Beer and Pavement

Mash Tun Reject

Posted in Beer, Intersections, Life, Manifesto by SM on May 21, 2012

I submitted a piece for the new craft beer journal Mash Tun and was all-but-assured that it would be included. Apparently, it was rejected. I say this because there’s no way for me to actually see the journal, but my name is nowhere on the announced list of authors. Plus, the editor quit replying to my emails. Oh well. I don’t have time to be a writer anyway. Below is what I thought would be a first draft, one that would develop after some suggestions from said editor. No hard feelings, just disappointment.

Update – The editor got back to me and explained that the piece didn’t fit with a few of the historical pieces included in the journal. Some assistant was supposed to respond to my emails but never did. Maybe I’ll try again.

Building International Coalitions Through Beer and Pavement

We live in a world of turmoil and uncertainty. Economies are tanking. Tensions are rising with threats of terror and violence at every corner of the earth. Folks arbitrarily take sides. It’s a distressing time to be a human.

So, we look for escape. We take up hobbies to pass the time or alter our minds with chemicals in order to forget all of our troubles. Our daily lives are consumed with activities and interests that help us ignore the unrest all around us.

I have taken up a few hobbies in the interest of helping me avoid dealing with the chaos of our times. One such hobby involves beer, that of the hand-crafted, artisanal variety as well as the kind I brew in my kitchen. The other hobby has to do with my obsession over independent music, better known as indie rock, although no one really calls it that anymore.

On the surface, these two interests have very little in common, aside from the fact that they’re both my interests. However, I have found that one interest tells me more about the other every day and vice versa. Here we have two industries that defy the current downward trajectory of our economy through continuing expansion, improving distribution, and breaking into mainstream markets. Plus, they bring people together. All this is done by breaking from the status quo, suggesting that whatever is mainstream is maybe doing more harm than good.

There’s a coalition here to be built, a coalition between the craft beer world and indie rock community. You see, these two industries have more in common than they realize. It all comes down to the descriptors I and many of you use to describe beer and music. Craft beer is hard to maintain and develop without its independence while indie rock is nothing without a musician’s craft. This is where indie and craft meet.

I have explored the intersections between craft beer and indie rock for some time now. One aspect is simply the fact that we all love beer and rock music. The other aspect is the intersection between those descriptors “craft” and “indie”. For me it’s obvious, but for others, it’s a stretch.

Craft is generally considered a type of skilled work. Historically, craft has been judged not only on quality but also quantity. In order to maintain a high level proficiency, production had to remain small, manageable. Larger production tends to remove the craft, creating product with increased simplicity and often more defects. As more artisans or workers were needed, the craft was diluted. When craft is increased, volume tends to shrink, but the quality of the output grows exponentially. Independence from corporate interests can insure that the craft remains paramount over profits.

Indie is short for “independent.” To be independent, one must be self-sufficient, free from the tyranny and limitations of corporate decision-makers more intent on making a buck than putting out a good product. Independent rock music and music labels are considered such as they are not a part of corporate owned music factories. There are only 3-4 of these major labels left, but they are huge and deeply connected in corporate industries that have nothing to do with art or music. Still, as these major labels deal with the handcuffs of corporate profit margins, indie labels are free to let their artists create and hone their craft.

Craft and indie need one another, feed on one another. Indie labels happen to demonstrate a fair amount of craft among its artists. This focus is lost in the craft at the majors as the shift is toward making music that satisfies corporate bottom lines takes precedence. And craft brewers are the most independent of beer industry as they provide a higher quality alternative to the three or so corporate beer producers. One could really call them craft rock or indie beer if it was desired and neither would lose meaning.

Now, don’t get me wrong, both indie rock and craft beer have intentions to make money. How else would they exist in a capitalist society? The difference between crafty and independent heroes and their corporate counterparts is that they won’t put profit ahead of the craft or their independence. Sure, some indies and crafties have sold their souls to corporations, but they are the exception not the rule. The indie and craft movements are about small scale and high quality. Corporations don’t know how to do this.

And we’ll gladly pay for whatever indie labels and craft breweries are selling despite higher prices. Even during this recession, indie labels (as well as the stores who sell them) and breweries have seen steady growth. Craft beer especially is growing at an incredible rate. Even during economically hard times, we’ll find the money to support independent, craft producers of our favorite goods because we know that their products are worth it. This is no truer than it is for indie rock and craft beer.

Despite the success indie/craft producers are enjoying, our corporate overlords still rule the markets, but their share is shrinking. The large, corporate breweries are watching their sales drop as is the industry as a whole. However, craft beer continues to grow. The music industry is suffering as well. Yet, more and more indies are popping up all the time and they continue to put out music. If there’s room for these smaller players in their respective industries, then they must be doing something right.

So, the indie and craft markets are what’s king these days. They may not own high percentages of their markets, but they have found sustainable business methods that feature slow, controlled growth and a focus on the craft. They maintain their independence through their success. This is where they intersect. I think there’s a lot we can learn from indie rock and craft beer. That’s where the coalition comes in. Here’s to building international coalitions through beer and Pavement and here’s to indie beer and craft rock.

Now, how did I ever come to this place? How have I made a connection that seems trivial at best and absurd at worst?

There are stories to tell that explain my epiphany. The stories are numerous and varied. Few occurred where I felt this deep connection between both craft beer and indie rock. However, the accumulation of these experiences have led me to this great cause of my life: building international coalitions through beer and Pavement.

Honestly, my first epiphanies happened in the 1990’s and they involved music more often than beer. There was a giddiness I remember feeling waiting for my first Pavement show in the Algora Ballroom in Cleveland, OH. A few weeks prior, I experienced an electrical sensation getting pummeled by Archers of Loaf in the old Columbus venue known as Stache’s. There were the hours pouring over records in my favorite record store, Columbus’ own Used Kids. These moments are etched in my mind forever.

Why did this music mean so much to me? There was an urgency, a hunger, a passion missing in the corporate sludge clogging the airways. These musicians were working stiffs like I am. They were doing something I could have done and they did most of it on their own with what little cash they could scrape together. It was accessible. It was authentic. It was ours.

Craft beer came much later. I suppose I had as much experience with music when I discovered Pavement and Guided By Voices as when I gave up corporate, rice adjunct lager for a Stone Ruination for good. I still remember that night I grabbed a sixer of something bland and a bomber of that epically bitter brew with the menacing gargoyle staring back at me. The night I cracked open that beer, it all changed for me.

There were other beer epiphanies. My first Russian Imperial Stout challenging my ability to finish a single beer in one sitting. The beers from Jolly Pumpkin and Russian River awakening parts of my taste buds I had long since neglected, never once thinking I’d rediscover them in a beer. Then there was the first time I tasted my own brew, realizing that I never learned to play guitar at the same level I learned how to properly dry-hop a beer.

Through all of these discoveries and sensations, the value of craft and independence stood out. From the ashes of DIY movements past rose artisans who create beer and art unlike anything corporate money could ever hope to emulate. Craft beer and indie rock share these values. In this, I find comfort in the human condition that encompasses an authentic even intellectual appreciation for a good beer or ear-shattering album.

So, as you enjoy your next finely-crafted double IPA, dry-hopped on unimaginable amounts of Simcoe or tongue-splitting sour ale, aged in Chardonnay barrels and infected with yeast strains formerly considered unacceptable for human consumption, drop the needle on that Guided By Voices record from your college days. Or when you attend the next Pitchfork-endorsed rock show among the PBR-wielding hipster set, order that imperial stout hidden in the back of the cooler. A coalition is being built through beer and Pavement, a coalition dedicated to craft and independence. It’s time to join us.

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