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Which beer community are you talking about?

Deep into a discussion at A Good Beer Blog that has a bit of everything — cyclical malaise, math, hop breeding, Stephen Beaumont, blog comment of the year from Bailey — host Alan McLeod added another topic.

I still don’t believe in beer community. Not one person has shown up to help me move the furniture. Pity the person who confuses people who sell you stuff for their best friends.

I commented that perhaps he should give that thought a thread of its own (before I did). He replied, “You start it and, in response, I will both bolster the point and yet confuse it with other tangential baggage that makes it lose its way.”

At the time I was reading a post by Rob Fullmer’s at Beer PHXation about the Phoenix beer blogging community, which obviously includes a discussion of the local beer community and why “our beer culture seems incomplete and disconnected.” At the end he writes, “Let’s build a community.”

So a few thoughts and/or questions jump out:

- Is Alan serious?

- Do people consciously build beer-centric communities or does beer end up playing a larger role in an already existing community?

- Do the beer communities of Asheville, N.C., and Bamberg, Germany, overlap or exist in separate spheres?

- Are brewers (or breweries) and beer enthusiasts part of the same beer community?

- Are brewers (or breweries) and beer enthusiasts part of the same community? My answer to that one is brewery owners need to understand how important that is. At least at the basic community level, that being the one in which show up to help move the furniture.

44 Responses to Which beer community are you talking about?

  1. Bill September 1, 2011 at 8:21 am #

    Chicago has a beer community, of which I vaguely skirt around the edges. They have a number of them, that have amorphous borders and fights as well as good times. Folks meet online or at events, and get to know one another well enough to say yes if you ask them to help move your furniture. Brewers and pub owners are involved. They might be reticent or distant when folks act the way they do on forums, but generally in person, very few people are that stand-offish, right? The people who sell beer are often found drinking with folks at local establishments. Further, folks meet up with folks from Madison/Milwaukee/farther afield. Formal and informal get-togethers abound. Folks don’t care that I don’t like intentionally sour brews, say. Folks ask about the family, argue sports, forgive each other. Some people don’t like each other, and others make allowances for quirks and unpleasantry.

    Alan doesn’t have this where he lives??? Has he tried to meet people? Has he offered to help someone else move their furniture? You use the common interest (beer) to get to know folks as folks — living, breathing people. Some of whom might become good friends, and others who you treat kindly because that’s what we’re supposed to do regardless. And soon you recognize them as good people, with problems and weaknesses just as you have. And if you can’t get to that level with some folks, you can still share beer and a few words. Beer brings you together, and soon beer community becomes community.

  2. The Beer Nut September 1, 2011 at 8:33 am #

    I have certainly helped move the furniture of people I know solely through beer, and when my last bike was stolen I was loaned a replacement by someone from Dublin’s beer community. I also married someone I met through beer.

    Communities can be built around any sort of nucleation point. Sharing an interest in beer is no different to sharing geographical proximity.

  3. Zac September 1, 2011 at 10:08 am #

    We’ve built our own community here in Columbia, MO, but it’s small and still kinda young. The biggest disconnect for us is between the enthusiasts and the distributors. We have good relations with retailers and breweries, but the distributors seem unwilling to regularly participate in our community.

    So, to answer your second question, yes. We consciously built our community.

    As a side note, communities in general are going through a huge transition. Some are stronger, some weaker. They’re more insular for sure. A lot of this is due to the growth of online communities and their effect on f2f communities – both good and bad.

  4. Bailey September 1, 2011 at 10:14 am #

    Oh, wow, blog comment of the year… to all those haters who didn’t think I could do this, look who’s laughing now! First, I’d like to thank my mum and dad for always being there, and for believing in me, through the rough times and smooth… and… I’m sorry… (*Begins to cry*; “leave the stage now” music begins to play.)

    I’m beginning to realise, after several years of blogging and commenting, that Alan likes to stir a tiny bit…

    Is willingness to move furniture a key indicator of a community? I’ve got best friends who wouldn’t lift a finger to move furniture for me because they’re lazy. Doesn’t mean we’re not friends.

