The other night during a bit of insomnia I started thinking a bit too much about the craft beer scene and how to explain it to someone outside of it. The easiest comparison I could think of would be between craft beer and coffee. Interestingly enough, when I brought it up my friend Theo, head brewer at Alter Ego Brewing, told me he uses the coffee brewing process to help explain the beer brewing process. More similarities than you would think!
Think of it all like this: people drink good coffee and crap coffee just like people drink good beer and crap beer. Some people drink coffee just for the caffeine. They don’t care what it tastes like, as long as it mostly tastes like coffee and get its job done – get them going on their day. They’ll get it at McDonald’s, a gas station, or other places where it’s cheap and tastes questionable but who cares they’re all jacked up!
Then there are people who like their coffee to taste a little better. The ones who go to Starbucks and Dunkin for example. They don’t mind paying a little bit more for a better tasting and sometimes fancier product. In fact, they’ll wait in a line 20 deep on Black Friday at the mall just to get a iced pumpkin latte extra tall with soy milk because that’s what they want based on taste.
Finally there are those with a more discerning taste. They like their local coffee shop because they use a French press, roast their own beans, and get locally sourced ingredients. They scoff at the idea of getting a McCafe – why would you subject yourself to such crappy coffee when you could go to Little Amps or St. Thomas Roasters (some local Harrisburg favorites). They may even be French pressing those local beans in their own home because they just can’t imagine waking up with Folgers in their cup.
Take each of these groups of people and it’s not hard to fit them into our little beer world. We have our ‘big beer drinkers’ much like the basic coffee drinkers who choose their beverage based on price and to get the job done. In this case the job is being drunk. We have those who are willing to branch out a bit and spend a little more on a better product. This probably is the biggest group in our community – from Blue Moon and Leinenkugels (newer to craft beer people) to Sam Adams and even further to New Belgium, Sierra Nevada, Dogfish Head, and Stone (we know what we like). Then we have those that like to go local and even to get what others can’t. Think Hill Farmstead and Tired Hands for example. Not easy to get and usually only able to be found in their local area. I think the home brewers can go in this category too if we’re going to label everyone.
The real challenge is to realize that no one is any better than the other. Sure, we like to scoff at the fizzy yellow beverage drinkers but is that not just a chance for education and encouragement? Personally, I’ve gone from one of those drinkers to an occasional homebrewer and 98% craft drinker so can’t others as well? Over 1500 different beers later I can’t be a solo ‘success story’. I used to drink shitty Turkey Hill coffee because I didn’t know how good a cold jar brown sugar latte from Little Amps could be. Do you know how easy it is to show a Blue Moon drinker a Troegs Dreamweaver Wheat and change their minds forever? When people ask about the scene, feel free to compare it to coffee, because it is that similar and easy but try not to feign superiority because of where you think you fall in it all. Instead, spread your knowledge and offer a suggestion.