By now, everyone who’s a craft beer drinker has seen – and mocked, ridiculed and expressed their outright disbelief towards – a certain TV commercial that recently aired during a very high-profile sporting event. In it, a pretty big company took some fairly broad swipes at us, the craft community at large positing that “real beer drinkers” would prefer to eschew craft for less-fussy fare. Problem is said company has been very active acquiring small craft breweries known precisely for producing the very same overly-complex beer made fun of in the ad spot.
When I saw it during the game I shook my head and extended a familiar single-appendage gesture to the flatscreen. Amidst my personal bile and vitriol for mega-corps and their blatant hubris, something else occurred to me. Something familiar.
I’ve been here before. Mid- to late-90s. Punk rock (well, as close to that cultural epoch as one could get in those Thatcher-less and Regan-less days) was making a resurgence of sorts. Like its murky beginnings in the late 60s through to the high water – and hair – mark of the late 70s, 90s punk was a loud, brash, energetic clarion call to rock & roll’s roots; a rejection of rigid conformity and a desire to challenge the system. “Just Say No” was usurped for “just say no to corporate rock religion and soul-less music.”
Keeping their enemies closer, major record labels came a-calling, checkbooks in hand. Bands like Green Day, Bad Religion, Seaweed and The Mighty Mighty Bosstones crossed the imaginary picket line of “us and them” and inked the document. Some thrived and survived, others withered and died. Some fully bought into the system they had seemingly once strived so hard to reject only to see artistic alterations to their sound begin to take precedent over substance.
Is “selling out” truly a bad thing? While all of us are here to make a buck and prosper, it feels unseemly to see our heroes kneel down to a fat payday. Here’s the thing that bothers me: If they were finding success – critical and financial – already and doing so under their own auspices, why grab for the brass ring?
The very same thing is happening in beer. Respected names established upon the notion of making quality product are being sought out – and bought out – by the big macro brewers who made fortunes on cheap, watered-down pablum for the masses. If you can’t beat ‘em, buy ‘em! Problem is I’ve seen too many of these acquisitions get brought in just so the big boys could gut the company and shut them down.
Knowing that almost everyone has a price, these multi-billion-a-year companies are playing a bully role. One shining star has been standing on its own for 22 years and are in no need of anyone else’s money. I find it apropos to feature Avery Brewing Co. Dictator Series: The Czar at this point. Only the name hearkens to the macro-mentality. This beer represents everything good about beer “we have to fuss over.” Tar-black; whipped-cream head; abundant lacing; big scents of dark chocolate, caramel cream, raisin, fig and star anise; deep flavors of mocha, smoke and dried fruits; medium- to full-bodied with warming alcohol.
Avery represents all that’s good and true about brewing. Real rock music survived and so shall real beer.