E.Rail. Evan. I have enjoyed the writings of Evan Rail since he was introduced to the beer blogging world in 2007 when that phase of these things was new. In his latest essay, "The Meanings of Craft Beer", he explains how the intervening nine years have gone through an analysis of the brand that has brought many things together. In a way, it is a nicer version of The Unbearable Nonsense of Craft Beer. The consideration of the weakness of the topic by one gentleman instead of two louts. In large part, comfortingly, his findings are the same.
One thing I would like to note from the outset is my dissatisfaction with one aspect of the analysis. Though he describes quite rightly that the phrase craft beer gains acceptance in the mid-2000s, he uses it to describe the entire good beer movement since the 1970s. This is anachronistic. Like using the word Czechoslovakia for the Czech Republic of today. Slightly sloppy. This graph from The New York Times makes the point. It's not just that craft was not the popular term. "Micro-" was a fabulously successful phrase. The critical point in time for general acceptance of craft is roughly 2006 - about when the US Brewers Association and its definition comes into force, about the time Michael Jackson departs us and about the time when the hop Citra comes on the scene - the first-ish not-so-grapefruity hop which gains popular notoriety, name recognition. Those events are laced with emotions and politics so it's reasonable to see why people wish to backdate the usage. It is, however, wrong. Craft, as Evan explains, has come to something of an end point. As a term, I argue, it also has an actual practical point of beginning. The era of micros and imports is a different time and, in many respects, a foreign land yet to be fully explored - mainly because craft has co-opted it and rearranged its elements, hiding its actual legacy.
OK, enough about me. Evan builds his essay around the idea that when something comes to the end it becomes its own opposite. He explores how the word craft fails to convey meaning as it becomes adopted and adapted to other languages. He also shows how weakly it conveys understanding when defined by the Brewers Association, too. In a way it's an essay about meaninglessness - though I do find the idea of "power beer" something worth exploring further. Empowering. Authorizing.
Evan then takes us to craft as IPA as craft as community and not a business. It all being about the hop and special friends. I balked a bit at his sentence that you could operate a craft brewery in 1993 without brewing an IPA if only because there were no craft breweries then and also the same was largely true in 2002. The backdating of general hop fixation is another one of the slippery sloppery slopes. Brewer's daydreams and brewery employee culture are not concurrent with popular acceptance. Face it. No one much really likes gose and tart IPAs might, if lucky, get to be only the next small thing.
A mere quibble. Even marches on confidently. More balloons get popped. Craft is just a business that looks a lot like macro... except it is less unsustainable, unreliable and, ultimately, conceptually unuseful. I won't get into further detail as this review was written to encourage you to go spent your $2.99 and read this Kindle ebook yourself. It's an excellent bit of analysis. Succinct. It should put the topic to bed, in fact. You should look askance at anyone who trots out some of these tired arguments, who suggests craft brewing is a new form of business and think to yourself: "what an idiot - haven't they read Evan's essay?" That's all spliffy and faux punk. Remember the new e-conomy of the late 1990s? Sofa.com was to save us all? That sorta thing.
In this excellent essay, Evan points us elsewhere. To an approach to good beer in which the consumer is personally more conscious, is aware that fibs are being foisted and traps being laid all in the cause of money. Be awake. Make your own rules. I agree. Tasty beer at a good price remains my focus. Knowing value rather than trusting the PR and paid pundit. Yesterday, I did just that buying both big bad Molson 1908 and tiny wee Stone City Windward. One last thing. In addition to TUNCB, it would be very useful to read a third piece in relation to Evan's piece, the essay by Stan Hieronymous entitled "How Craft Became Craft" from March 2015. An unintended trilogy well worth your time.