Beer and Pavement

By Definition

Posted in Beer, Intersections, Life, Manifesto by SM on February 8, 2012

Folks are really hung up on definitions. Some definitions seem vague and disconnected. Others change depending on the context. Still, certain definitions are there just to create controversy. Whatever the definition, whether it be beer or music, they make for excellent fodder for a blogger in need of a topic to post.

The “session beer” is a highly controversial term. Beer Advocate has their somewhat Americanized version of what most Brits consider to be session beer. Then, there’s the session beer gospel as preached by Lew Bryson at his Session Beer Project. I’m not going to go into the definition of the session beer except to say that whatever you’re drinking over an extended period of time that doesn’t completely drop you beneath the table is close enough to a session beer for me. I’ll let others debate ABV criteria as I rarely choose a beer solely on alcohol level. (Although, I have avoided certain beers that would have rendered me unable to drive home.)

There’s been some talk and disagreement over the origins and definitions of the West Coast IPA. Jeff at Beervana attempted to solicit the help from his readers in order to align his own definition with the masses. This sort of topic borders on debates over terroir and a vain attempt to identify one’s region with a beer style. It’s really no different with the controversy over Cascadian Dark Ales and/or Black IPA’s. Brewers/marketers are trying to tie a beer’s definition with their particular region. Sure, styles originate from and often taste different when brewed in different locales. However, the makeup of the beers are generally similar. I enjoy how an IPA from Michigan tastes as much as I enjoy how one from San Diego tastes. Locale is a factor, but I won’t define a beer style solely based on region. It feels limiting and lazy.

Lately, a couple of definitions have come under fire. It seems there is a crisis over what constitutes craft beer in the UK. I’m not familiar with Simon Johnson’s Reluctant Scooper, but in his post titled “The Craft Beer Manifesto“, he takes a jab at what defines craft beer (in the UK, at least):

1: Only use distilled otter’s tears

2: Use only barley that’s been warmed by the breath of kindly owls

3: Craft beer cares, so only use hops that have been flown halfway around the world

4: You can have it any colour you like, as long as it’s not brown. Unless its an Indian Brown Ale

5: Beards allowed only if they’re ironic

6: It’s not “inconsistent”, it’s “experimental”

7: It’s not “hiding faults”, it’s “barrel-ageing”

I found his list (all twelve) to be pretty funny. However, scrolling through the comments alerted me to some curmudgeon-like attitudes toward beer. I don’t know how everyone defines craft beer, but it seems to me that it’s beer brewed using traditional methods on a relatively small scale. The definition that Johnson hints at – with tongue firmly planted in cheek – is what has been marketed to us in one way or another. Some has been by design as breweries fight for their own unique place in the industry. Some is a creation of the craft beer geek culture where bigger, extreme-er beer is appreciated most. I think it’s a simple thing really, determined by brewing methods and production. Still, the manifesto is a funny list to discuss at the bar. (H/T Stan)

Another blog post has pondered the definition of a brewer. Zak Avery ponders the question perfectly and the proof lies in the responses he generates from his readers. The definitions are all over the place as each commenter has his/her own perspective on what constitutes a brewer. Simply, I’d suggest that a brewer is anyone who brews beer. There are good and bad brewers, ignorant and knowledgeable brewers. If we want to get technical, we could divide brewers between home and commercial, but sometimes there isn’t much difference in this dichotomy. The debate could go on, but that’s why it’s such a great question or rumination. (also H/T Stan)

Commenter Bill Farr asked me to define indie rock. Has anyone really tried to do this? Actually, some have. AllMusic of course has something to say:

Indie rock takes its name from “independent,” which describes both the do-it-yourself attitudes of its bands and the small, lower-budget nature of the labels that release the music. The biggest indie labels might strike distribution deals with major corporate labels, but their decision-making processes remain autonomous.

On the surface, that seems easy enough. However, when bands sign with major labels, whether or not they really do make “autonomous” decisions is up for debate. Too often, the idea of indie rock has been assigned to a certain aesthetic. Honestly, I am guilty of limiting this segment of music to the music I like: guitar-centric, rock music preferred by white males who attended college in the mid-90’s. I realize that I’m ignoring a huge amount of music when I proclaim indie rock as my favorite genre of music. Really, what I should do is say that I appreciate indie rock, but I prefer bands like Pavement, Guided By Voice, Sonic Youth, The Walkmen, etc.  Luckily, it’s not up to me to define indie rock for you. We have AllMusic and Wikipedia for such trivialities.