    We have had people send us bottles of beer halfway across the world at great expense for no other reason than they are excited about it and like our blog. We’ve spent whole days hanging out with people we have little or nothing else in common with, and had a great time, because we’ve been enthusing about beer. That feels a bit like community to me.

  5. The Beer Nut September 1, 2011 at 10:24 am #

    I’m firmly behind the furniture-moving metric as the most important indicator in community cohesion.

    (I could be better behind it if you’d lift your end a bit higher while I push.)

  6. Bailey September 1, 2011 at 10:33 am #

    Right, we’ll have to take the feet off. To get them feet off wouldn’t take a mo.

    (http://youtu.be/z7Bvd33V9dQ)

  7. Jeff Alworth September 1, 2011 at 10:54 am #

    Answers revealed:

    - Halfty. He seriously wanted to get a rise.
    - Both; they act as accelerants to one another.
    - Separate. But Asheville is a perfect example of community building culture. Asheville, like Portland before it, has decided to take on beer as a part of local identity. They have dedicated boosters which creates interest and pride–and a market–which further begets more interest and pride and a bigger market. Etc. Rinse and repeat.
    - They are in Portland. Hugely so. People who came to the bloggers conference witnessed it. But possibly less so in the tundra Alan inhabits.
    – ibid.

  8. Stan Hieronymus September 1, 2011 at 11:36 am #

    If nobody has brewed a beer called Ibid they should.

    Then a homebrewer could clone it.

  9. Bill September 1, 2011 at 11:56 am #

    The homebrewed version could be called Op Cit, and folks could complain that they got it wrong.

  10. olllllo September 1, 2011 at 12:36 pm #

    Yes,

    Communities can be built and our challenges have solutions. I’ve been inundated this morning with emails and messages of ways that our Phoenix beer writers can work together.

    The key to getting furniture moved is knowing people with pick up trucks.

  11. Alan September 1, 2011 at 12:41 pm #

    I know Jeff (for some new tedious reason I can’t figure out) likes to speak my mind but I may have to answer this myself:

    …So a few thoughts and/or questions jump out:

    - Is Alan serious?

    Answer: I am serious in the singular. People talk of “the craft beer community” but there is no such entity. There may be groups of clubs or pubs or even districts of towns but there is no one thing. There is also no virtual thing. Wishing won’t make it so.

    - Do people consciously build beer-centric communities or does beer end up playing a larger role in an already existing community?

    Answer: Beer fans or nerds overdo the influence of good beer by about a million fold. Beer fans may make personal circles or fan clubs or populate tavers but that does not make for a beer-centric community. A community is a diverse collection of many disinterested forces which form an organic unit that serves the needs of its residents. If beer does that for you, well, that is just sad.

    - Do the beer communities of Asheville, N.C., and Bamberg, Germany, overlap or exist in separate spheres?

    Answer: as they do not exist, this question is unanswerable. It might be helpful to recall, however, that Bamberg knows little and cares less about Asheville.

    - Are brewers (or breweries) and beer enthusiasts part of the same beer community?

    Answer: Ditto as to existence. You may want to consider if you are part of the same “community” with those who produces products you consume. I may like the farmer and the cheese maker but they are not invited over as they are what is called a stranger or, in rare cases, people I buy things from. If I start buying other cheeses from other people, I do not stop off to the last guys to explain why. I do tell my neighbours when I am moving away. Because they are actually in my community.

    - Are brewers (or breweries) and beer enthusiasts part of the same community? My answer to that one is brewery owners need to understand how important that is. At least at the basic community level, that being the one in which show up to help move the furniture.

    Answer: you may have a community where beer fans and breweries are both present. In fact, one would home that you must have a brewery in a community. But only in rare cases (brewing mill towns a la Burton 1850) is the community defined by the breweries. Brewers can have about as much influence on a community as any other industry. I live in an military town because 8,000 of about 60,000 jobs depend on it. Lots of people drink beer here but lots of people eat bread and drive mini-vans, too.

    • Stan Hieronymus September 1, 2011 at 1:08 pm #

      Alan – I agree about beer fans overrating the influence of the beer they favor.

      However, it seems to me a brewery, like any other business, can be a good community member, an indifferent one, or a bad one. To give you one example of a zillion things Schlafly (St. Louis Brewery) does: hosts a farmer’s market at its production facility (also a brewpub) each Wednesday. And Boulevard, on the other side of the state, is contributing $1 for each barrel sold in Missouri during September to Joplin relief.

  12. Jeff Alworth September 1, 2011 at 12:58 pm #

    Bill wins the award for best blog post comment of the year. Brilliant!

  13. Jeff Alworth September 1, 2011 at 1:01 pm #

    Oh, and I would like to point out that the sadness of communities and their existence are different and, in the case Alan cites, mutually exclusive. Apparently Portland has a sad community–although every time I encounter them corporeally they seem pretty happy.

  14. olllllo September 1, 2011 at 1:04 pm #

    Jeff,

    I’m sure that’s a reference to the very corporeal Seasonal affective disorder.

  15. Joe Stange September 1, 2011 at 1:04 pm #

    Some things that describe a community: Something particular in common, be it a place or a strong interest. A sense of shared identity.

    Also worth noting about community: Its borders can be liminal. They can fade rather than end abruptly.

    Also helps when most people within it tend to get along pretty well.

    Communities, of course, can also have deviants. Maybe Alan is one of them.

  16. Alan September 1, 2011 at 1:05 pm #

    Jeff, at the discomfort of having to engage with you due to your recent spate of personal comments aimed at me – a freakish throwback to 1994 internet manners – I fully expect Portland is not fully sustained only by the beer within its boundaries. I fully expect that it is a diverse and fun and healthy community that has an interesting aspect of beer but would be 99.9% intact as that diverse and fun and healthy community if the beer were to leave tomorrow. People would still make cheese or hang-glide. If a community were as a total actually defined by or sustained by its beer that would make it a mill town or a dipsomaniac’s commune.

  17. Zac September 1, 2011 at 1:12 pm #

    Re: Portland

    For me, Portland is more about music. Sure, it’s Beervana or whatever, but there’s a ton of great musicians who have set up shop there. Portland’s sense of community seems to go much deeper than beer. So, maybe the beer community is there because so many Portlanders are community-minded.

  18. Alan September 1, 2011 at 1:15 pm #

    I have no doubt that a brewer can be a good community member. But that does not make the community defined by beer any more than it make it defined by the PR and management technique (however honest) that made the decision to hold a farmers market. We also are aware that Rogue recently received some bad press for treatment of its workers. Does that define the community Rogue sits in as a beer community tainted with the bad attributes of its resident thoughtless employer? It has to go both ways, rights?

  19. olllllo September 1, 2011 at 1:16 pm #

    Whether community is the correct name for what Portland has and what Asheville and Columbia are doing, well, I’m still going to do it.

  20. Jeff Alworth September 1, 2011 at 1:21 pm #

    Alan, I am deeply sorry if I have been giving real offense. Seriously. I’ll knock it off. You write with a lovely insouciance that inspires me to respond in kind, but we don’t actually know each other, so this is probably not wise. I have only the greatest respect and affection for your blog and your thoughts, and I will henceforth behave so as to communicate that respect. Seriously, very sorry.

  21. Jeff Alworth September 1, 2011 at 1:27 pm #

    As for the community piece, I think this may be a definitional issue, and I’m happy to concede the point that beer–nor any single thing–can make a community. This would be in this sense of the definition: “the people with common interests living in a particular area; broadly : the area itself.” (Webster’s)

    I think there are other definitions that suggest the sense in which some people (me) are using it here: “a body of persons of common and especially professional interests scattered through a larger society.” To that end, I commend you to Bill Night’s interesting recent post as one example.

  22. Alan September 1, 2011 at 1:28 pm #

    I thought so I really did and I totally accept your apology and am happy because of it – but man you were coming off so strong. I don’t think I am sensitive. But look what you went and made Joe do. He called me a bad name, too. You even got Bailey going up there. ;-)

    We are entirely well again, brother. I love you too. I have now reinstated your last comment at my place. I don’t need respect – call my idea stupid anytime – but go light on the “that Al, he’s like…” stuff as we only meet on this digital plane. We are, in fact, strangers.

    [...which sorta goes to my point about community when you think about it.]

  23. Alan September 1, 2011 at 1:36 pm #

    Wow. Re-reading that comment of mine, I totally played the emotional trump card to totally win this argument. I love me.

  24. Joe Stange September 1, 2011 at 1:38 pm #

    Is deviant a bad name? I would’ve made a smiley face or something, but I really hate those things. They break my manly journalistic illusion. Can I make a beer mug instead? [}

  25. Jeff Alworth September 1, 2011 at 1:42 pm #

    Well, I DID learn my internet manners in 1994, so I’m sure I behave shamefully from time to time. Being old has so many downsides–some you don’t even realize.

  26. Alan September 1, 2011 at 2:14 pm #

    [Hmmm... deviant? Bad word? Hmmm... never made the list of the Sesame St "people in your neighbourhood" song. Hmmm... used to apply to this guy. Hmmm...]

    BUT more to the point and less about me… are we all talking about the same thing when we use the word community? For me, community is a loaded word when not used in the jurisdictional geographical sense. It implies homogeneity or, worse, gives rise to a call to homogeneity and a drumming out of other ideas.

    Maybe its because I live in a river valley with at least 4 large cultures (northern NY, Anglo-Canadian, French-Canadian, Mohawk) that I respect the use of community less when it is being used as a metaphor. Smaller groupings? I would just call that an interest group if it was at all cohesive but not yet a club or association. Is that all this dispute is really about or is there an American use of “community” that is more hyper local as some US things can appear to us of the British Commonwealth?

    Frankly, “community” is what and where the Queen says it is.

  27. Joe Stange September 1, 2011 at 2:31 pm #

    Alan, with all respect to the Queen, I can’t agree that community is a mere metaphor once it’s divorced from geography. This is postmodern world, my friend. And I like to think we’re friends, although we’ve never met in person. Meanwhile, I have next-door neighbors I don’t know from Adam. Our only thing in common, as far as I know, is that none of us attend the condominium meetings.

  28. Bill September 1, 2011 at 2:37 pm #

    Alan, I think in defining “community” to “jurisdictional geographical sense,” you might be missing the notion of different communities within said area. Within Chicago, there’s a gay community, with several sub-communities within that, and one can be outside the geographic centers of said communities yet still belong. There are different communities based on ethnicity. There are communities based on profession — the tech community and various sub-groups there, for instance. An art community or three. Music communities. I don’t think it’s at all a stretch to suggest that there might be viable beer communities, and if you don’t like the term community applied in such a way, then… what’s a decent alternative? A club or association doesn’t make sense.

    What Zac and the Beer Nut and olllllo and I and others have described experiencing is real and valid — I guess you can say it’s not a community if you define community in such a way as to exclude it, but then Stan would come up with another way to ask the same questions. None of us were intentionally using “community” as a metaphor, as far as I can tell — it’s a valid word to describe what we experience ourselves as a part of (however peripherally, in my case).

  29. Zac September 1, 2011 at 2:38 pm #

    I have to agree with Joe on this one. I also considered my work in education where one of the goals of a classroom teacher is to create community within a classroom. Community is constructed and based on various shared characteristics or values. I live in a community, but the beer club in which I belong is a community. The blogoshphere is a community. Music scenes are community. The examples go on and on…

  30. Alan September 1, 2011 at 2:43 pm #

    See, I am still a modernist.

    It’s the dictionary not giving up the right word yet.

    Perhaps I prefer “collegiality” better describes beer blogging than friendship. Not to devalue it but to relate it to the idea of a collective “project.” I have no issue, going back to Stan’s questions way up there, to brewers and beer enthusiasts being on a joint project even with the economic aspect of vendor and buyer. But I still pity the person who confuses people who sell him stuff for their best friends. Being colleagues on a project by comparison recognizes the allocation of roles, the common purpose, the building of my block upon the block you created yesterday, the mutual support each part of the whole gives the others.

    Maybe if you can merge craft beer with the Manhattan project – Phd and their families all alone in a desert, well, then you would have both a project and a community.

    But that is only beer bloggers. Yapping in a pub? That’s just drinking. Which is fun. But not the same thing.

  31. Alan September 1, 2011 at 2:48 pm #

    PS – “Tech community” is like “tourism industry” – show me the smokestacks. Yet, I have no nails on chalkboard reaction to “gay community” or, say, “Franco-Ontarian community” but I do react to “music community.”

