The topic I want you all to write about: “Are breweries your friends?” To be in business nowadays you pretty much have to have a social media presence. This is especially true in the beer world, where some breweries have basically built themselves on their personality. And yet, at the end of the day, we’re also selling you something. I believe this is the first Session to be hosted by a brewery rather than beer blogger. How do you feel about that? Do you want your feeds clear of businesses, or do you like when a brewery engages with people? Can you think of anyone who does it particularly well, or poorly?
What an excellent set of questions. They ask us to look in the mirror a bit and think about how beer affects relationships but they also ask us to consider the meaning of friendship. I am a lucky guy. I have friends. Friends are people who you have known a long time, have been with you through good times and bad, folk who you can rely on without any thought of doing something in return. When they let you down the relationship is not undermined.
Friends are rare. There are other words that describe a hierarchy, describe degrees of friendship only the tippy-top of which is an actual friend. Pal, buddy acquaintance, colleague. These are all good relationships. They each suggest a degree of trust as well as a degree of likeability. Different degrees. I can have a pal or buddy who is not my friend. A guy I talk with at a bar is my pal. But if it's only by chance that I meet the guy he's not going to be a friend. I can get along with a colleague at work, look forward to projects he or she and I work on but if their kids don't recognize me on the street that's not much of a friendship. Friends are truly rare.
I am very lucky in my relationships in the beer world. I get along with a lot of people including many I don't always agree with. I know and enjoy my relationships with sales reps, brewers, brewery owners, writers, co-writers and - most importantly - fellow fans. For example, I have actually gotten to know Ethan with Community Beer Works pretty well since they opened shop. We have been at beer fests together, argued over stuff from the marvels and deceits at the heart of craft, we have suggested opportunities for each other's interest in good beer as well as other things in life. We've told each other stuff the other likely didn't want to hear. I get along with Ethan well enough to have asked him to drag some of his pals to play 1860s rules vintage base ball with me and my pals. If we never discuss beer and certainly if he never were to show up with a growler of The Whale for me I wouldn't notice all that much. Well, I would because I love The Whale. I have plenty of happy beery pals and many more valued acquaintances. I am pretty sure Ethan is my friend but he also might be a top ranking buddy. I would probably help him move furniture if he needed me. He might help come move mine. Maybe. It's close.
In 2007, I wrote the fundamental, surely life-altering post Do We Love The Beer Or Brewer? which triggered a lot of the sort of considered thought in the comments that has been driven out of the discourse by the thin gruel that is social media. I came to the conclusion that the beer was what I loved so that I needed to distance myself from the brewer:
That may mean you have to take yourself seriously, too, and pay attention to what is in the glass and not rely on others anymore, even me, than you would rely on advertising or if the brewer is friendly, starting out or your cousin.
In 2010, I wrote a similar post on the particular question of the ramblin' equipment leasing brewer titled Revisited: Do We Love The Beer Or Vagabond Brewers? and came to a similar point:
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.
See, beer is joy juice. Makes you happy. Makes you think you are a better dancer, that your joke is funnier than it is. Makes you set aside the rules once in a while. I once knew a couple that only seemed to get along when drinking. The solvent, as I quipped, was the bond. Like any thought altering drug, alcohol can make you think you are engaged in a friendship when you really aren't. "Good times, good friends, great beer" is the promise. How much more the risk when the beer is free and the friend is the brewer? Careful relationship management is required to walk safely though that potential minefield. Andy's tweet on the day we learned that Pretty Things was packing in was telling as well as remarkably honest. And unrealistic expectations can flow in both directions. You see the result all too often. The respected writer's reputation tarnished by a nod and a wink and a junket. The upcoming brewer's hope crushed by a negative if simply honest review. False assumptions of friendship are never as quickly shattered as when there's strong drink involved. And if your only friends are in the beer world, probably time for a little self-examination.
Are brewers my friends because I follow them on social media? Not a chance. They are not even my acquaintances. Doesn't mean they are not worth respect and attention. But in this business, that's just business. Friends are rare. Worth more than just respect and attention.