“What Revolution?” The Outtakes, Part 1

Part OnePart TwoPart Three

For your reading pleasure, remnants from the cutting-room floor from an essay I just wrote for All About Beer magazine, titled “What Revolution?” In it, I argue that craft brewing is just one part of the marvel that is the American beer industry. It will likely never become mainstream, but it’s as much a part of who we are as the Establishment brewers. For more background to this three-parter, see this entry.

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[The inhabitants of the] house of American brewing . . . range from giant foreign-owned corporations to chain restaurants that use beer as a marketing niche; from thriving family-owned businesses to hanging-by-a-thread brewpubs that exist only because the owner, a happy homebrewer, wanted to make more beer than he or she could drink alone.

The five or six percent of beer drinkers who keep Ken Grossman, Greg Koch, and Vinnie Cilurzo in business are but a fragment of a sprawling, anything-not-bolted-down beer culture that is today, as it was in 1979, as much about “America” as it is about beer.

The late Michael Jackson unintentionally affirmed this view in an essay he wrote for AAB nine years after the magazine’s launch and a decade into the “real beer revolution.” Jackson observed that most Americans could only name three, maybe four, beers.

There’s Bud . . . (longish pause) . . . there’s Miller Lite . . . (even longer pause) . . . Do they still make Schlitz? (*1)

The problem, he argued, was that the bottomless “pocketbooks” of the Big Six (at that time A-B, Miller, Stroh, Heileman, Coors, and Pabst) enabled them to “dominate the advertising scene” and thereby obscure consumers’ awareness of brewing’s lager-, porter-, and ale-stuffed nooks and crannies. This “public ignorance” posed an “acute problem” for craft brewing.

“No small brewery is itself an island,” he reminded readers. “None can succeed for long unless the . . . idea of small breweries is understood and appreciated by the consumer.”

He was wrong. Thirty years in, most Americans don’t know about or drink craft beer, and yet craft brewing is alive and well. That’s because in America, ingenuity and creativity will always find an audience. Today’s Big Two dominate beer sales and advertising, but they have not stopped craft brewing’s forward momentum.

Nor, despite Jackson’s assertion, do we Americans crave “small” or “local,” unless, of course, the “small” and “local” is everywhere we want to be. Beer geeks cheer at the news that Groovy Craft Brewing of California is expanding production — and shipping its beer three thousand miles to the other side of the country. In America, the virtues of small and local are in the eyes of the beholder.

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Source: Michael Jackson, “Jackson’s Journal: Beers of America Stand Up and Be Counted,” All About Beer 9, no. 1 (April 1988): 14.

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