NOTE: When I moved to a new site, this “Beer Wars” series was mangled/destroyed during the move. I’ve reconstructed it by copying/pasting another copy of the original posts. I also lost the comments in their original form. I’ve copied/pasted the comments, but had to do so under my own name. So although it looks as though I’m the only commenter, I’m not. In each case, I’ve identified the original commenter.
I was not surprised by this pre-screening reaction. If I’ve learned anything in three years since my beer book came out, it’s that the world of craft brewing is highly insular and short-sighted. Its inhabitants believe that the world revolves around beer in general and craft beer in particular.
They are so blinded by their insularity that they don’t know that roughly 96% of the beer sold in the U.S. is NOT craft beer. They don’t understand that the rest of the world doesn’t drink craft beer; doesn’t idolize Greg Koch and Sam Caligione. That the rest of the world doesn’t know or care about brewers’ conflicts, the three-tier system, or anything else connected to beer and brewing.
That’s not a criticism. Insularity and short-sightedness enable “groups” to create and maintain solidarity. (People who work in publishing are even worse, frankly, which is why I avoid hanging around with writers, agents, and editors.)
But there’s another reason I was not surprised by the pre-screening dogpile: Criticism is easy. Empathy is not.
Most people aren’t writers and filmmakers (or entrepreneurs) and they don’t know how hard it is to write a book, or produce a film, or, for that matter, build a brewery. These are activities that require long hours, sacrifice, self-discipline. And in the end, if the writer or filmmaker — or brewer — has done her job right, the finished product looks easy. Like something any fool could do.
Case in point: Some months back, a couple of beer enthusiasts asked me for an interview. They run a website and forum and do podcasts about beer. One of them said he liked the book and then said something like: “Well, it was probably pretty easy, wasn’t it? I mean, the story was right there. All you had to do was write down the facts.” Or words to that effect.
Well, no. That’s not quite what happened. The “facts” were scattered hither and yon, buried in hundred year old books and in magazines and interviews and so forth. I spent five years tracking down those facts and then piecing them together into a coherent “story” that I hoped others would enjoy. But I knew that he didn’t know that. Indeed, the fact that he assumed it was “easy” meant I’d been at least a little bit successful: My hard work is invisible, which allows the main event — the book’s narrative — to take center stage.
So I understand how hard it is to create something from nothing — and I know that people who don’t do what I do don’t understand how I do what I do. Again, not a criticism; just a fact. I have no idea how to run a brewery, perform brain surgery, or repair automobiles. (So I try to show respect for those who do.)
But I also know that because people don’t know how I do what I do (or how Anat does what she does), the critics always want something other than what they got.
For example: Many people criticize me for not including the colonial period in my book, or for not writing a book that was only about the craft brewing industry. That’s okay. They’re entitled to their opinion, just as I’m entitled to mine. And in my informed opinion, I had good reason to write the book the way I wrote it, not least of which was that, ya know, I wrote the book I wanted to write, not the book that someone else wanted me to write.
(So to those critics I always say — politely — “Those sound like a great topic. I look forward to reading your take on it. Let me know when you’ve finished your book.”)
(I’m still waiting for those books to appear. . . . )