Generalisations about beer culture opinion

The Community Is Real, Even if You Don’t Go to the Meetings

Illustration: All Together Now

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.

8 replies on “The Community Is Real, Even if You Don’t Go to the Meetings”

But, like many self-defined communities, it is often very hostile to those perceived as “outsiders”.

“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.”

There’s a germ of an idea in there, the “Beer Community” as EastEnders….questions abound (and this may show that I haven’t watched a British soap in about 20 years), who would be Dirty Den? Ian Beale? Pauline Fowler? The Mitchell brothers (BrewDog?)?

Good take. There seems to be plenty that goes on – from punters volunteering at events to brewers lending each other stuff or being happy to share knowledge – that’s motivated as much by a desire to do nice things for people as it is by calculated self-interest.

Agreed. In fact the extent to which most craft breweries support and promote one another, goes far and beyond the behaviour of “competitors” in any other other industry that I can think of?

Hobby. At best given its also a habit as well as a crutch. Seen too many huggy drunks at pubs and fests to see it otherwise. Beer (or any interest) defining itself as “community” depends on avoiding a working definition of community. No central governance aspect. Few linkages out to other social aspects forming collectively a community. (Could be a late 1700s mill town, I suppose but that’s a stretch.) There is nothing wrong with calling it what it is, a common interest with many facets. The third place of the mind. Sub-sunset of community… maybe. Within a region, perhaps. But mostly marketplace participants circling around a traditional recreational drug.

I really like this because I feel that what I’ve found myself part of over the past year or two could only be described as a community. Also because I didn’t like the post about there not being one because it uses the phrase “let’s be clear” which to my mind is political speak for “shut up and listen to me, ingrates”.

A while back somebody who joined Fuller’s (I think) from an international pizza company wrote a column about how different she found the beer culture, with apparent rivals engaging in genuine, friendly collaboration rather than just seeing one another as competitors. I suspect this is mainly because brewers like Fuller’s are, still, genuinely trying to make better and more interesting beers, whereas the commercial pizza industry is just about selling more product.

That said, head brewers (and privileged* writers) move in one circle, punters in another – or rather, several other circles: dedicated tickers and beer-hunting sofa surfers in one, which overlaps with the culture(s) of festival-goers, which overlaps with the culture of CAMRA… Each of those cultures is friendly and welcoming, but whether they add up to one big happy family I’m not sure – let alone about whether the whole thing should be labelled ‘craft’.

*You’ll hate that word, I suspect, but if a brewer entertains twenty people on a jolly, the chance of being one of those twenty is a privilege.

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