One of my mentors in beer writing wrote this in an email the other day:
And one more [thing] about the 1790s, or up until somewhere before 1850, is I think it is hard to get people's attention because we can't point to a direct connection or there isn't something spectacularly strange, like people drawing in a flood of porter.
I think this gets to the very point of something I have been hoping my researching and writing of brewing trade history is illustrating implicitly. There is and has always been a tension between the money making side of brewing and the truth telling side. Frankly, this should not come as a shock. Beer is mind altering happy happy juice. It wants you to think you are a better dancer or part of a community. In return, we want to like the stories about it, to wrap it up in a big bright bow of hooray for everything. It wants you to feel that the immediate moment is fabulously special, to want to meet the brewer, discover he or she is a genius and then buy the t-shirt and sign up for the cause. Beer wants to be both liked and profitable. To that end, it tells you stories.
That being the fact, other actual facts can actually get in the way. So, even if the unlikely occurs and a brewer is actually well informed and creative, we still should have to admit that the brewery owner really also wants to squeeze another dollar's profit off each six pack. And that special beer your genius just invented? Not that different from the one from three years ago... and 15 years ago... not to mention 165 years ago. Are we facing a new era mass marketing of hops with limited interests controlling the market? The same thing goes back at least 250 years. See, what the history of the beer trade tells us is that there are certain propensities. And patterns. So, if we are aware of it, we can respond properly when the brewery jacks the price or the communicator yaps about how special or difficult some aspect of brewing is. We are forewarned. We know what they are up to.
We are used to it even. To paraphrase another respected email sender last week, we notice when people draw heavily on our work for paid books, articles and even blog posts without so much as a shout out. Yes, it is galling. But it is also, now that I think of it, to be expected. Of course people will lift your work. Of course the brewer and others will pick a guru, praise the guru and then (hoping you won't notice) sidle up and place their own reputation along side that of the guru undeservedly and without a share of the profits. Happens with big beer, big craft and micro beer. I suspect home brewers lie to each other, too. Why? Because beer is and has always been a relatively low-risk low-cost entry sort of business - and topic - that offers a reasonable return whether in cash or conviviality once the effort is put in. Throughout history, folk have come up with scheme after scheme to maximize the potential. Both as inventors and freeloaders. Geniuses and charlatans. Then and now. Adulterers of both sorts even. History show us that. Which makes it fabulous. It helps you foresee the future. So study it yourself. There are plenty of entry points and points of view waiting to be taken up. Don't accept imitations. There are lots of them out there. It's natural.