Beer Origin Story

Since I subscribe to all the magazines, blogs, and Twitter feeds of the craft beer world, I read a lot of the craft beer origin stories.  The ones where the writer describes getting their first taste of “real” beer and how the world opened up right in front of their eyes. Usually reading one of these I can literally see the sunshine and rainbows appearing and a choir of angels coming down from heaven.

Yeah, that didn’t happen for me.  I don’t think any of these writers are lying, I just think memory is a fickle and sometimes malleable thing.  Memory and emotion can sometimes conspire to create the best possible scenario for your history.  We all would like to think of ourselves as the hero of our own story and sometimes we reconfigure memories unconsciously to accomplish this.

However, everytime I read one of those stories I try to piece together my origin story in the craft beer world and always come to the conclusion that there isn’t one moment.

Because I was a good young man who never let the demon alcohol pass his lips before he turned 21, lets go to 1995.  I may or may not have had enough of Bud Light and Milwaukee’s Best (aka “The Beast”) to know I wasn’t going to waste my money on those things so I always scraped up enough money to buy Sam Adams, Bass, Newcastle, or Guinness.

Well, at some point I got tired of those offerings and noticed this other beer beside Sam Adams in the beer case, Pete’s Wicked Ale.  This was different.  It was an American beer that tasted more like Bass or Newcastle.  No heavenly choir and no sunshine and rainbows popped out at me, but the world did shift a little.

20141107_093756Around the same time I was walking through the UNC Student Stores and looking at books when I came across America’s Best Beers by Christopher Finch and W. Scott Griffiths.  It was a listing of 350 “microbreweries” and brewpubs in the United States.  Now, if there were any epiphany moments this might have been the closest thing because this showed me how much more beer there was out in the world. (In a true origin story, this would be the moment where the young man who has hidden powers discovers a magic book that brings these powers to the fore and he begins his journey to be the most powerful wizard ever.  The number of people who have amassed fortunes peddling in this kind of goofiness is astounding and inspiring.)

Of course this book came out right before the first craft beer bubble burst.  Flipping through the books pages, is a time capsule of breweries that no longer exist.  That includes my Pete’s Wicked.  Too many people making too much crap beer nearly sunk the industry around 1997.

So, after the collapse I spent a few years drinking a lake full of Sam Adams, Bass, Newcastle, or Guinness and even went through a period of deep diving into wine.  However, the craft brewing industry came back and I came back to the sweet nectar of malt, hops, yeast, and water.

Is there another “adjustment” coming for the industry.  Probably, most industries go through these changes at times of high growth.  With new breweries opening every day, some are bound to fail for any number of reasons:  bad beer, bad business practices, bad location, etc. To combat the growth of craft beer and their own declining sales the big global brewing conglomerates are throwing around money to pick off any of the craft brewer willing to sale.

Craft brewing in the United States has survived teetotalers, Prohibition, the mid-20th century consolidation, and the 1997 bubble bursting.  I don’t think this new round of global consolidation is going to kill the innovation that has fueled the industry.  In some way, shape, or form there will always be craft beer in the US and someone there to drink it.


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