Craft beer is about more than just beer, it is a story about how David stood up to Goliath and won.
In the industrial era the primary purpose of a factory (brewery) was to keep capital equipment at full capacity and to realize economies of scale and scope, which when done right should make the factory owner rich. When the industrial revolution began, brewers got bigger and bigger, competition increased as did efficiency, but margins were squeezed and compromises were made, beer became nothing more than a widget in a macro economics model. This was not the high water mark for beer. Industrial beer did not taste good, but the story does not end here.
We fought back. We fought with our dollars, wallets in hand. With our fists defiantly raised skyward, we said no more to factory beer – we spent our hard earned cash on quality products, local products, a beer that was anti-corporate. Quality and flavour were the key drivers behind the craft beer movement. But there is more to the story than a fight for flavour – we also wanted to know who was brewing our beer, we wanted a relationship with people, with brewers, local businessmen making a difference in our communities, not corporations. Integrity before profits was as much a part of the movement as the beer itself.
Some craft brewers get the later part of the story all wrong. They hire talented brewers to make tasty beer, create a story that they are sure is going to impress, go to market and… Surprise! The people who they expected to be their biggest fans, are now their foes. What happened they ask? Why don’t you like me?
Small brewers, with little marketing budget, cannot create stories in the same way corporations do – they just don’t possess the fire power to sell a brand. All that the small guys have is authenticity – their people, and their product. The people who work hard to brew a beer that they love are the brand. The employees and owners who work at small craft breweries are part of the new food movement – this ever growing food revolution is about people who work hard to make the food we eat and the beer we drink, not corporations selling nutrition. Anyone who considers themselves to be part of this food revolution finds corporate rhetoric off-putting. We want our neighbours making our food, even if it means we pay more for it.
I was invited to a beer dinner at CRAFT last week featuring Stanley Park Brewing. The beer was good to okay, as were the pairings. But this is relatively standard in the world of beer dinners. In the past I have been very critical of Stanley Park’s smoke and mirrors approach to branding. I have been to Stanley Park and I have yet to find the brewery. I understand that in 1897 a Belgian immigrant made beer in Stanley Park, but I fail to see the connection between the two. Many beer drinkers saw what I saw, and we pointed our collective finger at this new brewery and said – you are one of them! No matter how good the beer was (it was just okay), Stanley Park was the bad guy. Consumers felt lied to, we were sold a story that lacked authenticity, which is exactly what the industrial brewers do. But if we let the story end here, we would be doing the beer community a disservice.
Stanley Park has hired a new Brewmaster – Todd. He is a good guy, same goes for all of the Stanley Park staffers who joined me for an evening of food and beer. Todd’s newest release, a mild aromatic Pale Ale (by West Coast standards), is a notable shift from the mild and slightly Belgian beers that have traditionally been on offer. The entire team at Stanley Park wants nothing more than to brew good beer – they could care less about 1897. They are locals, working hard to make something they are proud of. Sure, they haven’t done themselves any favours by building their brand on a false story. But we all make mistakes.
Stanley Park’s story is slowly changing, and they no longer claim a connection to the 1897 brewery. Stanley Park Brewing doesn’t aim to be the craftiest craft brewer, they just want to make good tasting beer that people enjoy drinking.
Is there a conclusion? Not really, but here goes. When in doubt tell the truth, and spend your time making something you are proud of. But most of all, don’t listen too much to the critics, they’ll just drag you down.