A few years ago now, in February 2007, I asked whether we should love the beer or the brewer. A post by the excellent Joe Stange last week led me to comment and majestic Stan Stan the Hieronymus Man to post... which made Joe post again. And of course, I commented. The issue? Vagabond brewers. Here is what Joe wrote eight days ago:
Basically, all the reasons I think brewers with breweries deserve more applause are the flip side of what's so attractive about itinerant brewing. It takes a lot less money, and therefore less risk. Someone else can maintain the machines. Someone else can pay the rent. So we are enjoying the work of a greater number of creative types who otherwise might not be brewing at all -- or at least, not be making exactly the recipes they want to make. Which occasionally are exactly the recipes we want to drink.
Stan built upon that. He spoke of the rhythm of breweries and asked: "If somebody isn’t in the brewery almost every day, maybe even cleaning filtering or mopping up after a boil over, is that brewer part of the rhythm?" Now, I am not going to point fingers at the rest of you... but Stan and Joe are two of the brightest guys in beer thinking I know. We all know that Pete sorta hides behind the fact that he is an excellent writer. And Lew and Jay unfairly leverage their warmth, intelligence and humanity. But Stan and Joe? They are just plain clever. So I usually agree with everything they write.
Trouble is in this: I don't care. I don't buy any of it. I think there is a romanticism to their points of view that is irrelevant and maybe even harmful to the consumer. As a consumer, all I want is what I want at the best price. There is a old saying in investing - do not fall in love with a stock because it does not love you. That is true for all of business and brewing is business. One of the oldest in fact. Just as porn created the internet, brewing created much of industrial production as well as organic chemical science. It is massively important to our cultural heritage and our way of life. But at the end, all I want is good beer at a good price.
So, why wouldn't I praise the ingenuity of both the brewery owner and the vagabond brewer when the owner realizes he has 10% surplus and rents out his equipment to someone who has an idea but no resources? It's cooperative, it's succession planning, it's a revenue stream for both parties - and gets us all more tasty beer. It's like people forget that the "brewery owner" - a term that now should include most celebrity conference podium holding brewers - get an income out of it. Sure they do. Just like when they contract brew. It gets a wee bit puritanical when we the drinkers get to judge which business model is the more ethical, the more pure.
Bottom line? The only purity that matters to me is what is in the glass and what it took to get it there. I don't care who owns the machine, whether the label matches the taste from bottle to bottle or whether you like to pretend you are an artist or a tradesman. Those things are as relevant to me as whether the brewery pumps Mozart or Metallica out onto the brewery floor when the work is being done. Frankly, I want to live in a world where I don't pretend I have a personal relationship with each of the thousands of staff at hundreds of breweries that get beer to me each year. Each person in themselves might be really really nice but, like that stock in my retirement fund, they don't love me.
Just make the beer tasty and sell it at a fair price. That is all I ask.