Critical Drinking

Critical Drinking — The Beer Politic

There’s a lot of political fervor out there right now with a new administration getting its legs under it. None of this is about that.

This is about the weird expectations some of our readers have that GBH would be silent on political matters. And that mixing politics is bad for business. Or that places like a beer website, for whatever that’s worth, should be free of challenging dialog. 

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It’s worth reiterating that we were founded on a mission. Our mission is to serve the beer industry and beer drinkers in ways that raise the level of discourse, increase expectations, and keep us all honest about what is, and isn’t, going to help create a better environment for beer. That doesn’t mean we expect you to agree with us, collectively or individually. In fact, we often take stances that violate many of our readers’ self-images—those that look at themselves in the mirror and see a zealous revolutionary staring back, fueled by an IPA in a 16oz can. Sorry, folks: that’s just commerce. Beautiful, delicious, sometimes-contributing-to-a-small-business-dream commerce.

Of course, it can be more than that. Some breweries have ideals and/or an ethos that drives them to conduct business in a different way. We love discovering these breweries, and more often than not, these are the breweries we feature here on GBH under our Signifiers profiles. But these businesses are diverse! And not all craft breweries have an ethos that would align with your own.

It’s easy to get lost in the rhetoric that small breweries tend to share with each other, the code words for “little” and “independent” and “craft.” This is all political speech. And it’s been highly effective. I love that a wide swath of breweries have banded together to create a collective impact on our industry over the past few decades. It’s the reason that so many of the beers I love are now viable businesses. These politics weren’t just good for business, they were great for it. So please, don’t tell me brewers shouldn’t be political—the breweries you love today were founded in a sort of politicking that just happened to align with your own. And here's the thing: they have other opinions, too. And not all of them will align with your personal priorities or views. 

Some breweries will happily stay out of the fray in the hopes that their neutrality will help them maintain a sizable customer base regardless of their politics. It’s not a bad move, even if it's not all that compelling either. Such is the way with customers and commerce. But don’t for a second think they’re apolitical. Breweries rely on the Environmental Protection Agency to keep our water safe and good for brewing—that’s now under direct threat. They band together to lobby for more favorable excise taxes on each barrel they brew, an issue that's lead small brewers to align with macro brewers on occasion. Some of them fund politicians or even run for office, hoping to change restrictive laws that hold their businesses back. And all of them rely on a customer base that feels confident in the economy, that feels good about socializing with their neighbors in public, and generally safe enough to even consider having a good time. Beer is a luxury good, after all. 

Others will choose to emphasize their politics for reasons that have little to do with commercial priorities. So often, the breweries people love—not like, but love—are run by people with a strong voice, a personal approach to business, and an ethos that goes far beyond beer. They're out there lobbying for better small business laws, encouraging diversity and inclusiveness in the workforce, aiding victims of natural disasters, and fighting for fairer taxes, better environmental protections, and so on. This isn’t just true of breweries, either—it's a pattern among small businesses in general. This is why so many of us fought for and supported the rise of local breweries and other small businesses—we wanted them to be connected to us and our communities in more ways than the liquid in the taps.

So when it comes to those businesses speaking out on behalf of their friends and neighbors, fighting for protections of their civil liberties and constitutional rights, protecting the natural resources they rely on, and encouraging their customers to be aware of threats to all of the above, why in the actual fuck are people suddenly pushing back on the idea that these businesses should “shut up and stick to beer?” You know who shuts up and sticks to beer? All the breweries you claimed were faceless, corporate, money-hungry, and unworthy of your dollars all those years—that’s who. And even then, you'd still be wrong. 

Long before someone is a brewer, they're a community member. Before that, they're a family member. And before that, they're a human being with needs and hopes for a quality existence. Together, we create an ecosystem where people are either supported or not. Our breweries and small businesses are part of that ecosystem. And some of the ways they can contribute in more than a transactional, commercial sense is through volunteering, political contributions, donations to causes they believe in, and voicing their opinions and concerns to their customers to raise awareness. If you can log on to Yelp and leave a scathing review for a small business because your order was five minutes late, or leave an Untappd review slamming a hoppy beer for being hoppy because “you hate IPAs, actually,” then sure as fuck a business can let you know what they think of a policy, a law, or a government official who is working against their best interests—and possibly yours. 

Like the pubs of old, breweries are not safe spaces from politics, and they shouldn't be. They're the critical third place where we come together in our communities and rub elbows over a pint even though we may worship in different houses on weekends, or attend different schools both private and public, or live on different streets with dramatically different land values, city services, and consequences for our safety, heath, and general outlooks on life. Much of that now spills over into the “bar that never closes” of social media. 

And finally, when it comes to GBH specifically, I’m not selling you anything. (Except when I'm literally selling you stuff from our e-commerce shop, but that's up to you. No pressure.) You come here of your own free will, read free content, and move on with your day without me pestering you about it either way. Feel free to skip us. Our business model was devised, however imperfectly, to not need your eyeballs as part of some incestuous circle of clickbait and traffic and ad sales. That means that, while we appreciate you stopping by, your opinion on what’s good for our business is irrelevant. And if you think mixing politics with our editorial is bad for business, that's your prerogative. But you also don’t understand our business at all. 

As for the breweries who're making their views known, recognize them not as mindless political blatherers, but as entrepreneurs who have fought to start and build businesses against huge odds, worked in their communities to create new value and jobs, and opened their doors to an increasingly diverse group of people who have come to believe that the beer they enjoy in their communities can be about more than just the beer. These are the political views we should be listening to, not shutting down. For many of you telling us all to shut up, this is ironically the promise of the administration you just voted to put into power—uniting business and government in some sort of glorious orgy of capitalism and survival of the fittest. But you'd like to keep the people who sell you beer in some sort of special bubble where you don't have to confront the affects of that political alignment or hear opinions that might hurt your feelings? Good luck with that.

Our tagline is "Aim True, Pour Liberal." It’s been on our digital signboard since the moment we turned the lights on. And while we’ve generally been able to rest easy—maybe too easily?—with the confidence that our society was under quality stewardship, it’s no surprise to me that it has just as easily come under threat. I believe that the things that are good for beer are good for society, largely because, historically, beer has united us and civilized us. But prohibition happened, too. If we’re taking a turn, and it seems we are, toward a more narrow, closed-off, exclusionary society, then I feel we have a profound weapon that’s as old as our historical record to wield in that fight—beer. So I don’t see GBH as an apolitical platform and neither should you. It’s a editorial collective on a mission expressed through our storytelling in beer, with people, places, and passion that reflect on so much more. 

“Beer people are good people.” I’ve heard that countless times in my career. “Beer people are silent.” “Beer people are weak.” “Beer people are cowards.” Those would be news to me. 

So yes, we’ve been vocal about our support for the American Civil Liberties Union because we think civil liberties are fundamental, not political. We donate to ProPublica, a nonprofit investigative journalism group that works hard to maintain transparency in every administration, which is also not about politics but quality leadership. And we marched with women around the world who are continuing the century-long fight for equality and fundamental rights for themselves and others. That’s also not political. It’s constitutional. 

To support these entities, and more to come, we've directly donated to their cause and run free ads on GBH to encourage others to do the same. And we intend to keep our mission in alignment with doing what benefits the beer world, which happens to be a world made up of people, first and foremost. 

So I guess you could say GBH is getting mired down in politics if you think any of those things listed above are somehow partisan in your mind. But if that’s the case, it’s not GBH that’s been politicized, it’s you. 

Drink woke. 

Words + Photos by
Michael Kiser