41. The Unbearable Weight of Indifference and Wrongheaded Obstinance in the Beer Community
(Yes, I stole the Nic Cage movie title to talk about:) Why we're in a tougher position than ever pushing for change in beer and what to do about it, including the dreaded ~cancel culture.~
The Aftermath: Settling into the Present State of Knowing the Beer Industry Is a Mess, Being Encouraged, Being Discouraged, and How to Deal
We are coming up on a year since Brienne Allan posted the Question Heard ‘Round the Beer World, focusing our attention on what was there all along: pervasive sexism, prejudice, discrimination, and abuse in craft beer. In addition to thousands of stories from professionals and consumers within the beer community, we also started zeroing in on the goings on at mega-breweries like BrewDog and Mikkeller, where reports of toxic environments were ever unfolding. Since then, many have mobilized, in the form of organizations, initiatives, campaigns, resources, and media features, all working toward unearthing problematic entities and issues, and rebuilding the industry from the ground up in pursuit of safety and equity.
And just as many, if not more, have pushed back against this “politicization of beer.” Or, have done absolutely nothing at all.
A couple of weeks ago, I talked about snapping at seeing a bubble-up of Hill Farmstead—and specifically Shaun Hill—love on the socials. I am probably over-analyzing as I am wont to do, but every gushing tweet or Instagram post delivered a maddening bit of subtext to me: “Surely, it’s been long enough now, right? All of that hubbub about all of those uncomfortable issues and incidents, we’re over that, yes? Because, even with 9,000 breweries in the United States, I have got to tell the world I love this one. [OR:] I still view bragging about my Hill Farmstead score as a cred boost.”
And back in October, I asked why (many) craft beer consumers just don’t seem to care—about allegations, missing acknowledgements and apologies, proven racism, sexual discrimination and assault; about any of it. That one uh went out to all the real cool dudes who defiantly continued posting photos of their BrewDog beers, and even to the clueless ones who posted without, well, a clue. And let’s not gloss over the fact that the former group, the ones whining about how those of us looking for change in this industry are “politicizing beer?” We are making it about humans, you know, the ones making the stuff. You are making it political. Just like what was done with masks and vaccines. You are posting your Hazy Jane IPAs with an Instagram caption equivalent of a shit-eating grin, banging on about how you’ll drink what you like because you’re not some whiny snowflake. Drinking mediocre beer and giving your money to an abusive megalomaniac to own the libs.
So now, I feel conflicted. On one hand, I feel like we’re of course in a better place than we were pre-May 11, 2021. Because of the aforementioned mobilizing. Change is happening. At least a significant number of us refuse to ignore what needs an overhaul now, and we’re working on making that a reality.
But on the other hand, I feel like we are adding the group of people who think that there was some imaginary expiration date for the activism in the beer industry to the group of people who either never cared or were always against it. So, for example, the creeping Hill Farmstead fans to the tantrum-ing toddlers alarmingly ready and willing to troll a woman online in order to defend a shifty narcissistic Scottish millionaire they don’t even know. And what that amounts to is a huge portion of the craft beer-drinking population. We’re gonna need a bigger boat.
There is perhaps no clearer demonstration of this conflict than what’s going on at BrewDog. Kate Bailey’s consultancy Hand & Heart has begun providing a platform for affected past and present employees to report their experiences, in a mission to verify the number of cases, support former BrewDog employees’ Punks with Purpose initiative to drive positive action at the company, advocate for workers, and offer unity. Organizations like Hand & Heart and Punks with Purpose, and their work, are encouraging and inspiring. But. BrewDog didn’t hire Hand & Heart; it is an independent endeavor. And last week, The Guardian reported that James Watt hired private investigators to build evidence that this is all a smear campaign against him. One step forward, nine steps back?
In this volatile period, where we wrestle with awareness of just how bad things have gotten in this industry, what we can do to drive change and what we can’t control, what encourages us and what eats away at our hope for improvement, we need the solidarity and support of as many craft beer consumers as possible (all would be ideal, but a pipe dream). Unfortunately, the looming mass of these consumers who either don’t give a damn or who actively want to make a statement against what they see as politicizing beer (and what we see as basic human rights) sometimes feels like a bigger force to be reckoned with than the problematic breweries, themselves.
A major part of this, too, is the disagreement over how consumers can hold breweries accountable. And what this boils down to, usually, is of course: cancel culture. Ruvani De Silva just wrote a piece on cancel culture for Beer Is For Everyone that is so comprehensive, well-researched, and thoughtful, with so much light-shedding context, that I won’t attempt to explain anything further—if you haven’t yet, go read that piece; it’s essential. But some takeaways. One, the reason the term “cancel culture” has become so loaded, and is often spewed with vitriol or waved off with an eye roll, is because the right has weaponized it. (“Oh, you weepy little SJW’s don’t like that Louis C.K. did a little sexual misconduct here and there? JFC, you can’t say or do anything anymore!”)