Where definitions get interesting in indie rock is where we actually start to define genres and sub-genres. Lo-fi was made popular as an aesthetic where bands recorded in bedrooms on cheap four/eight-track recorders. Riot grrrl defined a generation of punks hellbent on injecting the DIY, punk scene with some estrogen. Baroque pop was the only monicker someone at Spin or Rolling Stone could muster in order to explain what Arcade Fire or Beirut were doing. I could go on and on with genres and subgenres made popular in indie rock circles. The topic of these genres is enough to write a book on its own.

So, what am I getting at?

It seems a great deal of time is spent on blogs and books and whatever media one prefers trying to define everything. The only problem I have with this is that so many of us (myself included) spend a lot of time trying to define it for others. No longer do we listen to (or read) each other and try to meet at an understanding. I’m as guilty of this as anyone. A certain amount of anonymity and/or distance provided by the interwebs does that. I’m trying to get better at this and simply state that what I post here is just my perspective. Sometimes that’s clear. Sometimes it’s not.

I prefer to see these definitions as evolving tools to better understand one another. If you and I have different ideas as to what a session beer is, it might make for a more enjoyable session if we know from where each person is coming. Let’s say that I am a Lew Bryson disciple and will only drink session beers measuring in at 4.5% or less and you’re the type that can’t taste anything below 9% ABV. It would be helpful to know that I can throw back several pints over the course of evening while you may want to limit yourself to sipping one or two beers over the same time period. Without this understanding, one of us comes off looking like a drunk: you for drinking high gravity beers at the same pace as I or me for throwing back five pints in one sitting.

When I talk music with people, the definition discussion is much easier. No one is stuck to one definition for a band or an album. We prefer to delve into what the music is doing for us and what influences it resembles. Conversely, the beer nerd conversation is dependent on the definition of a beer or its style. Thankfully, this grip on definitions is loosening as some in my beer circle would rather talk about tangibles of the moment or how the beer tastes in that particular context. To me, these discussions over definitions are so much more useful and productive rather than one party insisting on whatever is etched in stone while another pontificates that all formal definitions are obsolete.

Thankfully, Martyn Cornell provided some reason to the conversation and yet another term to help describe what we beer enthusiasts like. He used the post to promote the idea of “fine beer”, you know, like “fine wine” or “fine dining”. I’m all for it, but I won’t use this space to go into that. His main point is the same point I’m trying to make. Basically, the labels we use to describe what we like (craft beer, indie rock) are just the words that make it simpler to tell outsiders or newcomers what we like. It’s a way to organize store shelves and record bins. It doesn’t adequately describe all the reasons we like what we like. It’s shorthand. It’s easy, almost lazy. (Martyn didn’t say this exactly. I’m sort of paraphrasing.) So, the energy spent defining lazy terminology is energy wasted.

I will continue to use the terms “craft beer” and “indie rock” to describe my tastes in drink and music. I will probably also try to define these interests with each blog post. However, I am not trying to define these specific terms for you. What I am attempting to do is to define what I like and why. I am trying to make the case – like many have done before me – as to why this is important. I am not attempting to define beer and music for you. I am just trying to engage the conversation, the thing that goes neglected when we have to define everything.

On Sadness

Posted in Intersections, Manifesto by SM on January 12, 2012

“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”
― Dr. Seuss

I recently watched the Pitchfork.TV documentary on the making of the Flaming Lips classic LP, The Soft Bulletin. If you haven’t heard the record, you’re missing out. It’s absolutely one of the ten best albums of my life and it may also be one of the saddest. Wayne Coyne has often talked about how sad songs can make us feel better or give us a sense of being part of something larger than ourselves. This is expressed in so many words in the doc and comes through in the Dr. Seuss quote above.

We love sad songs. Our favorite bands record mostly sad songs. There’s a reason bands like The Smiths, Joy Division, Bright Eyes, etc. are so beloved. It’s similar to the fanaticism for Elliott Smith and Nick Drake. These artists know how to speak to our sadness and this comforts us somehow.

Interestingly, we also choose alcohol more than almost any other drug. Alcohol’s a depressant, bringing our sadness to the forefront[1]. Yes, the effects of our drug of choice is mostly intended for us to feel that sadness again.

