Pete Slosberg devotes a chapter in Beer for Pete’s Sake to his brewery’s battles with Anheuser-Busch. He tells a series of amusing stories, including one pitting his dog, Millie, against Budweiser’s Spuds MacKenzie, and in each of them Pete’s Brewing Company was David. Anheuser-Busch was Goliath.
In the early 1990s Pete’s was the second largest of a new wave of breweries that had outgrown the micro tag and now were described as craft. Its sales peaked at 425,000 barrels in 1996, but it was still the second largest craft brewery in 1998 when the Gambrinus Company bought it. Slosberg remained for two years and it would be another dozen before the brand eventually died. On the jacket of the book, published in 1998, he is described as “a brewing maverick, a brilliant entrepreneur, and iconoclast, and a marketing icon.” As important, he took “a path that led him from (my emphasis) a corporate career to doing what he loves.”
This was, and in many cases still is, a familiar story. Hate your job? Become a brewer. This is an example of why J. Nikol Beckham writes in a new collection of essays that “the microbrew revolution’s success can be understood in part as the result of a mystique cultivated around a group of men who were ambitious and resourceful enough to ‘get paid to play’ and to capitalize upon the productive consumption of fans/customers who enthusiastically invested in this vision.” The title of this fourth chapter in Untapped: Exploring the Cultural Dimension fo Craft Beer is a mouthful: “Entrepreneurial Leisure and the Microbrew Revolution: The Neoliberal Origins of the Craft Beer Movement.” Not surprisingly, there’s a considerable amount to define and discover en route to Beckham’s conclusion.
It is worth the time to get there, because it broadens our understanding of the culture and business of beer— where its been, where it is, where its going. In Untapped’s foreword, Ian Malcom Tyson writes, “As sociologists examine these trends, they bring insights that journalistic interpretations often gloss over. They provide nuanced answers to far-ranging questions of how seemingly commonplace products such as beer can have such a fascinating esoteric heritage.” As a journalist I am sure how I feel about that, but I appreciate reading what somebody else sees when they tilt the glass sideways.
The editors suggest that the growth of the craft beer industry represents a finite moment in history that can be better understood through “deconstructing and analyzing the current cultural, economic, and politcal trends in craft beer through a sociological lens.” You’d expect there will be more books designed to do something similar. (There was Beer and Philosophy 10 years ago and The Geography of Beer more recently.) In fact, a call for proposals for What’s Brewing: Essays on Beer Culture was posted only last month.
Untapped contains a dozen chapters divided into three parts: Global political economy; space and place; and intersecting identities. Unfortunately there is no Amazon “Look Inside” link, so I’ll list the titles of the last three to illustrate that the authors are not afraid to take the discussion places not every brewery owner will be excited to see them go.
10. The Culture Tensions between Taste Refinement and American Middle-Class Masculinity.
11. You are What You Drink: Gender Stereotypes and Craft Beer Preferences within the Craft Beer Scene of New York City.
12. Brewing Boundaries of White Middle-Class Maleness: Reflections from within the Craft Beer Industry.
Each of these is relevant to current beer events, but Beckham’s chapter provides particularly useful context. Thousands of brewers, and many more drinkers, have leaned on microbrewery/craft origin stories — for instance, from Jack McAuliffe of New Albion Brewing, Fritz Maytag of Anchor Brewing, Ken Grossman at Sierra Nevada Brewing, and Jim Koch of Boston Beer Company — and the cultural work that they do. Of course, it should also be mentioned that “the revolution’s origin stories also serve to obscure the significant role that conditions of social privilege play in enabling the practice of entrepreneurial leisure.”
Look no further than Good Beer Hunting for the sort of critical analysis after analysis that resulted from the recent Wicked Weed Brewing dustup. It doesn’t feel like this arc is done. Entrepreneurial leisure and neoliberalism may not be pertinent to every American brewer these days — after all, there are more than 5,000 — but these words belong in a conversation about anti-corporate and capitalism.