Last night, we attended a dinner party at a friends’ house where, after eating wonderfully and drinking sips of various wines, we all headed outside to light up some paper lanterns and send them off to the visible heavens. The general sentiment was that we were, collectively and symbolically, alighting our hopes and dreams into the air, into the ether, as one would toss a coin into a wishing well. The lanterns were rather large, and took a bit of patience to allow the warm air from the wax candle to inflate them. Once there was enough heat, the lantern rose quickly skyward for 15 feet or so prior to entering a turbulent layer of air that whipped it northward. The lantern was tugged horizontally for a while, and twice we giggled about setting the neighborhood on fire. AJ chased one lantern down the street for a spell to make sure that this didn’t happen (as it was his neighborhood, we all stayed put and laughed some more). All of them ended up rising past the turbulent layer where their heat allowed the lanterns to continue rising high over the horizon, eventually turning into just another star in the night sky prior to blinking out.
Today, breakfast of bacon and eggs on a lazy Sunday morning. The brewery sits idle, waiting for the upcoming action this week. I am nursing an injured foot, a reoccurring irritation in the ball joint from too much time on concrete floors wearing rubber boots. Poor Baby. However, a lazy Sunday with an irksome injury allows for plenty of reading and contemplation as the children whoop and holler outside on their improvised drum set of 5-gallon buckets and milk jugs full of brewery corks and uncooked rice. While my family has yet to attain income equal to what we harvested prior to my leap of faith (remember, dear reader, where this all started?), we seem to have reached a plateau of much greater importance and significance. Three cheers for contentment! It has me bird-dogging and angling for more. More and more. What is success, then, truly? Recently, I was honored to grace the cover of a local magazine as a result of brewery intrigue. A friend joked that at the check-out of a local grocers that I was keeping company with Kim Kardashian and Beyonce. Ha! I wish. I made some comment about $, and how it’s a different type of success (I guess) because the cash isn’t necessarily going with the notoriety. Again, Poor Baby. After acknowledging that my lantern wishes are indeed reality, and that I am submersed in this reality of my dreams on a lazy Sunday, what else is there? What is the direction of this brewery, now that I have what I want? It never was designed or intended to create fortunes of cash, just a simple and content life. While the potential is definitely there to leverage the brewery for cash purposes (have you seen what In-Bev is doing out there??) it seems much more interesting and fulfilling to leverage the brewery for the purposes of turning dreams into reality.
A long-time goal is coming into fruition. I hope to sign a commercial lease for a 2400 square foot location in the city of Bend to take my barrel-cellar and bottling equipment. This will allow the brewery to operate specifically as a brewery. We’re going to add another, ‘larger’ fermenter (a 4-bbl wooden tank made of Doug Fir) and increase production by 2-3 times over what we are doing now. Without the space competing with the need to bottle beer, this will be a relatively easy thing to manage, as young Conner Currie is now 1 full year into his brewing tenure at TAA. I will assume my role as cellar rat to flesh out the processes and systems of the new location, eventually developing a tasting room. This may be the full realization of this brewery model! 3-4 employees (including myself) powering our lives with beer. But not just any beer! Beer that people will gladly spend $30-35 per bottle to obtain. Beer that allows folks to see directly their impact from that money spent. Beer that confuses and excites. Mysterious beer. Mystical and historical beer.
On this level, it seems absolutely absurd that the weight of meaning, the heft of humanity or the realization of community can rest so assuredly upon Beers’ shoulders. It seems almost cartoon, when thinking about ‘truly important things’. Things that affect the lives of so many and with so much impact. What is the importance of luxury (and luxury beer at that) in the face of poverty, war, hunger and the general misfortune that accompanies such things? I just finished reading Joe Sacco’s ‘Footnotes in Gaza‘, a journalistic comic book surrounding events in 1956 between Palestinians and Israelis.
In Sacco’s book, he interviews folks who were present at the time that helped defined the current relations between these two cultures. The first-hand account of people whose life experiences were so incredibly different from mine allow for plenty of soul-searching. Why am I able to earn contentment when others, by no fault of their own, are subject to intense fear and abject poverty instigated by a powerful oppressor? It’s not because I’m simply American. We have plenty of issues with oppressing our own people as well as folks outside our borders. It truly comes down to luck of the draw, doesn’t it? Luck that I’m ‘here’, not ‘there’. Luck that I had a solid, family upbringing. Luck that I fell into the art of brewing beer. Regardless that my fortune may not be that of cold, hard, cash, I still believe that with fortune goes responsibility.
And again, I’m confronted with the oddity of putting ‘beer’ next to a word such as that. But why? Just as I only recently came to my own terms with ‘beer as a legitimate art form’, I have a need to justify the potential of ‘responsible beer’. Perhaps it’s the post-WWII advertising campaigns of American brewers that brought beer down to such a low level it’s just hard to imagine responsible beer when ogling bikinis dropping from helicopters and the like. Perhaps it’s the way that it’s generally used as an escape that seemingly opposes thoughtful action.
ON THE OTHER HAND (as there always is!), historical beer was a vehicle for a better collective life for a community. Choosing to settle as a group, centering their life around each other and agriculture, beer was a integral part of the transition from nomad to the farmers that built human civilization. These beers grew into quite a legacy, from the driving engine of the building of the pyramids to cultural identity for people all over the world. Beer was sacred and healing. According to Franz G. Meussdoerffer:
“Brewing has been a human activity ever since the beginning of urbanization and civilization in the Neolithic period. Beer is a product valued by its physico-chemical properties (i.e. quality) as much as by its entanglement with religious, culinary and ethnic distinctiveness (i.e. tradition). Accordingly, the history of beer brewing is not only one of scientific and technological advancement, but also the tale of people themselves: their governance, their economy, their rites and their daily life. It encompasses grain markets as well as alchemy.”
It is the tale of people themselves! What, then, is our current tale? The one that I’m reading seems to be told either in the broad, general strokes of opposing sides (Us vs. Them) or the intimate encounters of individuals, who somehow overcome those broad generalizations everyone else takes for granted. On a large scale, humanity suffers, but if we can shrink that down, we seem to be able to manage just fine. This is my main beef with the actions of a few small craft breweries selling out to In-Bev recently. I have no issue with these folks making money. Even lots of money! It simply goes against what I believe to be a rock-solid observation of human culture, that smaller systems are better for us as individuals. We know the track record of In-Bev. We know that there is nothing beyond cash money, endless advertising, and economy of scale. This gigantic bumbling corporation will never do anything particularly beneficial for anyone other than it’s shareholders. They won’t stand for anything other than the almighty dollar. In the end, in this type of situation, all that happens is a corporation succeeds at the expense of our own humanity. There will be absolutely no benefit to anyone but In-Bev and the few people who sold out to them. Life goes on as ‘normal’. People still have ‘jobs’. People shrug, and say things like, “Don’t lie, you’d do it too if they waved all that money in your face!”
I guffaw. They obviously don’t know me.