It should be clarified, however, that just because we choose music and drugs that make us sad that we still appreciate high quality. Sure, there is music and alcohol that appeals to the lowest common denominator. Those are not the people about which I’m talking. No, I prefer to focus on those with discriminating taste. There are no more discriminating enthusiasts alive than those of us who follow indie rock and craft beer. Characteristics such as quality and authenticity are important to us. Yes, these things are somewhat subjective, but one cannot deny the care and skill it takes to create and appreciate such endeavors.

So, why does the indie rocker play that sad record over and over? Why does the beer enthusiast go back to the bar time and time again?

This is what comes up when you search for "sad beer".

I think that we all just want to feel something. As the Dr. Seuss quote suggests, it’s better to have experiences even if it means some sadness is included. To feel something, anything, means that we’re alive. It’s even better when that something is real, something that reminds us we’re not alone.

Celebratory emotions can do that to a point. We can feel joy and camaraderie with our friends and family after a great triumph, but we know whom we can trust when we’re down and out. Our real friends and most trusted family members stick by our sides in the toughest of times. We comfort each other when we reveal a bit of ourselves. Sadness brings us together in a way happiness never can.

And this is why we listen to sad songs and drink beer that fills us up, slows our reflexes, and lets our guards down. This authenticity in feeling sadness helps us to feel alive, almost ironically triumphant. When I listen to The Soft Bulletin, I can relate to the sadness in those songs, but at the same time the dynamics of that music makes me feel said triumphs. If I can survive some of the things I have survived so far, I can do most anything. And that just makes me want to crack open a good beer.

1OK. So, I don’t really think that alcohol’s purpose is to make us sad. However, by slowing things down, we tend to reflect more on our life and inevitably our failures. Or think of those drunken nights when you felt so down due to your state and the embarrassment of having lost control. With alcohol, things slow down and our emotions can often match the rest of our body’s pace. They don’t call them depressants for nothing.

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Your Science Update

Posted in Intersections, Manifesto by SM on December 15, 2011

When there’s a scientific discovery in the areas of craft beer and indie rock, I feel it is my duty to inform the coalition of such breakthroughs. It is part of the interdisciplinary mission of this blog that I’m making up right now to inform my readers of all aspects of said subject matter. How else will you know how to carry on in the future?

It has come to my attention that loud music makes alcohol taste sweeter. Conversely, more alcohol consumed makes loud music more tolerable. Thank you, Science!

So, what does this mean for the coalition?

Well, for starters, it proves that these two interests of mine can exist together, but one must be careful. For example, if an unsuspecting concert attendee ordered a PBR as a Screamo band started playing, it could be devastating to their evening and possibly entire life. The Screamo band would cause the person to think the “beer” he is consuming tastes better than it does, causing him to buy and drink more. The addition of alcohol to his system will make the music more tolerable as the night wears on, causing irreversible damage to his musical tastes. This is not something we should take lightly, folks.

If handled correctly, this information can be used for good. Go see a good indie band. No matter who it is, the shitty sound system in whatever club they’re playing in will probably have the system turned to 11 just to sound decent. With those loud but dulcet tunes playing, you will yearn for a drink. If you ask for a craft beer, the chances that you’ll enjoy said beer are increased exponentially. The cycle continues and you finally see the point of this blog.

So, thank you, scientists. We will all now continue with the loud music and craft beer enjoyment knowing that one feeds the other.

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On Black Friday

Posted in Activism, Beer, Intersections, Life, Manifesto by SM on November 26, 2011

So, Black Friday was the day I couldn’t get a post out. Honestly, I was tired and a bit stuffed. It just wasn’t meant to be. However, I did manage to post two placeholders and today I should be able to publish two posts. Beyond that, I think I can finish out this month. There are no promises for December, though. It might be back to three posts a week, but we’ll see.

Anyway, here are my thoughts on the unofficial holiday of capitalism, Black Friday…

Can someone tell me why it’s okay to camp outside a Walmart so that one can beat down their doors and mob the store, but it’s not okay for Occupy Wall Street folks to do what they do? The crap that went on early yesterday morning makes me rather sick and ashamed to be an American. People make absolute fools of themselves for some cheap junk.

We tend to recognize our Black Friday with an old fashioned Buy Nothing Day. I left the house long enough to grab another holiday tradition from the local video shop, Team America: World Police. And that’s how we do in this house.

