Know Your Enemy

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From time to time, I’m asked to explain my beer radicalism.

Exactly why am I such a prick about beer?

From whence springs my deep-seated aversion to mass-market lager, which I regularly denounce as swill – including Bud, Coors, Miller and all their various low-calorie bastardizations?

Can’t I just be realistic, compromise, and agree that even if “real” craft beer is preferable, there are times when these nice, light, ice-cold barley pops really fill the bill?

No, I cannot.

More than a decade ago, during the course of explaining my transition from darkness to enlightenment, I explained it this way:

It takes a certain hardness of heart to realize that your beliefs are beyond compromise, even if the result is a schism with the past. I’ve come a long way toward achieving my goal of being a better beer drinker than all the rest of them – not in terms of volume, but in terms of understanding.

If celebrating this accomplishment means sharing with them the detestable liquid that started us all down this path, and partaking of the liquid they still venerate, as though nothing has changed in twenty years of incessant, clamorous change, then I’ll have to regrettably pass, and urge them to come to me on my terms… or not at all.

My rejection of mass-market, industrial swill comes honestly, and it has become so deeply ingrained and charged with symbolic self-definition that I’m not sure it can ever change.

I enduringly detest what the planet’s monolithic brewing companies have done to the essence of beer and brewing, and consequently, I have little interest in accepting the light, lighter and lightest beers they’ve devised as their chosen means of decimating beer’s diversity.

You want lighter? Go find a classic session beer: English Mild and Ordinary, Kolsch in the Cologne style, and many other lower-gravity beers that retain their “drinkability” without sacrificing the fundamental character that distinguishes beer from seltzer water.

Of course, with the gains of the craft brewing revolution, we’ve come far in winning a reprieve for the world’s traditional beer styles, while in the process advancing knowledge of their virtues to a new generation of beer drinkers. In terms of beer radicalism, generational perspectives are undeniable.

Using popular music as a metaphor, I recall when the rock and roll anthems held sacred by baby boomers began being used by the advertising industry to sell basketball shoes, automobiles and diapers. The reaction was indignation.

Nowadays, performers actively seek to graft songs onto advertisements, and their fans expect the tagging and targeting. It’s just another day in the land of milk, honey and unlimited personal choice, whereas for the previously outraged baby boomers, using the music of their earlier lives to sell trinkets was akin to borrowing the contents of one’s soul without permission.

Coming of age as the boomers did in a staid and non-diversified post-war America, pop and rock music became a manifestation of cultural identity, and consequently a matter of fierce personal principle. Music’s symbolism transcended the sounds themselves. Beer has that same effect on me.

Coming of drinking age in the early 1980’s meant an impossibly narrow beer selection – something that in most parts of the country, today’s 21- to 35-year-old has never experienced. He or she is to be forgiven for regarding bountiful selection as something to be taken for granted.

Ensconced in a welcomed cornucopia, the younger demographic of today makes its beer choices based on a completely different socialization process, moving up and down the master list of available beer selections with the ease of shuffling the contents of an iPod: Multiple doses of Pabst (groan) tonight at the dive bar, Guinness tomorrow at the Irish pub, and growlers of local craft for a game.

For them, there is no need to demonize the symbols of mass-market oppression. For me, there still is.

Yes, a vast majority of Americans prefer “barley pop” over my proposed alternative, but I am undeterred. Fighting the good fight appeals to me, and I’ll not concede a single inch. I’m prepared to offer alternatives, discuss and debate the topic with the ultimate aim of encouraging critical thinking about beer … and by extension, about life itself.

Can swill do that? I didn’t think so.

Roger A. Baylor
New Albanian Brewing Company

Roger Baylor
Roger’s career in beer began in 1983, when his philosophy degree from Indiana University Southeast landed him a job at a long forgotten package store in New Albany, Indiana. He is acknowledged as a regional leader in the craft beer movement. Since 1992, Roger has been a co-owner of New Albanian Brewing Company and its on-premise arms, NABC Pizzeria & Public House and NABC Bank Street Brewhouse. He is an active Brewers of Indiana Guild board member and a beer judge certified by the Beer Judge Certification Program.He has written beer columns for the News and Tribune, Louisville Eccentric Observer (LEO) and Food & Dining magazine, and remains an inveterate lover of pub life and beer-oriented travel.
  • Brian

    Well said, Mr. Baylor. Well said. Craft beer and home brewing is my kind of revolution. And it, too, will not be televised.

  • Josiah

    That’s it, now I have to visit the new Albanian this year! I’ve put it off for far too long!

  • Wayne

    In defense of swill… I hear what you are saying but is a no compromise, all-or-nothing stance on beer any better than a Tea Party political stance or radical Islam etc?? I think you can be a bit more accepting of swill. I can still enjoy PBR, regular Bud, Strohs and especially Yuengling.

  • Chris

    To Wayne: how is Baylor’s wholesale rejection of industrial swill analogous to the Tea Party’s wholesale rejection of logic, reason, or intellectualism? I fail to see viable connections there. And radical Islam? Seriously? To the point: the powers-that-be in the industrial beer market seek profit margins over the bottom line, at the expense of quality. They have the luxury of being able to out-produce craft beer and take a bigger slice of the pie. Consumers have largely forgotten to consider that quality (and lack of harmful preservatives, among other factors) is just as important as cost in making purchasing decisions. Baylor makes an important point: industrial swill isn’t just shitty beer, it kills the diversity of beer in the consumer marketplace. Craft beer is lovingly made with skill and dedication to the craft of brewing. It takes an intimate understanding and an imagination of how beer works. So have an imagination when you drink a beer.

  • Roger A. Baylor

    Wayne, what Chris is saying cuts to the heart of the matter. When you see the tactics deployed by the big boys to maintain market share, it reminds you of what the CIA did/still does to destabilize popularly elected governments. It’s brutal, and it changes you.

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  • Keith C

    I’m with you 100%!!

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