a blind john henry centers his chi.

I have had a long history with the word ‘naive’.  When I was younger, I struggled with the implications of what that word meant.  It was hard for me to know if the act of being naive was considered a desirable trait in the eyes of others or if it was a blemish to try and hide.  The behavior generally associated with the word (innocence, curiosity, etc.) were all positive, yet when observed in the presence of a seasoned (or withered) veteran of whatever task was currently at hand, the overall message was one of inferiority.  Strange, isn’t it?  Perhaps not.  As much as diversity and individuality are celebrated, the collective opinion of humanity is one of conformance.  In order to succeed, one must do as others do.  We must talk as others talk.  We must act as others act.  Otherwise we’ll ‘look stupid’.  And still, when we hear of emerging trends or new technology or art, we seek it out to satisfy curiosity, entertain our naivete, and then we’re the seasoned veteran; we’re the one that possesses knowledge that perhaps others do not.  It’s a cycle that demands a lot of energy to maintain.  Specifically:

Here I am.  Starting a brewery.  Why?  It’s the only area of my existence that I have a depth of knowledge greater than most folks.  I entered the industry as an extremely naive brewer, and fortunately for me, have not lost touch with that naivete.  I am well-versed in the process and the overall je ne sais quois of beer for certain.  I can hold a conversation with any brewer in the world regarding these items.  I can throw terminology around, boast statistics and facts to back up experiences.  However, the beer industry (much like the wine industry, much like any industry) conforms to itself and within itself.  Customers want to feel secure in their products, and are marketed to in a way that boosts that security.  For beer, you are guaranteed that your beer will taste the same as it did the last time you had it.  Consistency.  For wine, you are guaranteed that your wine measures up to French standards by growing region or specific processes in its manufacture.  Quality.

Consistency and quality.  Two words that are meant for trademarks, aren’t they?  Brewing Sahalie here at The Ale Apothecary, I am no different in utilizing these terms.  I associate with them, I hold them up as ideology; as pursuits.  In order to understand why it’s different here than any other brewery in the world, I’ll have to throw some more stuff at you.  Granted, it may be vague…we’re still a ways off from selling our product.  For a DIY operation that is relying on my intellectual property to succeed, I can’t go posting everything to the world prior to the release.  Too many $vultures$ out there, ready to swoop down and peck out my eyes.  However, let’s review:

  • A world-class beer designed from American ingredients, specifically utilizing as much of Oregon as possible (with an All-Oregon produced beer as the carrot to work towards)
  • Entertaining a wide variety of yeast strains and micro-organisms to consistently produce great vintage beer by batch
  • Utilizing old world techniques in order to keep the brewery small, infuse flavor with character, and to regain an understanding of true artisan beer
  • Develop real relationships with our customers, retailers, and suppliers, promote smaller and more sustainable practices, and create a model for our future breweries
Future breweries?  What am I talking about?  Isn’t everyone getting bigger?  Conglomerating and building massive production operations?  Let’s just say that my dream for the good old USA is to find a way to sustain our lifestyle without the burden that comes along with consistent and errant growth all the time.  It IS possible, but it requires changes in how we think, act, and (of course) how we spend our money.  Beer, unlike wine, is produced from a raw material that can be stored for rather long periods prior to its use.  Barley must be germinated prior to brewing, and kilned to stop the germination.  This kilning reduces the moisture content of the grain and allows brewers to store the barley malt for extended periods.  It allows brewers to obtain almost an unlimited supply for brewing year-round.  Big business knows this, and here come the $vultures$ all saying the phrase, “It takes money to make money” and you’ve got multi-million dollar breweries made of more stainless steel than you can believe.  Raw materials arrive with no fanfare or celebration of where they came from and enter a world of automation and processing that shames Wonderbread.  Beer exits the back of the building into trucks, trains, airplanes and boats to travel long distances to finally be embraced by a human being upon consumption.  All for an incredibly low price, considering.  Another phrase for you, “Economy of scale.”  This means that the larger the brewery is, the cheaper it is to produce their product.  Hence, you can walk into any store and purchase beer that has taken far longer to produce than the energy drink down the aisle, but are similarly priced.  This in itself isn’t bad; I don’t want to go spending more than I have to for my river beer, but it leads us to Staci’s Big Word Of The Day:
Differentiation.  This is where our true power lies when discussing behavioral change with regards to the future, with business practices, with our money.  With the interest in specialty beer (and other specialty consumables like Farm to Table edibles, biodiesel fuel, alternative energy, etc.) everyone gets involved (most especially the $vultures$) who will spend vast amounts of money on marketing to fabricate a story that will tug on your heartstrings.  Meanwhile, back at the factory, machines are updated, programmed, and monitored to produce a different-looking product.  The consumer sees the product and identifies with the story.  The purchase is made and nothing changes, other than the fact that the little birdies made another sale.  Differentiation requires a very special customer.  One who spends more time and money on some of their consumables.  Currently it is expensive to live simply!  Local food, hand-crafted products, and sustainable practices aren’t cheap, but they ARE the right things to support.  The customer using differentiation chooses their products based on many things, but the important thing to note is that they choose.  They aren’t hijacked by a low-priced, poorly produced substitute unless they want to be.  I envision our future of beer to hold far more breweries.  These breweries will be incredibly small and incredibly diverse.  Folks will identify with their favorites and stash away a variety for special occasions while still purchasing normal, factory-produced beer for floating on the river, mowing the yard, or large parties.  I intend to define what a small brewery can do in order to help elevate the idea of true hand-crafted beer…a real John Henry, no doubt.
From my earliest days of making beer, I have always enjoyed the interaction between the process of making beer and the brewer.  True artisan beer is produced by human hands, not machines or computers.  It is possible to infuse intangibles into hand-made goods, including beer.  It’s not so different than raising animals ethically for human consumption or standing in front of some artful human creation.  The energy that gets put into the product is transferred to the consumer (or observer), and the cycle continues as they take that energy elsewhere.  As I am going into this blindly, I realize that I don’t actually have to see where I’m going.  I feel where I’m going.  My story isn’t a fabrication, it’s real.  And, yeah, this beer that I’m creating for you will be more expensive than most, but rest assured, you’ll get more out of it.  I’m making sure of that.



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