Last month I wrote an article called “So You Want to be a Brewer, Eh?” that engaged a few issues regarding the realities of making the leap from beer enthusiast to professional brewer, some of the frustrations that come along with the industry, and the fact that, at the end of the day,
brewing is simply a labor intensive and dangerous job.
It has been a goal of mine since I began writing these blog posts to speak from a professional standpoint to a community of people who are passionate about beer so they might get a better glimpse of the life that goes into their glasses, and not just the hops, malts, yeast, and water profiles. Indeed, as there is innumerable variety in beers, and in beer drinkers, so too are there no limits to the variety of people who work in this great industry. From the passionate and eccentric nano-brewers, to the early vets of craft beer still working at Anchor, New Belgium, and Sam Adams, to the men and women who run the big brew houses and cellars at Anheuser Busch and Miller. We have walked a lot of different paths, but ultimately strive for a common goal:
to do something we love, to earn an honest living, and most of all, to make it home safely at the end of the day.
Sadly, though, not everybody does, as was the case this weekend over at Stone Brewing Co, in Escondido CA.
The details of the accident that occurred over the weekend have been reported variously throughout the beer media, and I don’t have to go into detail about what happened or how. Our thoughts and prayers are with the crew at Stone in this time. It’s a moment when every brewer everywhere must take a step back, acknowledge the loss of a member of our collective family, and remember that we all must do what we can to make double sure to remain diligent in preventing these tragedies in the future.
There is, too, a responsibility on the other side of the glass for the beer drinker. An amazing shift has happened in American culture in the last 20-30 years regarding beer. What is commonplace today was once unthinkable. There was a time when Anchor Steam was a revolutionary idea, a beer which is often overlooked today as passe. Some brewers are thought of as celebrities, people camp and lineup to buy a bottle of Dark Lord, and this industry is romanticized and even fetishized beyond what it really is: industrial factory work. I cannot recall all the times a visitor to the brewery has made a joke about how I must just drink beer all day.
Brewing is not romantic. It is hard, wet, frustrating. True, it is at times joyful, but that’s usually when the day is over, and usually because of the friends you’ve made and the beer you get to share with them.
This fetishizing of beer has a more dangerous result as well: the removal of humanity from the product. It leads to a culture of criticism, where mocking a brand or the person drinking it is commonplace. I know I’m guilty of this. We, who spend so much time thinking about what we’re drinking, cannot imagine someone actually wanting non-craft beers like Bud Light. Still, at the end of the day, the person who is drinking that beer genuinely loves it, and would fight for it just like you would for your can of Heady Topper. The instinct is the same.
There is, in our backwards and, at times, self-destructive human nature, a tendency to rework something beautiful and giving into a cause for selfishness and derision. It is easy to feel superior sitting alone at a keyboard, tearing a brewery to shreds. It is easy to forget that, at the end of the day, it is positivity and passion that moves this industry forward, and not cynicism or criticism.
We must let every full pint be an opportunity to community, as opposed to competition.
Thoughtfully drink deep the snifter, but don’t forget it was made by many hands and will flow into many more. These people are your brothers and sisters and each are deserving of the care and respect that went into each ounce of the drink in your glass. Remember, even if you don’t care for the beer you’re drinking, you should at least respect the effort that went into it. Often, the people who worked so hard to bring you that beer had done so in an industry where fatalities can, and tragically do, occur. That is, more than anything, deserving of our respect.
I pray that we can all raise a glass to Stone, to our brother Matthew, and to the industry that brought him so much joy in life.
I pray that we can continue to make that industry better through hard work, determination, and fellowship. And that we can all stay safe.