There is a compass deep inside my being.
It tangs back and forth quite frequently these days as I witness more breweries opening up, as I learn more about Big Business and how global everything has become.
While of obvious benefit (i.e. cost-savings), much of it is incredibly unsustainable. If you go back and read earlier posts, you’ll see how my initial goal was to create an entirely Oregon beer from entirely Oregon industry and ingredients.
How idealistic! So the compass tangs again. If this brewery is to be what I envisioned, it must be able to exist in the face of Big Business without getting pushed around. Without falling for the trick of getting sold on something.
As soon as I get sold on something, my vision becomes distorted. The story of the beer changes. It’s akin to selling out.
Do I really take this that seriously?
I do indeed. I have struggled with my identity as Production Employee and eventually Company Man in the past. The entire point of this brewing odyssey is to find out if it’s truly possible to create a sustainable vision as an entrepreneurial artist. An entrepreneurial brewing artist. It is my belief that the brewer is the most important ingredient in any beer. How can we examine this in the face of massive automation and factories with operational supervisors instead of hands-on brewers?
We examine the product and how it delivers what the consumer wants. Paul reflects: Personally, I loved Budweiser beer. I was educated at a school that turned out many Budweiser Brewing Supervisors and I learned quite a bit about what the company did for the brewing industry. Hop quality, for one. Budweiser was big enough to completely take charge of the hop industry like a benevolent dictator. As a smaller brewer, it felt extremely secure knowing that Budweiser was out there fighting the good fight for quality hops. We’d all get them that way. This situation is now gone, but with the increase in larger craft breweries (that use far more hops), the hop industry knows that it’s not only the breweries who are interested in quality hops, the consumer is paying attention as well. Another aspect of the US-owned Budweiser days is their obsessive compulsive nature around consistency, which they accomplished by tremendous automation. I suspect this automation is what is keeping their beer from falling on its face currently, but I don’t know. I sadly do not drink Budweiser anymore. Can one be an idealistic pig? I believe that true American beer should be made by an American family brewery, regardless of the size.
At the other end of the compasses spectrum, the other side where the needle tangs, is the vision of a true artisan laborer-brewer making beer exuding history and creativity. Beer that can be touched and seen. Beer that’s alive with the same energy and spontaneity of creation as other artistic expressions. Beer that can surprise and inspire. Beer that changes. Beer that is an extension of the brewer themselves.
I enjoy all beer, regardless of where it falls in between these two extremes. The broad generalizing of beer into style categories is both a blessing and a curse. It helps consumers and brewers define what they are doing, for sure. Perhaps it is at best a solid communication tool. For at its worst, it’s a cobbling (or clobbering) of artistic creation. In the end, if the customer likes it, the brewer has succeeded. We are moving into a new era of beer making, one that is outside style guidelines and big automated breweries. Not that those things are going anywhere, it’s just that the consumer is getting more information and those who are desiring to discover and explore have methods of doing this; they can find these breweries and buy their beer (and tell the world on the web!). Where the wine industry has an incredibly lofty image to maintain, brewers are now focused on their beer more than ever…all aspects of it, and they are being rewarded for it, without excuses. Now we just need to get legal permission to mail our beer directly to our customers like our wine brethren!
During this lengthy time while I appease and appeal to government agencies, I have had plenty of time to reflect as I work designing this brewery and this beer. My idealistic nature (and my past experience) is firmly keeping myself from entering the race to brew at a production level like many craft breweries out there. Thank god for them! Now that I get my beer like ‘normal’ folks (at the supermarket, at full retail), I still can afford to drink good craft beer frequently. I look forward to expanding the horizon of many a beer connoisseur on a more infrequent basis with Sahalie, just as my favorite most excellent beers and breweries have done for me. This brewery is a reflection of a desire to stay committed to the beer and the brewer first (include his family here), while putting the idea of growth and mass production aside for others to pursue.