In the 80’s, life centered around glitz and glam. The box office brought us Big, Working Girl, Wall Street and Glengarry Glen Ross, movies that put value on corporate success. MTV hit the airwaves in 1981 and brought the glitz and glam of 80’s pop and hair metal into our living rooms. It was all about excess and getting as much as you could get. The hero of the day wore a double-breasted suit and drove a BMW. Rock stars sang about partying and fast cars. TV featured perfect families that had only minor disagreements that were easily resolved in 30 minutes. Shows ended with an “I’m Sorry” and “I Love You” every time.
The 90’s replaced Wall Street with Office Space, a movie that took a more everyman look at corporate life. Instead of rocketing to the top in the span of a couple of months, it painted a picture of underpaid monotony. Smiling TV families of the 80’s were replaced by Seinfeld and Friends, stories of quirky friends that each struggled to figure out life in their own way, often tripping over their own faults the way we all do. Flashy hair metal was replaced by a stripped-down sound with introspective and existential lyrics known as grunge. The hero of the day wore a flannel shirt over a t-shirt with long, unkempt hair and boots. Rock stars sang about universal themes that we all deal with.
In short, the 90’s brought about a sense of authenticity in media. Music and pop culture was more accessible to everyone because it was truthful about everyday life. Truth and authenticity are qualities that will always speak to an audience over pure marketing glam. If there wasn’t power in truth and authenticity then craft beer would have never come to be. How else would a ragtag group of brewers cobbling together old dairy equipment have been able to capture an audience away from mega beer corporations? They had a simple stripped-down message of truth and authenticity coupled with a story of hard work and character that people wanted to be a part of.
As industry grows, things change inevitably. But, inevitably, as something loses its authenticity and increasingly relies on money or market position or media reach to carry the message, the door begins to open for a more authentic, more everyman friendly version to come along. The underdog will continue to have its place in the world and will continue to have its rise.
As craft brewers, I think we must continually ask ourselves, did we set out to control the beer world? Is the end goal hairspray, limousines and champagne? Are we making a beer look a certain glittery way just so that people will put it on Instagram? Are the ingredients we are adding to our beer for the purposes of flavor and furthering the craft? Are the activities we are engaging in beer-centric or Instagram-centric? Is our message authentic or contrived to get us social media engagement?
I don’t claim to have the answers or to have never blurred the lines. The industry will ultimately take the twists and turns it will take and if dressing your beer up like a stripper makes the ultimate Instagram beer porn then who am I to judge? I do think that these are the important questions to ask though if we want craft to stay true and authentic. I know that this discussion makes me want to don my flannel shirt and boots while I sip a thoughtfully crafted brew and Eddie serenades me.
I’ll go back to the rock I’ve been living under now.