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

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

  2. I’ve just penned a blog­post that argues there is a beer com­mu­ni­ty, one cen­tred on inter­est in the beer palate, but not more.

    Gary

  3. 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?)?

  4. 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.

    1. 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?

  5. 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.

  6. 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”.

  7. 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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