However, in case you’re wondering, Building International Coalitions Through Beer and Pavement does have an official stance on Black Friday. It’s cool to shop on Black Friday, but if you do, it’s best to go local. Your local brew pubs and record stores need you. Don’t bother with Walmart or Target. Keep it local this entire holiday season, in fact.

For record stores, check the Record Store Day website. Once a single day in the spring, Record Store Day has become its own movement that can be celebrated year round. I just wish there was an actual record store here where I could celebrate. Maybe the next time I’m in St. Louis or back home in Columbus, I’ll have to do some shopping.

Then, for the beer enthusiast, the Brewers Association is the place to go. I need to get down to our own brew pubs, Broadway and Flat Branch for some holiday cheer here in Middle Missouri. Check the site for the craft brewers where you live.

Is R.E.M. still indie?

Posted in Intersections, Manifesto by SM on November 19, 2011

So, I still mean to post daily. However, I forgot to schedule this post for Saturday. I’ll date it as such and still post something by the end of Sunday. Honestly, this was written. I just spaced on the scheduling and didn’t look at a computer all day.

I was listening to NPR the other day when this interview with R.E.M. aired. At some point, the band was asked about their transformation from indie to major or popular music. One of the band members (I couldn’t tell which one) remarked that they are still indie despite the fact they’ve been signed to Warner Brothers for nearly 25 years, a decidedly non-indie move to a major label.

How does that happen? Are they really indie? If so, what does being “indie” really mean?

I agree. R.E.M. is indie and probably always will be. It’s the same for Sonic Youth, Modest Mouse, Built to Spill, etc. All of these bands have had their indie cred  questioned when they jumped to major labels, but this is simplistic and, quite frankly wrong. These bands have always been indie and will (hopefully) always be indie.


Being indie isn’t equal to being unknown or unsuccessful. It’s keeping that human, even soulful element that corporate acts just can’t duplicate in the music. The outcome might be “boring,” but there’s a clear, albeit subjective difference. The artists still maintain creative control and aren’t simply making music to make money. If they’re lucky, they make enough to live on (or better), but that’s not why they do what they do.

I’m sure that doesn’t make indie any clearer for you. It’s really complicated, rather subjective, and somewhat arbitrary. It has to do with the spirit of the music and the motivation for making the music. Typically, this hard to determine without having firsthand knowledge of a musicians inspiration or process. Honestly, it shouldn’t matter. If the music is good, it’s good.

However, for me, it does matter. I love music for the human, soulful experience that it is. I want music and all art to mean something more than aesthetics or entertainment. The craft, blood, sweat, and tears that goes into indie rock makes it more meaningful to me. I find anything corporate to be cold and sensationalized. Indie rock is authentic and artful. That’s how I like it.

This position helps explain some of my attraction to craft beer as well. As I’ve established before, craft beer has soul. It represents the human side of beer while BMC strips the creativity and humanity from what should be a soulful experience. This is where people’s beer epiphany happens. It’s that wow moment when craft beer suddenly makes sense to the drinker. It happens because of all the humanity and soul that goes into each glass, bottle, or keg.

An indie model works in craft beer as well. Look at Founders. The brewery was nearly going under when they brewed safe, approachable beers that they thought would sell. Once they realized that they were headed for bankruptcy, they decided to brew what they liked, what made them happy until they had to close their doors for good. The uniquely challenging ales that resulted appealed to people looking for something different from the corporate-dominated mainstream beer industry. Despite the brewery’s rapid growth and sustaining success, they are indie, just like R.E.M.

Indie is not necessarily about which label a band belongs to. It only partially has anything to do aesthetics. Indie is an uncompromising attitude toward art and craft that puts it’s maker’s vision before profit margins. So, in short, R.E.M. remained indie throughout their history. They didn’t try to please the mainstream for greater profits. They made music for their fans and, more importantly, for themselves.

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On Soul

Posted in Beer, Intersections, Manifesto by SM on November 18, 2011
Trappist Westvleteren 12

There's a whole lotta soul under those caps. - Click for source.

Some big news in the beer world this week was AB InBev’s announcement that they will be opening Belgium beer cafes, sort of akin to the influx of Irish pubs 20 years ago. For such stories, I like to depend human filters such as Stan Hieronymus at Appellation Beer Blog. Stan sorted through an article to find a key quote. One line caught my eye:

“You don’t build create a Belgian beer cafe in five minutes,” De Baets says. “It’s generations of owners and customers that build the place, and then give a soul to it.”

