Last week someone in a local homebrew club admonished fellow members to skip a free Goose Island event because attending such promotions supported “big beer” and was a slap in the face to local craft brewers. A series of equally indignant postings followed by those that possessed similar sentiments along with a small contingent of those that supported the idea of attending the special free VIP evening that involved meeting one of the brewers and getting free samples. Such fervor over the idea of consuming or otherwise seemingly supporting companies owned in whole or in part by large brewing conglomerates is relatively common among those in the beer community. Many discerning beer snobs get just as irate upon the mere mention of Blue Moon and some go so far as to malign Sam Adams offerings as the company slowly creeps towards becoming another mega brewery (rather noticeably the threshold for what constitutes a “micro brewery” seems to go up as Sam Adams raises production).
Every week I seek out new beers within my locality as well among those offered at the local beer store. Like others of a similar mindset we like to try new beers as they are made available, but a deep seeded divide separates those that drink locally produced beers or beer made by “small” craft brewers almost exclusively from those that do so as part of their ongoing quest to try new offerings and find ones that they would like to revisit. Perhaps it is heresy among some to claim that I will continue to try products produced by InBev, Miller, Coors, or other large brewing conglomerates. It’s possible I might find a giant burning keg on my doorstep after further declaring that I might order a Bourbon County Stout or an AC Golden Sour Ale on occasion. But I value what I perceive as quality and I will just as gladly turn down free offers of Blue Moon or Budweiser American Ale. My tastes are subjective and to forgo something of quality because it is produced by a company tainted by its ties to a conglomerate goes against my base instincts. To be sure, at this time there is far more locally produced quality craft beer than there are similar offerings emanating from large brewers. It has been some time since I have had a mass produced beer, but I will not turn down a taste of something new simply because of its origin. I do not think entrepreneurial craft brewers have anything to fear from large companies and the rise of the locally produced craft beer segment as a percentage of the whole is testament to this trend. In cities all across the world McDonalds and Burger King remain fixtures, but those that crave quality hamburgers know where to find better options.
While large breweries struggle to make or acquire (and then maintain the standards of) small craft brewed beer, the creativity and craftsmanship inherent in locally produced beer from small micros and brewpubs cannot be matched and its very doubtful the efforts of large breweries will gain much traction over time. That is not to say however that all locally produced beer made by small entrepreneurs is subjectively “good” and that is where my views differ and draw the ire of some craft proponents. Although most offerings fall short with regard to recipe formulation or care in the crafting of something unique, large brewers have the resources to create beers without major flaws. Some small local breweries must step up their game and clean up their operations, because while most are making a quality product, and some are creating masterpieces, a few are making beer that is often barely drinkable to anyone familiar with diacetyl or acetaldehyde. Simply put if given the option between ordering a (subjectively) bad locally produced beer or a high quality offering such as a Goose Island Bourbon County Stout I would not hesitate to drink the latter…and I would wager most beer snobs would do the same despite varying degrees of self loathing.