  32. Zac September 1, 2011 at 2:51 pm #

    Funny you should go there. After watching this discussion take place in my inbox, I’m totally considering a scene vs community post. There’s a lot to think about here. Of course, I’ll probably post it long after this discussion is over and it won’t have much meaning. Still, a post is a-brewing.

  33. Bill September 1, 2011 at 2:58 pm #

    “the person who confuses people who sell him stuff for their best friends” = straw man!

  34. Jeff Alworth September 1, 2011 at 3:28 pm #

    If you dig around the internets, you find various scholarly descriptions like this one. I think we’ve sort of figured out that the definition depends on whether you’re talking about a territorial community or an interest-based one.

    What I find more interesting is that these definitions seem to be culturally distinctive. When you use the word “community” to mean interest- or identity-based, it is instantly recognizable to Americans. Yet I think we may have weaker territorial communities than other places–possibly Canada. (Definitely many places in Asia I’ve visited.) Yet in America, I’d argue that interest- or identity-based communities form the key social space for many people. We relate culturally to the idea of being able to select your own community rather than having a rigid one based on location. Good or bad, it is a feature of our culturo-psychological identity.

  35. Alan September 1, 2011 at 3:48 pm #

    “the person who confuses people who sell him stuff for their best friends” = not straw man!

    Well, that advanced the discussion…

  36. Alan September 1, 2011 at 4:10 pm #

    Jeff, you may have it. While I am entirely accepting of “scene” I also have to admit to be old enough to have had wide leg jeans in junior high when they were in fashion. “Scene” knows people who have beer doorway doors.

    What is really interesting is that word “identity” as it is upon that which the individual builds affiliations. I am certain that this is not just a matter of different words for the same idea but who separate concepts. For work related reasons, I have had to do a hell of a lot of reading about the founding of American (my town was founded by a number of the Loyalist losers) and the difference between the autonomous right to define oneself and the obligation to accept definition that is placed upon you. You are a citizen. I am in many ways still a subject.

    So, in your approach to any collective or even the collecting of yourselves into groups, Americans are fully authorized and expect to make the rules to suit themselves. In nearby NY state there is even a constitutional requirement for home rule at a very local level. As a result (and to bring this back to beer) a place like the Village of Cape Vincent (10 miles south of me, @760 pop) can control its own open container laws.

    By comparison, the rule for that in Ontario is established at the provincial level, standardizing the rule for @13 million. Canadians (and other non-US citizens) are perhaps more into aggregations when it comes to governance and, as a result, world view. For example, we have the biggest booze vendor in the world here in Ontario. Most like it even if I do not.

    What does that get us? We each gather ourselves in relation to beer as we gather ourselves in other things. I think of myself as a beer blogger but, honestly, part of no other beer related clique. I like beer. So do my pals. The same is true of pizza. My interest in beer culture is personal and intense. It is like my interest in the Red Sox, smoking pork, constitutional law and napping. It is my own. I share good beer but in response, I do not get more good beer. I get venison from one pal, invites for work week lunches from another and help with home repairs from a third. Beer is, like the little drummer boy learned, my gift to the group. It does not define the group.

  37. olllllo September 1, 2011 at 4:31 pm #

    “wide leg jeans”

    “I share good beer but in response, I do not get more good beer. I get venison from one pal, invites for work week lunches from another and help with home repairs from a third. Beer is, like the little drummer boy learned, my gift to the group. It does not define the group.”

    So are you a beer hippie in a commune?

  38. Alan September 1, 2011 at 5:00 pm #

    No, like most of you, I am a beer nerd who lives in a community mainly populated with people who are indifferent to good beer.

  39. Jeff Alworth September 1, 2011 at 6:32 pm #

    I have a few, oh, let’s call them “psychic communities.” One is politics. This is both digital and actual. Although I’m less involved with that group in a corporeal way now, I have spent time with the politicos in both social and activist modes. As a psychic community, it has been fed enormously by the internets. When I encounter members of that community in the actual community, we have a shared point of contact, and this creates a bond. We talk elliptically, but often in a way that’s moored to politics.

