Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Point of Brew: One man’s pint is another man’s poison


From page A7 | December 06, 2012 |

Rick Birle of Lake Forest, commenting on an article about the wonders of craft beers in Sunset magazine, writes “… I’m waiting for someone to stand up and say that some, if not many, craft brewed beers are nearly undrinkable.” In various ways I have been saying this to the craft industry for some considerable time to no particular avail.

Rick again: “Granted, there are phenomenal craft brews, but let’s stop worshiping at the altar of microbreweries without separating the wheat from the chaff.” He is absolutely right, and it does no good to say so.

Here is the rub: What is drinkable or undrinkable, what is wheat or what is chaff, what is awesome or what is awful, what is excellent or what is execrable is very much on the palate of the drinker. It is a matter of taste: One man’s meat is another man’s poison. Some craft beer fans would point to Rick as the village idiot because he heaps praise on an ice-cold bottle of Bud drunk on the right occasion. Again, I think he is exactly right. He and I see eye-to-eye; I don’t doubt many beer drinkers would say “Amen brother” (and would add that they know their wheat from their chaff, that is, their preference).

Suppose I or Rick or some national organization or a select committee had the power to expunge certain beers from the planet because they are undrinkable (however that might be judged): Should we use that power? Well of course not. We might wish to tell a brewer to tone down (or up!) the bitterness, for example, but brewing decisions belong with the brewer. There is an argument to be made to leave well enough alone.

Most brewers, especially craft brewers, develop their brewing formulae based on a wealth of experience and expectation. One might say, quite truthfully, that the beers they brew arise from a well-developed philosophy of what their beers should be. Brewers are informed and intrigued, for example, by beers of former times and faraway places and by processes based on foggy traditional practices and using curious (perhaps magical) materials.

The beers that Rick and I might describe as “undrinkable” may well have an impeccable justification based on the brewer’s philosophy. Craft beers arise not from the demands of the market but from the vision of brewers, though confluence of market and vision is necessary for true success.

And frankly, that is part of the reason that a small but important slice of the beer-drinking population finds craft brews interesting and worth buying, not only for the character of the beer, but also for the philosophy, the back-story, that goes with it.

Neither Rick nor I would therefore change the beers that become available (even if we could) because it is necessary to stick to a well-founded and well-reasoned philosophy; if the foundations be good and honest and fairly derived, they are worth defending and promoting and continuing. A well-founded philosophy is not a subject for a popularity poll, nor is it enslaved to the whims of fashion. And so, while Rick and I might make certain beer choices that serve us well, we should not seek to change the beer market in such a way as to deny others their honest choice or to frustrate the brewers’ invention.

Therefore, we should mute our criticism and let the market determine winners and losers.

I think Republican philosophy and brewers’ philosophy have much in common and are similarly well-founded in experience, expectation, history, principles and traditions that have a long and impeccable pedigree. I therefore agree with those many Republicans who see no reason to change the fundamental philosophy of the GOP because of the recent election defeats.

Republicans should be like those well-informed brewers who continue to make undrinkable beers. Someone somewhere will appreciate it.

Like brewers who extol and validate the back-story of their beers, Republicans just have to tell their story better. If the back-story of the beer helps drinkers to admire it and buy it, maybe the well-told back-story of the GOP will help voters to admire and vote for the party. I think so.

The unseemly gleefulness of talking-head liberals on MSNBC could well be misplaced if Republicans were like brewers.

The conversation has to be frank. Think of labels on beer bottles as a model by which brewers can effectively communicate not merely the spirit of what they are trying to achieve but how they achieve it and why. Republicans surely can do as well.

Women, ethnic minorities and the LGBT community could be told simply that Republican policies put them right with God, the Bible and scripture, and the teachings of male hierarchy of the Catholic Church. What could be simpler and more persuasive?

Similarly, economic and regulatory policies that favor corporations and the wealthy can easily be explained to the 98 percent (or is it the 47 percent?) by the well-worn and, by now, surely true principles of the trickle-down theory.

And social policy that praises freedom over the social safety net, including available health care for all, is so obvious because we all need to be free of government intrusion unless one is a woman, an ethnic minority or LGBT, of course (see above).

If brewers and Republicans derive their product from a well-founded and honest philosophy, they should stay with those principles. The market in the end will decide what is palatable.

— Reach Michael Lewis at Comment on this column at





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