Martyn Cornell is wrong: there is a craft beer community.
We see evidence all the time of people meeting up in strange parts of the world; swapping bottles, stories and information; crashing in each other’s spare bedrooms; organising events and competitions; collaborating on blogs and podcasts; going to weddings and birthday parties, often at great inconvenience; and supporting each other during difficult times.
There are people whose social lives are defined by it, whose careers have been determined by connections so made, and who met their partners at beer festivals.
That doesn’t mean everybody who is interested in beer is necessarily part of the Community. We’re not, really, through choice. (Sorry, stranger-who-also-likes-beer, but, no, you cannot sleep on our sofa.) But the Community doesn’t cease to be just because standoffish sorts decide not to join in.
Within the community, there are cliques, too — concentrated expressions of community which, by definition, are also exclusive. Oh, yes, the Community can certainly be fractious, petty and mean-spirited. But actually, all that soap opera — all the emotional explosions, break-ups and schisms — seem to us like evidence of the Community’s reality, and its complexity. (See also: the communities that grow up around anything, from churches to football teams.)
The Community has no single point of view, no leader, no chief spokesperson. There is no membership card or secret handshake.
From outside, the Community can sometimes look exploitative, too. How do you tell the difference between (a) businesses whose owners feel a real sense of belonging to, and duty towards, a craft beer community, and (b) cynical pretence? Or, somewhere in between, businesses that start out as the former and drift towards the latter as outside investment approaches.
Martyn is right, though, when he says that businesses don’t owe the Community anything. If a brewery decides to sell, in part or in whole, it is not obliged to consult the Community, or apologise.
But if they expect to benefit from the Community during the startup phase, in terms of PR, labour, and even financial investment, then it only seems fair to allow those who perceive themselves to be part of that Community a moment of dismay when the brewery withdraws from the informal contract. (Dismay not including abuse, of course, especially when directed at staff manning social media.)
Or, to put all that another way, the Community is real, but it isn’t universal, isn’t Utopia, and shouldn’t be a cult. It is certainly more than a single Facebook group.