This book club idea seemed to be going pretty well! After our discussion of The Audacity of Hops we had settled on Maureen Ogle’s Ambitious Brew for our next meeting.
Six of us gathered: Scott, Mark, Ethan, Drew, Alex and myself. We had our books, we had our beer, and it was time to get started. I had planned on making good on my offhanded comment of ordering a PBR, since Pabst features so prominently in the book, but it turns out that Mister Goodbar doesn’t stock PBR! That was probably for the best.
Drew started the discussion off by pointing out that many of the early American brewery owners weren’t brewers: they were real estate barons or businessmen who owned breweries as part of their empire. Ethan said this was true, but they definitely did care about the beer: much of the book is spent debunking the myth that the corn and rice adjuncts added to light lagers today were introduced to make a cheaper product. On the contrary, they were more expensive than barley at the time.
From there our conversation shifted to Prohibition: Alex hadn’t realized how early the Temperance movement had started, and neither had I. I had been thinking about Prohibition, and how it’s easy to say “it lasted 13 years ((At least on a national level: many states had been dry long before that!)), wow that’s a long time,” but that it meant that many people had entered adulthood never having considered alcohol an option. Sure, if you wanted it it was available, much like certain other illicit substances today ((Please don’t take 16 times the recommended dose of alcohol because you don’t understand portion control)), but for many people that would have been enough of a barrier.
Ethan then took us back to the late 19th century: today we love small batches, and “hand crafted” is generally considered better, no matter what the product. But back then mechanization was the ideal: huge industrialized contraptions, gleaming metal and pistons and widgets, that was what sold beer. Large scale production was evidence of our technological and scientific achievements, instead of the indication of soulless dehumanizing globalization that it can be today.
This brought us to the cyclical nature of beer. In the 19th century people cared about the nuances and quality of beer, then post-Prohibition said “Whatever, just let me drink.” Then the craft beer revolution began and that all came back: Mark wondered if there was a coming swing back to caring less about flavor. You can already see the start of that from certain post-snob beer lovers (myself included), a switch from “You’re not drinking real beer” to “Stop judging people; like what you like.” Scott, also a cigar aficionado, said that the “challenging” nature of craft beer mirrors that in the cigar world.
Then we somehow began discussion dystopian futures, which Alex and Ethan said were heralded by “the loss of the idiosyncratic.” I had never thought of it that way before, but it made a lot of sense. I had always thought of 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 as being pro-homogeneity, but the flip side of that is that they’re anti-personal expression. Craft beer is all about experimentation and idiosyncrasy, even if it can be so to the point of unintentional self-parody at times. Now I can see what we do as not just pro-labor and pro-community but as anti-authoritarian as well. This pint kills fascists.
As we had last time, we then headed downstairs for a last beer or two. We stood outside chatting about the book, kids, avant garde Seinfeld. It was a great discussion, and I can’t wait until August 20, when we meet again to talk about Steven Hales’ Beer & Philosophy. I hope you can join us!