    I’ve obviously got the beer thing, too, and one with a Buddhist community–although that one may be more akin to the traditional definition. And it’s not buoyed particularly by the internet. Plus I have the usual assortment of friends–who themselves mostly like good beer, progressive politics, and who are at least Buddhist sympathizers.

    Wait, what was I saying?

  40. Mike Sweeney September 2, 2011 at 6:16 am #

    I think I’ve honestly helped to create a community in St. Louis with my website (STL Hops). We’re people who love beer and yet share different passions and opinions.

    And there are honestly more than a few people I could ask to help me move (thought I never would ask.)

  41. Stan Hieronymus September 2, 2011 at 8:04 am #

    Mike – I agree. It’s an example of a community with (lots of) interest in beer but not ‘only’ a beer community. I’d offer the pinball party as an example if I weren’t still pissed you scheduled it during GABF.

  42. Jan Biega September 5, 2011 at 8:15 pm #

    Oh, what wonderful discussion. The tests subjects are becoming self-aware!

    I am currently in the process of finishing my MA dissertation which centers directly on this very topic. I propose that there is a very real community amongst craft beer consumers and that it originates online. Specifically, I examine the Beer Advocate “community” as a platform for craft consumers writ large. I think it’s interesting stuff, and I will be happy to share the thesis in its entirety with anyone once I officially submit it in another month or two. Until then, I cannot resist sharing a few thoughts, though most of which will merely be reiteration of what others have already said.

    To begin, community does not only refer to a set of social relationships that operate within specified boundaries or locales, it has an ideological component as well. It refers to a sense of common character, identity or interest. A community is solely that which is made up of its member entities and the relationships among them.

    And for the record, the concept of “virtual communities” (such as the one of all these incestuous bloggers, sorry Stan, Alan and Stephen) has been coined by Howard Rheingold, defined as “social aggregations that emerge from the Net when enough people carry on public discussions long enough, with sufficient human feeling, to form webs of personal relationships in cyberspace.”

    I, personally, don’t think that’s a sufficient definition, because it ignores the fact that these “virtual” communities can, and in many cases have, acquired the typical hallmarks of a traditional (“real”) community: trade, charity, socialization, education, governance, hierarchical social structure, a consciousness of kind, rituals and traditions, and a sense of moral obligation to the community and its other members – evidence of all of which, I contend, can be found on Beer Advocate, and to a much lesser extent Rate Beer.

    It’s funny that so many authors have bemoaned the loss of the convivial, communal pub as a social regulator and center of community life, when they fail to see that the pub has not closed, but in fact has moved; those same elements of socialization, shared rituals, camaraderie, charity and community are alive and well in the online world. Rather than buying their neighbor a pint at the local, drinkers are sending it across the country via courier. Rather than toasting them in person, appreciation is demonstrated in online reviews and profiles. Beer culture is not static; it is always subject to change. Some may insist that these experiences are not “authentic”, but the relationships forged are very real.

    Don’t buy it? Just look at the impact beer trading. Members of the Beer Advocate and RateBeer communities have generated a lucrative underground market for certain beers. They’ve also developed their own internal economy, one which operates outside of the commercial market and does not use money (payment) but trade (bartering) as currency, but one that still has very real effects on the value of products being exchanged. This is a real economy – these are exchanges of real goods occurring between real people. Not to mention, what have evolved are distinct ethics and notions of ‘the good’, a community with strict moral codes and established etiquette. (I refer you to BIFs and LIFs, among other examples.)

    Point is, no, no one has ever helped me move a couch. But people have gone out of their way to spend large sums of money – and, indeed, broken the law! – to send me beer at random. Just like moving furniture, sharing beer in tasting groups or trading it is an inherently communal act that has connected thousands of people, creating a culture of reciprocity and generosity along the way. At very least, it should be apparent that some kind of socialization has taken place, and that these people clearly feel an involvement and a deepening connection to some kind of community, at very least a subculture and an ethos.

  43. Morphy Richards breadmaker October 7, 2011 at 6:55 am #

    There was a brewery near to where I used to live that brewed what beer fanatics called real ale.

    I tried it a couple of time but I honestly couldn´t take to it.

    In fact there was a section of the drinking community that called the stuff “Shit and Scream”, because that was the effect it could have on you.

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