An excellent story on the state of beer in Belgium by Raf Casert of the Associated Press brings home an interesting point:
Leza Wauters remembers the good times well. "Oh, we had more than 50 cafes in Dworp," she said of the bucolic village 15 kilometres (10 miles) south of Brussels, part of a hilly area of pastures whose landscapes, and beers, figured in the paintings of the famous artist Breughel. "It was incredible — it was almost like everyone had a cafe." Now the village's pubs can be counted on two hands, she said. Her granddaughter Barbara Danis fondly remembers time spent at the "In de Welkom" but recognizes its days may be numbered. Most clients are of an older generation that used to congregate daily in the pubs but that is now fading away. "You used to have card players who came here every day," she said. Now, her grandmother complains, those games are over.
Here's the thing. If Steve Hindy is right, "craft beer drinkers are not brand-loyal the way mainstream beer drinkers have been" - which is a problem. Those card players of Dworp decades ago? They were loyal. They had something in common which was the backbone of both a community locally and, along with their fellows across Belgium, a key underlying element of the nation's beer economy. You see bits and pieces of loyalty when you think about craft beer. A surprisingly large number of small pubs across Maine have Allagash white on tap. Places like Portland, Oregon have clearly triggered a strong level of local pride in local beers. But for the most part, the economics of craft beer have deviated from the idea of the local pub of decades ago and even the local micro brewery of just a years ago. It has too great a level of disinterest for that sort of loyalty - the sort that goes through thick or thin.
If that is the case, if there is a great movable thirst that seeks out the next relationship before the partner has a clue that something is wrong, isn't the hope offered by Casert at the end of the article misplaced? To be fair, he speaks of micros and not craft - and in doing so illustrates something of the distinction. While micros may be able to replicate the old local, craft offers no such chance of assistance. So what is Belgium to do? Protectionist measures to address internationalist brewers whether macro or craft? Not likely. Treaties would never allow it. Money, after all, speaks for money. What is most likely is that mass media TV and digital toys will continue to ensure the card players never come back. Personal entertainments are simply too compelling. Modernity marches on. So is Belgian beer doomed as a result? The comment might Sven Gatz from the Belgian Brewers federation might sum it up best: "you cannot be a strong beer country only exporting beer..."