De Baets is Yvan De Baets, masterbrewer and co-owner of De la Senne brewery in Brussels. Stan sees De Baets as a trusted mind in the beer community. So, by proxy, I trust him as well.

Regardless, the part that really struck me was the fact that an authentic Belgian beer cafe has a soul. That’s the biggest difference between an actual Belgian beer cafe and whatever AB InBev will establish in every mall and airport across the country. The idea of the soul of a place (or things – that’s coming) speaks to me. It feels like the clear difference between the authentic and corporate is the soul.

How does a place or thing develop a soul? As suggested above, it’s the people who frequent a place. It’s experiences and memories that contribute to a soul. I suppose that’s not entirely different from people, but we tend to have souls to begin with (if you believe in that sort of thing). All the marketing in the world cannot construct a soul. If anything, the sterilized, watered-down, corporate aesthetic that is sure to pervade these AB InBev beer cafes will hardly leave room for a soul to develop.

Anything corporate tends to be soulless. Despite what Mitt Romney tells us, corporations are not people and they have no soul. Of course, an authentic Belgian beer cafe isn’t technically able to have a soul either, but try telling that to its loyal patrons. For anyone who has a regular place at which they socialize and imbibe, said place is a living, breathing thing. So, such a place can have a soul. It just takes a while to develop.

Before you all jump down my throat for discounting anything corporate, I’ll admit that these places and things can have a soul. It’s just more difficult in a corporate model. Apple products have a soul, even when some of their corporate actions are a bit soulless. Some of the old auto factories in Detroit certainly had souls as the center of their communities…until they were shut down and their jobs were sent south of the border. (I’m not talking about Ohio.) There are other examples, but I don’t think it’s nearly as prevalent as the non-corporate world.

Like the Belgian beer cafes, craft beer has a soul. It’s in the people who found breweries and brew the beer. It comes from the cicerones and beer enthusiasts. Homebrewers almost certainly play a role in the soul of craft beer as well. While corporate beer depends on its own people, hard-working, salt of the earth kinds of people, it’s not the same thing. Any semblance of a soul is sucked out corporate rice adjunct lagers when you find the Budweiser you get in St. Louis is exactly the same as the one you get in Hong Kong or Germany. Corporate efforts to standardize their product everywhere strips it of its humanity and its soul with it.

Craft beer demonstrates its soul through the characters who represent it. Although Boston Beer Co. has nearly outgrown its craft beer status, Jim Koch remains the face of Sam Adams beers and continues to fight for the company’s soul. Better examples might be found at Dogfish Head (Sam Calagione), Stone (Greg Koch), Russian River (Vinnie Cilurzo), Jolly Pumpkin (Ron Jeffries), Stillwater (Brian Strumke), etc. All these people are not only advocates for their industry, they are also personality that encapsulates their breweries. This personality and humanity gives these breweries soul.

Soul is how I separate what’s indie and what’s not. No, I’m not talking about that kind of soul, but it can fit my definition if need be. I’m talking about the same kind of soul that goes into craft beer. It’s that soul that can only be associated with humanity that defines indie rock. Can a band on a major label have soul? Sure. However, so many musicians are constructed or manipulated in a way that strips their art of any kind of soul.

Music, like all art, is tougher to pin down to what has soul and what doesn’t. It’s so much more subjective. Also, all art comes from a very human place, meaning that just about all of it demonstrates a soul at work. So, I won’t go much further into what constitutes soulful music and what doesn’t. I have a post on the way about what’s indie. That should suffice to define my criteria.

Anyway, the original point is that something that is indie, craft, artisanal, whatever demonstrates soul or soulfulness. The human component should be strong in order for that soul to exist. As producers grow and become more corporate, some of that humanity and consequently the soul is lost. So, the next time someone asks why you choose to drink that craft beer, tell them it’s because it has soul.

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On “Boring”

Posted in Intersections, Manifesto by SM on November 17, 2011

How are beer and music boring, or rather, “boring?” There’s been a discussion online over what makes something both artistically significant and boring. Now, months too late, I’m joining the fray.