Two, villainizing cancel culture is stealing what little power disenfranchised, marginalized, and underrepresented people have to demand accountability and better treatment. And three, said villainizing also completely erases the point that the original goal of “cancelling” has been to point out a misstep and hopefully motivate reflection, reconciliation, and betterment—it has not been to gleefully punish anyone simply for the sake of chucking rotten fruit at them in the village square.
Contrary to the hypocritical accusations often made by people on the right, those wanting accountability and positive action don’t want to “cancel” anyone forever—because that would mean that no one is actually doing any changing! We want to use literally the only power available to us—our voices and our dollars—to call for improvement. Our dream scenario is that the result is a person or company taking a good hard look at the mirror, and then rebuilding for better from the ground up. If only that happened more often.
One of the arguments made against boycotts and the like is that it punishes the innocent employees of a business—the CEOs or founders guilty of various offenses will stay comfy while the brewers and bartenders see their livelihoods endangered. This is not what any of us, who are merely trying to point out that this industry simply cannot go on treating the people the way the likes of BrewDog and Mikkeller have done, want. We want to hold the feet of those in charge to the fire, so change happens, and so the employees of these companies can benefit from that change.
That’s why while I don’t think many of us are ready to start buying Mikkeller again or posting about their beers, we can be cautiously optimistic that it’s finally starting to take worthwhile steps—considering that unlike BrewDog, Mikkeller actually hired Hand & Heart. Whether we ever get to the point where we want to give Mikkeller our money again simply depends on where those steps lead and whether they continue in earnest—and our personal feelings, too. Some may never feel comfortable associating with the brand again, and it’s absurd that anyone would think it their place to tell those people they’re wrong.
At this point, almost a year out from facing the music, the dust has settled, and now we can see who’s actually doing the work—so it’s important to keep looking. It hasn’t been enough time to be able to stamp anyone as “APPROVED”; 10 months is not long enough for any brewery to have completed some imaginary obstacle course on the way to becoming equitable and a positive player in the community. But it is certainly long enough to see who’s been serious about taking steps. I know that, personally, there are breweries who I feel encouraged by, and who I see as an example of the good that can come from accountability. And unfortunately, there are even more who seem to be doing fuck-all, and maybe more unfortunately still, they don’t have to, because there are plenty of people still happy to buy their beer. All we can do, I think, is stay the course. Even as we cautiously open our arms to entities who truly, genuinely seem committed to betterment and have made measurable strides so far, we can’t stop banging on about the ones standing in the way. Don’t let the haters, shit-posters, or Hill Farmstead devotees getcha down.
This week, I pulled the Ten of Wands.
Wands as a suit speaks to intuition, communication, and travel; the Ten of Wands regards hard work, responsibility, and burdens.
This card comes along to tell you, “Hey, we see you. You are working hard, like even harder than usual. You have taken on a lot, and it’s exhausting, but good news: An end, or at least a break, is in sight. [See how our dude is almost to the village, where we can assume he can drop all those heavy-looking sticks?] And it’s going to feel rewarding.”
Now, that end could be natural. Maybe you’ve been working overtime for a deadline or to launch a project, or packing to move, or doing your taxes, etc., and you’re almost to the finish line. And it’s going to feel good not just to cross things off your to-do list, and not just to enjoy the comparative freer-feeling schedule, but also to reap the benefits of your work, from more money to a creative endeavor out there in the world to a tax refund (lol can’t relate).
But the end could also be self-enforced. If whatever you’re taking on doesn’t have its own natural conclusion, and you’re effing knackered, this card would like to encourage you to really think about what on your plate right now is truly necessary. What must you do to pay the bills, to get through life? What must you do to feel fulfilled and content with your day? What…doesn’t feel so necessary? Can you cut anything? Are you in a position where you can delegate a work responsibility to someone else with less going on? Even if it saves you mere minutes a day, really think about how you can give yourself some time back.
Make your life a little quieter, in a good, much-needed, and well-deserved way, and pair this moment with Fox Farm’s aptly named Quiet Life Czech-style pilsner. Soft, clean, bready, a little floral—it’s a classic that doesn’t demand too much of your precious attention; it’s just low-key perfect.
This Week’s Boozy Media Rec
I’m still catching up on some important and fascinating reporting over at Good Beer Hunting (no surprise), but the story I devoured most recently is Holly Regan’s “Drinking With the Dead — The Complexities of Bringing Ancient Beer Back to Life in the Modern World.” As a history nerd, I’ve always been interested in cases of brewers, archaeologists, historians, and scientists collaborating to recreate beers of the past, but I never knew just how complex this both art and science is until reading Holly’s incredibly researched and reported deep dive. The process is very complicated, in the most satisfying-to-read way.
Ex-BEER-ience of the Week
It was a good beer weekend, because I visited an old favorite on the Upper West Side, George Keeley, and finally checked out another old school, pubby, craft beer staple in the neighborhood, Amsterdam Ale House. But if I’m picking just one “most memorable beer-drinking moment of the week,” there’s no contest. It is the simple Goose IPA I had while watching Tig Notaro live at the Beacon. I love Tig Notaro so much I almost cannot put it into words, and I have never seen her live, so really, any beer would have been a monumental one.
Until next week, here is Darby asking for another one at Other Half Domino Park.