Beer Geek

Red, white and brew: The American spirit is alive and well with craft brewers

June 28, 2012 at 9:16 AM ET

TODAY.com /
The American spirit is alive and well in the craft brewing community.

There’s a lot of doom and gloom in the news these days about the direction America is headed.  The economy continues to limp along, unemployment remains stubbornly high, and the stock market is hardly what one could call stable.  This being an election year makes things even worse, as people with political agendas are busy shining a light on what’s wrong with America with one hand while using the other to point the finger at who’s to blame.  On the surface, things are a mess.

But you have to go no farther than the beer aisle at your local bottle shop to discover that the American spirit is alive and well in the craft brewing community.  John Painter from RationalAmerican.com has created a list of eight American cultural traits, and I think each one can be applied nicely to what I consider to be a shining light of American excellence, our craft brewers:

Independence: When you buy craft beer, you’re buying a little slice of American individuality, made by men and women who have escaped the confines of the establishment to make something special for themselves and their countrymen.  They have declared their independence from the mega brewers like Bud, Miller and Coors (all of whom are no longer American-owned) to build their own breweries and make better beer than the big boys.  If you ever root for the “little guy” then you’ve gotta root for America’s independent craft brewers.

Hard Work: If you’ve ever toured a brewery or made your own beer, you know that the process of brewing can be hot, stinky and physically demanding.  I like to say “brewers are doers” because most of the ones I’ve met have been action-oriented people who aren’t afraid of working their butts off to brew up something special.

I know more than a couple of craft brewers who used to sleep at their brewery as it was getting off the ground, creating a little nest for themselves to collapse into at the end of an exhausting day of physical labor, only to wake up the next morning and do it all again.  One of the things that made this country great is hard work, and brewers work as hard as anybody. 

Inventiveness: This is where American craft beer truly shines, as the USA brews some of the most creative and innovative beers in the world.  We aren’t afraid to take the old-world styles of beer and put a unique spin on them, creating something new, delicious and uniquely American. The inventiveness you’ll find in the American craft beer scene is the thing that I think makes it the best in the world, bar none.  And I’m not alone — of RateBeer.com’s 2012 Best Brewers In the World rakings, American craft breweries account for nine of the top ten brewers.

Taste-test: Do beer glasses enhance the brew?

Personal Ambition: This country was founded on personal ambition — it’s what drives the American Dream – and there’s nothing more ambitious than starting your own company.  American craft brewers aren’t men and women who are laying back and hoping for their dreams to come true, they are chasing them.  And unlike the exploits of other ambitious people in this country, they are not succeeding at the expense of their fellow citizens.  Instead, they are offering a simple pleasure to those who support their ambitions — they’re giving as much as they get.

Risk-Taking: Perhaps opening a craft brewery is some form of mid-life crisis, because many craft brewers have a similar story — I was working at a regular job, and decided to scrap everything and open a brewery.  These men and women turned their backs on the stability of a workaday life because they had a passion to brew and saw opportunity in America’s growing thirst for better beer.  They risked the comforts and security of the well-worn path because they knew without risk, there is no reward, which is a very American way to see things.

Commitment:  One of the building blocks of our culture has been our stubbornness.  We refuse to give up just because the odds are stacked against us or sacrifices are required to reach our goals.  I personally know more than a few craft brewers who put their houses on the line to open their breweries.  Simply put, they are all in.  They’ve leveraged everything can to pursue their vision of making excellent beer, and there’s no looking back.  This is the same spirit that gave us the transcontinental railroad and put the first man on the moon.

Skepticism: Americans have a history of questioning authority and the status quo, and craft brewers are no exception.  Many of today’s established American craft breweries were started by men and women who homebrewed because they refused to accept that the fizzy yellow stuff being peddled as “beer” was fit for consumption.  They demanded better.  Then their friends tasted it, and they too demanded better, and soon the brewers realized they could brew “better” for a living.

Honesty: When you hold a glassful of craft beer in your hand, you’re holding 12 ounces of liquid honesty, a handshake between you and the brewer.  Most craft brewers refuse to cut corners that will affect the final product.  Craft beer costs you a little more at the cash register than mass-produced light lagers like Budweiser, but the brewers are making far less than the big boys.  That’s because they stay away from cheap filler ingredients like rice to pad their profit margins.  You get what you pay for when you buy a craft beer, and Americans love nothing more than a fair deal.

As you can see, craft beer is a bright spot in the current landscape of America.  It’s an industry that’s growing by double digits every year, and creating jobs along the way.  It’s a source of local pride for people who live near an excellent craft brewery, and represents how successful we can be if we stick to our unique American principles.

So lift a pint of American craft beer as you celebrate our nation’s independent spirit this Fourth of July, and take a moment to realize that there are still many thing we can be proud of as Americans.

Jim Galligan is co-founder of the Beer and Whiskey Brothers blog, where he and his brother Don cover the ever-evolving world of craft beer and distilled spirits.

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