Instead of rehashing the entire saga, I’ll point to the two pieces that inspired this post. First, there was Dan Kois’ “Eating Your Cultural Vegetables” where the author had the gull to suggest that the critical darlings of film are actually rather slow, boring even. Other film critics did not agree. Then, his good buddy, Steven Hyden, over at AV Club said basically the same thing about music. I suspect the AV Club piece will garner less vitriol than the film piece. Still, both critiques are spot-on. The most critically-acclaimed film and music can be a bit tedious.

Hyden differentiates the boringness of film and music. In music criticism, he writes, “…we have no problem classifying art as boring.” Eventually, he differentiates the boring from the “boring.” Hyden writes:

Any kind of music can be boring depending on the listener. No song is inherently not-boring—not even CCR’s “Ramble Tamble”—because boring is obviously based on subjective perception. This makes boring music hard to pin down. In a sense, all music is boring. The same, however, can’t be said about “boring” music. “Boring” is its own genre. It is a code word that instantly conjures artists with clearly definable attributes. “Boring” music is slow to mid-tempo, mellow, melodic, pretty in a melancholy way, catchy, poppy, and rooted in traditional forms. It is popular (or popular-ish). It is tasteful, well-played, and meticulously produced. (Or it might sound like it was recorded in somebody’s bedroom under the influence of weed and Sega Genesis.) It is “easy to like”—or more specifically, “easy for white people to like” (“white people” being a sub-group of white people singled out by other white people). It is critically acclaimed (perhaps the most critically acclaimed music there is), and yet music critics relish taking “boring” musical artists down a peg more than any other kind of artist.

He continues by naming BICTBAP favorites Fleet Foxes, The National, ST. Vincent, among others whom he considers to be “boring.” I can’t really argue with that assessment. I’m white people. I like that music.

Then, I consider whether or not I still like that music. Sure, it’s fine, but I haven’t listened to the last National album since well over a year ago and that’s because I rode in a car playing it on the way to seeing them in St. Louis. Hyden argues that “boring” is not necessarily bad. I’d argue that it’s not necessarily good either. “Boring” has the same effect as boring. The only difference is that we can’t figure out how to dislike some art when it’s “boring” until one day, it just occurs to us. With boring art or music, we know right away.

So, I considered what the effects of “boring” music on my musical tastes are. Well, I think not too long ago, I proclaimed (more like hinted) that the Fleet Foxes album, Helplessness Blues was the album of the year. I did the same for Bon Iver. While I still think these are very good records (I am still a white guy), they have long since been passed by more-immediate-but-just-as-deftly-performed albums by Wild Flag and Stephen Malkmus. Those last two records contain so much more urgency and soul (more on this tomorrow).

“Boring” music may impress me at first, but it doesn’t stay with me for long. I get, well, bored after a while and need something to properly get me to move my feet. Records by Cults, Tune-Yards, and Eleanor Friedberger are not boring. I get up and dance with my three-year-old when these records play. Bon Iver? not so much.

And since this is a music and beer blog, I considered the “boring”-ness of craft beer, because it’s out there. I’ll refrain from naming breweries as I want to support all craft breweries and recognize that they have a certain clientele that enjoy “boring” beer. I will also brace myself for the inevitable backlash from beer critics who, like their counterparts in film and music criticism, will be outraged* at the thought that traditional styles such as British pale ales, ESB’s, American wheat ales, or amber ales could possibly be “boring.” Well, they kinda are. I recognize that a well-made beer in any style can be enjoyable, but “boring” beer just doesn’t do it for me.

To be clear, a “boring” beer isn’t necessarily bad. The run of the mill pale ale at your local brewery is probably a fine brew, but sometimes we want more than fine. Typically, but not always, “boring” beers are your basic styles with little variation in traditional ingredients. They are true to customary recipes and are often executed well. However, they’re just “boring.” I don’t often reach for “boring.” I’ve had it and now I want something else.

Beers that push the limits are beers that won’t qualify as “boring.” Now, that doesn’t mean all these beers have to be imperial or extreme to be considered not “boring.” Non-“boring” beers challenge the palate and wow the drinker with each sip. These beers will make you excited to be a craft beer convert. These beers inspire blog posts and cause one to try their hand at homebrewing. No “boring” beer for me, thankyouverymuch.

What’s interesting to me, is that in both the case of “boring” music and “boring” beer, they both appeal to middle-aged, white guy (says the middle-aged white guy). We like our Boulevard Wheat and our Wilco. We watch baseball and may even be caught with a baseball cap on now and again. We too are “boring.” And there’s nothing wrong with that. However, sometimes (more often for some than others), we need to break free of “boring.” Let’s have a La Folie, listen to some Japandroids, and squeeze into a pair of jeans that fit you for christ’s sake.

As you may have noticed “boring” begins to take on a value for me, making it seem more like the other boring. I cannot lie. “Boring” music and beer… well… bores me. Again, there’s nothing wrong with any of it. I just find “boring” to be boring at some point. There may be moments when “boring” is fine, but I prefer to look for anything but “boring.”

What are your thoughts on “boring?” Am I right on or way off base? Are there good examples out there of “boring?” Is this blog becoming “boring?” As usual, leave your thoughts and/or self-righteous indignation in the comments below.

*Outraged might be a bit too strong. Mildly annoyed? LOL? This blog’s title is too long.

Where Indie and Craft Meet

Posted in Intersections, Manifesto by SM on November 15, 2011

If you’re just stopping by for the first time, you should know that this blog explores the intersections between indie rock and craft beer. One aspect is simply the fact that we all love rock music and beer. The other aspect is the intersection between indie and craft. For me it’s obvious, but for others, it’s a stretch.

Indie is short for “independent.” To be independent, one must be self-sufficient, free from the tyranny and limitations of corporations 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. Still, as the majors deal with the handcuffs of corporate profit margins, indie labels are free to let their artists create.

Craft is generally considered a type of skilled work. Historically, craft was judged not only on quality but also quantity. In order to maintain a high level proficiency the production had to remain small. Larger production tends to remove the craft, creating product with increased simplicity and often more defects. When craft is increased, volume tends to shrink, but the quality of the output is pleasurable.

Indie and craft meet in both the music and beer industries. Indie labels also 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 live? The difference between these guys 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, these 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 this blog comes in. If I had time and this was my full-time job, I’d provide you with a lot of statistics. For now, you’ll just have my opinions and vignettes to go on. Here’s to building international coalitions through beer and Pavement and here’s to indie beer and craft rock.

Building International Coalitions Through Beer and Pavement is not easy

Posted in Intersections, Manifesto by SM on October 26, 2011

Sorry about not posting on Monday. It seems I’ve had a combination of no time, little sleep, a hangover, and no inspiration to write. It doesn’t mean I’ve quit writing posts, but I will miss a day occasionally. See Monday’s post.

It should be known that this is not an easy gig. I purposely started this blog to write regular commentary on my two favorite things (that are not people). Additionally, I wanted to do more than the paragraph with a link kinds of posts I see on so many blogs. I want my posts to be rich and complex or at least something that takes you more than a couple of minutes to skim. For the most part, I feel I’ve been successful with this goal.

I’ve also made a concerted effort to post three times a week. Since I do write longer posts than the average blogger, 5-7 posts a week is too much. Three feels about right. Still, even three has been a challenge. The Monday top-5 lists seem to be sputtering. It will be back, however, next week and it will be better than ever.

As the title of this post suggest, building international coalitions through beer and Pavement is not easy. It’s a stretch as – let’s be honest. Beer and indie rock don’t really matter that much. Also, I’m working really hard to get beer nerds to understand indie rockers and vice versa. This is harder than expected as I know a lot of beer enthusiasts who like indie rock and even a few indie rockers who will put down their PBR in favor of a Stone IPA now and again. Still, beer enthusiasts just don’t get my record collection or why I would spend time in a place called “The Hairhole” with a bunch of underage kids with a load BYOB. Conversely, it’s hard to convince indie fans that spending $10 on a bomber is a good investment.

I think I understand the beer nerd’s hesitation to get indie rock. Beer nerds tend to be somewhat mainstream. They have 9-5 jobs, a mortgage, and a family. The time and resources needed to keep up with music is exhausting. Indie rock is especially grueling as there are so many bands out there with new releases coming out weekly. Mainstream music is easier as you can hear it on the radio or only have to buy a CD every other month. Drinking a beer takes no time and can relieve the stresses of mainstream life without waking the kids.

The indie geek is more difficult to understand as his disposable income is similar to that of the craft beer drinker. However, the bars the indie fan frequents tend to serve shitty beer. They get used to the stuff and enjoy the fact that they can still fit into their skinny jeans. It’s way cooler to throw back 5-10 Buds at a Guided By Voices show than to sip from a snifter as rowdy concert-goers ram into you.

