Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway).
(Updated at 3:30 p.m.) I’ve had a thought festering in my head for some time now, but hadn’t been able to crystallize it until a conversation I had with my wife recently. We were talking about Vintage Ads; a repository for images and videos of classic advertisements from yesteryear. My favorite posts on Vintage Ads are often the food-related ones, which tell the tale of American food appreciation throughout the 20th Century.
My wife was pointing out how in the span of a few decades, Americans went from Hot Buttered Cheerios, Squirrel-in-Cider, gelatin-molded veg-all “pie-plate salads,” Impossible Cheeseburger Pie, and frosted ham to a nation of organic, biodynamic, locavore, gluten-free, non-GMO, traditionally-styled/fusion/niche cuisine-craving foodies. That’s when the thought finally came together in my head, as we both realized that beer has taken a very similar path…
We are all Beer Geeks now.
Follow me for a moment: A media star rises, suddenly opening the eyes of an American audience to the history, culture and possibility of their consumables. Most importantly, Americans learn that doing it themselves is easier than they think — and it sparks a revolution. Other celebrities follow, and within a couple of decades an entire industry comes alive, spurred on by those who were inspired by that first exposure, and an American public newly awakened and curious about what it’s been missing out on.
Of course I’m thinking of Julia Child, but I could also be writing about the late beer writer Michael Jackson. In the wake of The French Chef, America discovered more culinary guides: Jacques Pepin, Graham Kerr, Emeril Lagasse, Mario Batali, Anthony Bourdain… hell, throw in Rachael Ray, Paula Deen, and Martha Stewart — it’s a big tent, after all, with room for many tastes and interests. Millions were inspired to start cooking for themselves at home; a small percentage of those went on to careers in the restaurant/food industry. Just like that, you have a revolution in food culture in the United States.
Jackson brought history, context, and a nobility to beer that largely had not been considered by America before him. With President Carter’s passage of HR 1337 in 1978, Americans began making their own beer in greater numbers than ever before; within a few short years, many of the pioneering craft breweries were already up-and-running: names like Anchor, Sierra Nevada, Sam Adams, and Bell’s began to stake out territory for a fledgling industry still seen as a curiosity by much of the country.
Their work found an audience thirsty for world-class American beer. One generation of craft brewers inspired the next to not only push the envelope in terms of flavor, but in the ambitions they had for the reach of their breweries and corporate philosophies.
For all the trends and fads, the overall arc of American interest in food has been a continually rising one. The “foodie” phenomenon has grown to the point where now fast food restaurants are offering “healthy” alternatives and are racing to out-do each other with artisanal-sounding ingredients. Neighborhood grocery stores now stock organic, sustainable, gluten-free items — stuff you had to search far and wide for 10-15 years ago. You can buy organic eggs at the 7-Eleven on Washington Blvd in Arlington now. The foodies have won. There’s no going back; this is the new normal.
The same thing is happening with beer right now. Blue Moon, Shock Top, the brewery buyouts, Budweiser Select and Black Crown, Miller Fortune — the big guys all had to start chasing an audience that was suddenly demanding more. What’s most important here is that “craft beer” has grown its audience to the point where it’s no longer a niche product; it’s in our grocery stores, our 7-Elevens, gas stations, and neighborhood bars.
We are all Beer Geeks now.
The debate over craft beer being a trend, or “craft” versus “crafty,” is done. All that’s really left to argue over are personal preferences and philosophies, which is great because those are all friendly arguments; those are fun. Once upon a time “craft beer” was the rallying cry for those who wanted options; now there are more choices available to consumers in more places than I would’ve imagined possible just 10 years ago. There are immensely talented brewers working with pride at breweries of all sizes all over the world-it’s all “craft.” Everyone is trying to make the best beer possible; everything else is a matter of preference.
There is still work to be done; still whole swaths of the country where smaller breweries aren’t available. But the tide has turned, and it’s no longer a question of “if” but “when.” The day will come when the chatter will be about the dominance of “big breweries” like Dogfish Head, Stone, Lagunitas, New Belgium, and the like — a day that I think is coming relatively soon, actually. When it does, I’ll just smile and be happy that these upstarts managed to grow at all — let alone become national names — in the face of an industry that wanted nothing less than to kill a consumer movement before it ever had a chance to grow. Welcome to the club, everybody.
We are all Beer Geeks now.
Until next time.
(Note: this is a truncated version of a piece posted to my blog today. For the full version, click here.)
Nick Anderson maintains a blog at www.beermonger.net, and can be found on Twitter at @The_Beermonger. Sign up for Arrowine’s money saving email offers and free wine and beer tastings at www.arrowine.com/mailing-list-signup.aspx. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.
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