On Monday night, I responded to this tweet:
Having swapped silly banter with Beerbecue on Twitter for half a decade, I know he knew this was a joke, so no harm done. But where I intended innocuous fun, the joke festered; ate away at the reasoning center of my brain, to the point where I was still actively thinking about it when I fell asleep a few hours later.
I didn’t have to think about that response at all. It just came out of my brain casually, expectedly, perfunctorily. Calling someone a shill (or apologetic, or a corporate toadie, or whatever) for even being associated with Budweiser brand or AB-InBev business is pretty par for the course in 2017.
But that’s a problem.
As much of a problem as AB-InBev being defensive, oft petty, and downright inconsistent with its inevitable clapback. We’ve seen them attempt to belittle craft, then pivot to be proud of their macro scale, then the most recent almost 180-mollifying-spin to try to shift the blame of competition onto other, poor alcoholic beverages.
It all feeds into this dichotomy of views that ruins any attempt to ascertain real truth.
The classical Greek philosophers reigned as the kings of argument. I imagine their days were wine-laded metaphysical orgies of thought; the kind of “let’s sit around thinking about thinking and then talk about it” only done by prep-school stoners these days. But in all that intellectual rigor, they came up with a few pretty great ideas, many of which we still reference today.
The most common one is debate. A debate aims to “win” an argument by either proving your point or disproving your opponent’s. But people being people, debate tends to be littered with emotional detritus; many don’t just argue facts and logic, but rather, subjective morals and perceived supremacy of thought. Such a debate rarely has a winner, and in the social media generation, often has two losers.
But Socrates and his bros championed another form of discussion: dialectic. Rather than the ultimate goal being to sway your opponent to your side or flat out prove them wrong, the rules of dialectic instead suggest two conflicting view points work together or riff off each other to seek (and hopefully find) a truth (or truths) through fact and reason.
We have completely lost sight of dialectic in the beer world.
Debate around beer is mired in moral relativism. Impassioned but generally one-sided opinions left unchecked have infused a slow-working poison into the conversation. It’s not just beer, either: modern discussions about politics, economics, hell, even sports teams, very quickly devolve into tribal chest thumping where instead of attempting to further the dialogue and perhaps learn from each other, we opt to go back to our confirmation bias trenches and dig them a little deeper. It seems the modern debater prefers an endless stalemate where they never give an inch over an eventual end to the war.
All that sort of thinking does it reinforce a smug sense of superiority. I used to think the beer world’s satire was pretty excellent – Don’t Drink Beer was exactly the nerd boner reality check we all needed, and the recently started BreitTank is doing some Onion-level social commentary shit. But good, healthy jabs are few and far between, and rarely done well.
Instead, we’ve seen proliferation of Poe’s Law incarnate. To this day I don’t know if BrewStuds is a real thing, or just a very well done satire that went (and continues to go) completely over my head. We’ve got people – average, random, people who drink beer in bars – going on tirades against beer journalists and publications for – gasp – taking money for their work. Twitter and Reddit and countless other public forums are awash in poorly constructed arguments wrapped in ad hominems all backed with the passion of a hundred Don Juan’s..about beer. Beer.
It all feels very appropriate for the Trump-era, even if with that appropriateness comes a certain level of depression when we realize this is the reality we now inhabit. I completely understand industry folks defending their livelihood and respect and support them in that. But the average dudes putting this much energy into their inebriation? I’ve written about why I think they care so much, but it’s still sort of baffling.
We’ve managed to build our castles so completely on the moral high ground that we can’t even seen the lands below anymore. We just assume it’s all the same, and we’re still right, and that there’s no reason to ever come down. Because coming down would be admitting we might be wrong, and there is no more humiliating thing than humility.
Having taken a few steps back from being awash in beer culture, I’ve found that distance helps with perspective. It’s still a wonderful industry filled with wonderful people making wonderfully tasty drinks, and the science of fermentation remains one of the coolest things I’ve ever studied.
But it’s also currently stuck. The narrative is dominated by he-said-she-said polarized thinking. Long gone are those whimsical stories of how a brewery came to be and who they are, partly because the drinker has already heard too many of them, partly because…well here, I’ll let Jeremy Danner say it for me:
There’s something to be said – or perhaps feared – about AB-InBev’s encroachment on the market, their manipulation of distribution, their buyout strategy. It’s a fascinating study of real-time Capitalism in a budding industry, as well as a spur in the side of the Brewer’s Association and smaller breweries reminding them that this battle is far from over.
But the general conversation isn’t that. It’s get rekt noob, big beer is evil! Or yay hooray independent beer is good! Both sound as silly as the NRA’s “good-guy bad-guy” line of thinking; simplistic, childish, and ultimately, unhelpful.
There’s no dialectic where people are trying look at big beer’s practices objectively or taking a real critical eye to the BA, to figure out whos and whys and hows. There’s certainly never any talk of collaboration, because obviously, you never work with an enemy. There’s hardly even any exploration in why a thing deemed so bad is actually bad; I only need two fingers (one and two) to count the number of well written articles directly about AB-InBevs strategy. The rest of the bad will stems for theoreticals and hard headedism.
I get it, the hero of the story needs a villain to triumph over. I wrote about it at length. But it’s important to remember that to the villain, the hero can often look like a terrorist. For every story a perspective, for every perspective a truth.
Therein, the issue slumbers.
There are valid points to be made on either side. The new Brewer’s Association “Independent” seal feels like too much hot glue leaking out of the edges of a kid’s art project, but the underlying reasoning behind it is solid, and probably needed. There are legitimate concerns with and political blows to strike against monopolistic moves. If they roll over, they’ll likely lose.
But AB-InBev also spearheads domestic barley research, and are pretty heavily responsible for the development of new, more robust strains. Their money is being used for things that prop up the beer industry by sheer necessity; things Bud Light and Two-Hearted drinkers benefit from simultaneously. They’ve got standards and practices for QA that could remedy countless problems for smaller breweries. To slap a blanket “cut off” label on them is short-sighted, and, if we’re being honest, completely ineffective.
I only hope that eventually we’ll stop playing “I’m right and you’re wrong” ping pong. This industry is undergoing some seismic shifts in culture and business that are downright fascinating. They deserve attention, even if it means admitting maybe we’re not right about everything at all times.
Somewhere, in the ignored middle, there’s a truth to beer: cervisiam veritas.