloom ingredients and historical method. “Make sure that everyone knows what the standards are for what qualifies as history,” Mosher said, “because we’re all just sort of winging it. … Some of it’s real history. And some of it’s just stories.”
The passage is not sad because of who was there or who said what. It’s because of the word “we” sitting there in the last bit there. The gathered folk – as I had feared and when voicing that fear was told by an eminent beer writer to “GFY” in an utter lapse of self control – had adopted a conversation control standard. People of standing were placed in a room with a topic that needed to be addressed but in a way that didn’t let the content get out of control. Can’t have that.
In his article Joe deftly compares the phenomenon with organic historical research: “just think of the many people willing to research and write about niche historical topics, often on their own blogs, for little or no money.” Who does that remind you of? How about all the new small brewers who don’t need to look to big craft for the authority to do what they want, to succeed as they want. Read Michael Kiser’s second last paragraph in his submission for this month’s version of The Session again:
If you think, even secretly, that your success in craft beer had anything to do with how wide open the shelf was at the time you started, I sincerely hope you’re listening for a ticking clock. The people coming up behind you are entering the most diverse and competitive beer market in the history of beer in this country. And they’re not complaining about it. They’re shaping their ideas into sharper, more precise weapons. They’re finding smarter financial models they can sustain. They’re brewing for audiences that are perpetually turning 21 even as we get older and older. And when they look across the tap lineup at their neighborhood bar, they don’t see AB or MillerCoors. They see you.
Let’s be honest. Beer writing is a small field packed with plenty of jostling. The pie is only so big but people have appetites. Folk of little imagination but plenty of ambition will gladly let you know their opinion about who should be writing about beer. And folk will gladly step in front of you in the buffet line up. Take your work, drop it in their book and not cite you. And brewers will lift research and brew with it without so much as a mention let alone a proper payment. My second or third question to Ron is always “and did they pay you for that?” So, be alert. When someone who is not particularly involved with researching beer history suggests “we” need to make sure that everyone knows what the standards are for what qualifies as history ask yourself whether or not it’s the same thing as the newbie nano not much interested in what the old farts of big craft think.
“We”? Hardly. “Them” and “they” more like it. The people doing the work who don’t bother with the keynote speech or junket. The people with better things to do, too busy down at the library with their nose in the books.