I know both of these perspectives. Of course, some may argue I’m only a gentleman dabbler and they would be correct. However, I have a pretty long history following indie rock. Although my craft beer obsession has been around for a shorter time, I’ve always preferred more unique beers and now have the resources to satisfy that interest. So, I get the hesitation on both sides. I also get how these are two great tastes that taste great together.

So, I will continue to build coalitions. Someday, the worlds of craft beer and indie rock will merge to become one unstoppable force. Until that day, I will be a lone soldier in this battle to Build International Coalitions Through Beer and Pavement.

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On Business

Posted in Beer, Intersections, Manifesto by SM on October 12, 2011

I know little if nothing about business or economics, at least not formally. That said, the following conversation happened on Twitter yesterday.

(Be sure to follow Kristen on Twitter if you’re into that sort of thing.)

There were some Tweets in between these, but you get the point. The general idea is that the media is missing the point when reporting on the failings of various industries, especially the two I obsess over. There are clear distinctions between smaller businesses who use innovation to sell traditional products and larger corporations that employ traditional methods to sell new products. Growth and sustainability happen in these smaller ventures. They sell quality over hype, depending on word-of-mouth (via social networking) and they do it in a way that’s easy to maintain.

Indie labels and craft breweries are equivalents in their respective industries. They both depend on the quality of their craft to bring them financial success. They both have large corporate entities to contend with as said corporate devils continue an incestuous practice of mergers and buy-outs. They both prefer innovation in business practices and marketing to sell quality craftsmanship. There’s a focus by both to engage intellect of the consumer by staying above the fray, never appealing to the lowest common denominator. When it comes to steady growth and sustainability, these sub-industries have the answers corporations can’t see through their greedy lens.

Take an indie like Merge. From pretty humble beginnings, this tiny label has built one of the most impressive lineups in the industry, among indies and majors. Yet, they did this while giving their artists a generous share of their album sales and limiting the growth of their label. Artists were allowed freedoms in recording and artwork as long as the tiny label could afford it. For years, they struggled out of a small office in Chapel Hill, NC. Eventually, their model which valued their relationships with artists over profits has led to a record label that actually makes a decent profit, even as the record/music industry dies a slow, painful death.

Some indies try the growth-at-all-costs model their corporate overlords use. Sub Pop – on more than one occasion – has flirted with disaster via major label marketing practices. (Interestingly, Nirvana’s major label breakthrough and a distribution deal with a major label actually saved Sub Pop from bankruptcy on separate occasions.) Sub Pop grew too big at a couple of points in the nineties, signing every band in sight. However, they stretched themselves too thin, featuring a lineup of quantity over quality. They learned their lessons, made some savvy business deals and have found a way to survive as an indie, maybe the most beloved of the sellouts.

Craft breweries have followed a similar track as indie labels. Dogfish Head is a brewery that has placed ideals over profits. They, like other breweries, have cut back on distribution while they slow growth in an attempt to maintain the quality that put Dogfish Head on the map in the first place. As far as marketing, DfH has opted to appeal to the senses as opposed to sexists. A DfH brew belongs at the table with a gourmet meal and that’s what sells. They don’t rely on ads the way Budweiser does. No. DfH’s marketing plan is to brew tasty beers. Too bad Budweiser hasn’t tried that one.

Of course, there’s been some buzz in the beer industry as A-B-InBev purchased craft beer stalwart Goose Island. While there are signs that ABI will stay out of Goose Island’s product, there are already signs that even GI will just become another marketing machine, void of substance that towers over hype. ABI purchased the rights to area codes all over. The plan is to release area code-specific versions of GI’s very popular 312 Urban Wheat Ale. This does not bode well for GI’s future as a pseudo-craft brewery enveloped in a corporate culture.

As corporations continue to push for world denomination through obscene expansion and hostile takeovers, small craft industries are thriving during tough economic times. Consumers know value and will spend their money on it when their cash flow is low. Plus, profits go much further when a company puts said profits toward employee pay and benefits, monitors slow-but-steady growth, and allows the quality of their product speak for itself.

It seems the business models of craft breweries and indie labels should be the models for all business. Not only are they successful – even with an increasing number of competitors, but they have created situations that are sustainable, benefiting everyone in their company. Will there ever be an indie or craft brewery earning as much income as their larger, corporate foes? Doubtful, but maybe that’s the point.