Communities are made up of weird, weird people
Communities are a funny thing. By their very nature, they are both natural and artificial constructions as, on the one hand, they stem from our inherent need to congregate with other like-minded individuals and, on the other hand, require human initiative in order to see them instituted and carried out. Hence, they have a tendency to be both ridiculously niche-y and all-inclusive. Account executives go to Comic Con; construction workers bang each other through crotch holes in squirrel suits at furry conventions. At least that’s what I heard from inside my gorilla costume.
Like most of you, I’m a member of several communities: hack writers, the service industry, just-sort-of-creepy cat lovers. But the one with which I’m most involved, personally and professionally, is the craft beer industry. Regarding the latter, I run Beer-o-logy classes at our restaurant (their name, not mine), help coordinate tap takeovers and make up for my janitorial ineptitude by being the smartest guy at the bar. Personally, I always make sure to try new things, keep a small cellar for aging rare bottles and try to attend as many local tastings as possible. It does not suck to be obsessed with this.
Over these seven years of being (legally) involved in such circles, I’ve come to see several social phenomena, positive and negative, manifested in my experiences. Was this a slow news week? Maybe. As in “definitely.” Craft Beer Drinkers are the Ultimate Hoarders
The catalyst for this piece — besides the omnipresent, looming deadline, not to mention banking on the fact that the Metro Spirit editors will probably never actually read this — was a trip up to Amherst, Wisconsin, a few weeks ago to the Central Waters Brewery. If you’ve never heard of Amherst — and you probably haven’t, unless you have snotcicles hanging from your nose — it’s sort of like Waynesboro, but with a suburb. It’s the closest the continental United States gets to the taiga.
I was there for their release of Fifteen, a version of their Satin Solstice imperial stout aged in oak bourbon barrels for a ridiculous 26 months, available only on that day and at the brewery. This wasn’t the first time Central Waters had a special release; last year, they made 1414, another bourbon-aged stout, to a relatively tame turnout. But the beer was purportedly top-notch, and so once word got out that Fifteen was on the way, beer geeks from Grand Rapids to Chicago to Muncie were packing cars and buying plane tickets. I feel both proud and a little weird about being completely serious here.
See, Fifteen is what we’d call a “celebrity beer.” Meaning, I have four bottles, jerk-off, and you don’t. Probably the most famous example is Three Floyds’ Dark Lord Imperial Stout. Released and sold on one day only in late April at their Indiana brewery, this beer has drawn over 6,000 attendees for the past three years. Tickets sell out online in about one minute and, prior to eBay’s crackdown on alcohol sales, net-peddled bottles of bourbon- or cognac-aged Dark Lord fetched prices in the upper hundreds.
And people go nuts for these things. Well-heeled, or geographically fortunate, fans load up on as many bottles as they’re allowed, and then use them as leverage, or to maintain extensive “verticals,” i.e. escalating vintages of the same beer. I’ve got a couple bottles of Goose Island Bourbon County laid away, not to mention the fact that I’m not going to drink more than one Fifteen per year, but some of my compatriots are screaming lunatics. An example: I was at a recent tasting, when I overheard the following: “Yeah, I’ve only got two cases of the 2010 [Central Waters] Barley Wine left. Still have six of the 2012, though.”
The only difference between this and the TV show “Hoarders,” is that you can’t get drunk off of knick-knacks. Socialism Is a Good Thing
I’m sort of poor, and if my obsession with craft beer were transposed into a real world context, I’d be broke right now. And that’s why I’m thankful I live in a town like Madison, so simultaneously democratic and beer-crazy as it is. See, about once a month, someone from the local forum on ratebeer.com (don’t ask) sends out a “calling all locals” message to meet at someone’s house and crack open about 30 or 50 rare beers. They do this like they’re calling roll in Sunday School, and it blows my mind.
My contributions to these events — Three Floyds Behemoth, Hair of the Dog Blue Dot, Deschutes The Abyss — have been earnest, but comparatively paltry. These basements and living rooms are where I’ve had the good fortune to sample beers like Goose Island King Henry (a barleywine aged in 23-year-old Pappy Van Winkle bourbon barrels), Firestone Walker XII (a blend of several of their beers, aged on a combination of several different barrels) and Upright Fantasia (a stellar sour ale brewed with fresh Oregon peaches).
The spirit of community, of ware-sharing, imbues these gatherings. Everyone contributes what he or she can, everything is partaken of, and thoughtful, honest opinions are exchanged. I’ve watched Congressional hearings from start to finish, and it’s sad that our nation’s leaders can’t settle the debt ceiling issue with the same grace and civility with which we debate Bell’s Hopslam smelling more like orange peel or kitty pee. Communities are Made up of Weird, Weird People
And we all pretty much get along — mostly during states of increasing drunkenness, which even the British House of Commons has some trouble doing. Side note: if you ever want to see what Congress would look like in a hilarious, perfect world, find footage of House of Commons proceedings. Every argument is like a rap battle between Wordsworth and Keats, with posses in tow. It’s like “8 Mile,” but everyone is Rowan Atkinson and Colin Firth.
I touched on this in the introduction, but these gatherings span the socio-economic gamut. At this last one, there were other service industry workers like myself, an ad executive, two teachers, an electrician, a radio DJ and I’m pretty sure a homeless guy. It was a microcosm of society, all of us united in our desire to hang out, have fun and find out what happens when some lunatic ages a Belgian tripel in apple brandy barrels.
See, something happens when you find yourself socially engaged with a disparate array of individuals. You begin, in spite of your most strident efforts, to focus not on ideology, on perceived societal slights, but on people. These people; real people.
Don’t misunderstand; I’m not saying we can all unite under a common cause. For that to happen, either “Independence Day” or “Watchmen” has to play out in real life, and nobody wants that. But we can sure as hell listen to each other a little more. Republicans, let’s start with you: when the 2012 election ends up being a referendum against rape-advocation, gun control and socialist devilry, don’t introduce legislation to arm teachers and rearrange voting districts. Also, tell Boehner to be quiet already. And Democrats, let’s try and talk to the crazy people, shall we? If we can find out what makes them tick, maybe we can all reach an understanding.
Or maybe Ted Nugent* will make good on his April promise and get himself killed at the SOTU address. Either way, America wins. *But seriously, f*** that guy. You Might Also Like: