I’ll probably take some static about this…and I deserve to…
From this day forth, what we now call “craft brewing” and “craft beer” will no longer be referred to by that label, here. For a couple of years, now, I’ve been regularly harangued by people who claimed that “craft” is dead, as though that sort of thing happens summarily and closes the subject. It does neither. Millions of people call it “craft brewing” and will go on doing that. And I don’t care if random groups of trendies or even old farts like me decide “craft” is passé. I’m not calling it that anymore and it was not because somebody(s) argued me off it.
In fact, I was spooked off it…in the most direct possible way
I changed my mind because of a freakish exchange I had last week with two people in regional management of AB/InBev, who somehow got MY cell number and gave me a call. I have shared my cell number to maybe a dozen people and guard it jealously but, somehow, it rang and there were the Devil’s minions. It wasn’t a long conversation, because I was PISSED and said so, but in the course of it, one of the suits repeated a sentence, almost exactly word for word, that I got in an email from another AB executive, back in 2011! I don’t know if this line of reasoning is now codified at AB and handed out to each new clone they hire on a 3 x 5 card or what but the wording of it was freakishly similar:
“You should know that we consider the term “craft brewing” a misnomer. “Craft brewing” is what WE do. “Craft” implies precision and skill and the adherence to the proven standards and techniques of brewing. What all these little breweries do is amateur brewing.”
The word “misnomer” is what rang the bell. It’s not a word you read daily and, in fact, I’m not sure I have ever seen it used in a brewing context at all. I still have the original ’11 email and it’s almost verbatim.
In that stunned moment, I saw the truth of it: “Craft” is now screwed. AB has millions of employees and has been insinuating its scuzzy self into the craft brewing culture for years, now, buying up legit craft breweries and making its own spin-off beers that are presented as craft beers and which ALL suck. But their sheer omnipresence insures that those claims of being a “craft brewery” will influence a certain number of gullible, oblivious people and those people will propagate that lie and, eventually, you’ll ask newly-minted 21 year olds to name a craft beer and they’ll say, “Budweiser“…and the earth as we know it will come to an end.
But the term “indie” – short, of course, for “independent” – is a claim that AB/InBev and the BudMillerCoors brands they now control can never plausibly make. There is absolutely NOTHING “independent” about AB/InBev. They’ll work out a rationalization for it eventually, of course; something along the lines of “Hey, we’re independent! Nobody owns any part of our company but us!” But that claim is so patently ridiculous that you’d have to have the IQ of lawn trimmings to even consider it. “Craft” does, in fact, describe the process at Bud’s breweries; maybe not in the same sense as at Dogfish and Stone and Jolly Pumpkin and Lawson’s, but it is inarguable that brewing is a “craft” and that AB does practice that craft, even if it is in a fucked-up, mechanized, soulless, billion-gallon batch, freakazoid manner. “Indie” means what it says: A small, independent, self-perpetuating business enterprise that relies on no corporate sugar-daddy for its survival. It is certainly true that not all of us involved in the “craft beer culture” can agree on what a “craft brewery” is but one thing about which there is NO argument is that a craft brewery is NOT a subsidiary of any larger corporate entity, being kept afloat by their owners’ deep pockets. It’s about the pride in ownership and creativity that has been the hallmark of America’s craft breweries since the whole phenomenon started. It is about not having business and aesthetic decisions influenced by board rooms full of gabardine-clad, Windsor-knotted, bean-countin’ shit-weasels, as is absolutely the case with AB.
My decision to climb off the “Craft” train is not an enticement for anybody else to do the same. I simply cannot justify maintaining an identity as vulnerable as this relatively corrupted term when just changing it to something unequivocal is as easy as just saying, “Up yours, AB fatheads. You can have that word and shove it up your sphincter.”
So…”INDIE BEER“. I was wrong, thousands of other people were right, and whether they wanted the change because of similar reasoning to mine or were just bored trendies, looking to whip up a mini-controversy, really doesn’t matter in the long run. What’s important is that “Indie” expresses the fundamental core values of this current, non-corporate brewing culture: Freedom. Independence. Not wearing the strait-jacket of sales quotas and marketing strictures and decisions handed down in memo form from faceless drones who are only peripherally connected to the reality of beer issuing from a tap nozzle. “Indie” says, in effect, “We are fundamentally different from the AB/InBev plasticity and entrenched shallowness and we’re proud of that Difference!”
AB – though they don’t realize it and will refuse to even consider the premise – has already lost in this struggle between the new brewing culture and its own weary, moss-covered, tight-ass, narrow-focus idea of what “beer” is. A few years ago, shortly after buying out Chicago’s brilliant Goose Island Brewing, AB held a sales convention, which the Goose staff was required to attend. These Goose folks, none of whom much enjoyed the idea of being a cog in the Bud Borg Collective, dutifully reported the statement of one of the AB mucky-mucks who, in speaking of the explosion of craft brewing, stated, “We CANNOT allow the paradigm to change!” Myopic as AB certainly has been about craft beer, this poor schmuck didn’t realize that, even those four years ago, the paradigm had already changed and that it will NEVER swing back. Americans have gotten used to the idea of having Choices in what they drink and are not going back to the traditional steady diet of watery, insipid, lowest-common-denominator adjunct Pilsners. Far more importantly, we now have had a couple of substantial waves of American kids who have grown to drinking age and never once saw a can of any Bud or Miller or Coors or Pabst in Mom and Dad’s fridge. The habit of buying BudMillerCoors has been broken and no one is interested in re-embracing limitation and aesthetic boredom. AB is, in point of fact, Dead Beer Walkin’ and nothing they can do will ever really stem the tide of what I’m now calling Indie beer.
INDIE beer fans.
The INDIE beer culture.
I like the sound of that. “It smells like freedom…”