Conformity, contrarianism and a craft writing symposium

In my stray jigsaw-puzzle-piece of the planet, the coming weekend is utterly devoted to the city of Lexington, Kentucky.

I never once thought I’d write that sentence, but Lexington is where my mother attended the University Of Kentucky, which is hosting an event called “Craft Writing: Beer, The Digital, and Craft Culture,” among whose participants I have been included by the symposium’s organizer, Jeff Rice.

Breweries have, in turn, helped revitalize city neighborhoods, generated new jobs in related industries, and played a key role in expanding digital and social media usage.

This event will showcase the professional writing – in print and digital media – that is dominant in the craft beer industry. Writing has played a major role in promoting the business of craft beer.

Craft Writing will serve as an event that draws interdisciplinary attention to the ways industry utilizes writing – in various digital forms – to promote, inform, highlight, argue, market, brand, and foster relationships between products, consumers, and other relevant parties.

When asked by the intrepid Rice to provide a title meant to summarize the thoughts I might seek to convey, I immediately offered “Everything You Know Is Wrong,” and having done so, there was a wonderful sense of smug self-satisfaction lasting roughly a day.

In fact, I rose from bed the very next morning to the mirror and a question: What exactly do I mean by that?

First and foremost, I’m by no means excluding myself from any such indictments. Moreover, I purposefully resemble my own remark. The phrase handily summarizes my personal experiences as a beer business owner, roughly from the year 2008 to the present. During this period, virtually all the assumptions I’ve ever made with reference to beer, my own brewery, our plans of action, and the brewing world outside have proven to be flawed or inaccurate, sometimes a little bit, and other times quite a lot.

Consequently, it is certifiably true that the past six years have deeply affected my ideological standpoint. Yes, I may be suffering from something akin to battle (bottle?) fatigue, or perhaps war weariness, borne of incessant demands to glare at numbers on a page, to match production to capacity, to increase both, or not, to cut costs and to service debt, to juggle egos, to make investments pay, and to determine what America’s craft beer marketplace even means at this point in time.

Did I mention those detestable numbers on a spreadsheet, mocking my efforts to schmooze and cajole them into compliance, when they insist on adding up as only numbers can?

Does anybody really know what time it is?

Once I’d have answered “no, but at least there’s time for a beer.” Nowadays, I’m not even sure about that.

However, the continued existence of an ideological standpoint verifies a system of ideas and ideals, the primacy of which always has been a fundamental basis for the craft beer revolution and my personal conception of it. Furthermore, perhaps as a self-preservation mechanism as they pertain to the larger world of beer lying outside my outside my control, my traditionally contrarian instincts have come roaring back into preeminence these past few years.

Craft beer is a state of mind … but whose? I have a slew of opinions about this, as rooted in a system of ideas, and I’m capable of sharing them in writing. What always can be counted upon to annoy me to the point of active resentment is when justifiable enthusiasm becomes irrational exuberance, then is enumerated and rendered doctrinal, after which perfectly sensible persons began advising against challenging the new prevailing orthodoxy – for instance, the familiar admonition against brewers even speaking aloud about a potential craft beer bubble, lest doing so might instigate a loss of faith, and the popping of a bubble that the very same commentators deny exists in the first place.

My inner contrarian seems to have returned after a period of relative dormancy, and it’s about damned time. As always, I blame it on early exposure to the classics.

You might recall that roughly 2,500 years ago, there lived the Greek philosopher called Socrates, a man whose dogged pursuit of knowledge endeared him to succeeding generations of admirers, although not to his fellow Athenians. In fact, most of his neighbors considered him not only an annoyance, but a heretic, too, and if there’s anything to be gleaned from reading history, it’s that there’s always time enough for a priest (or a Rate Advocate devotee) to throw another heretic on the fire.

Thanks to Plato’s writings, we now recognize Socrates as a peerless moral and social critic. Appropriately, he has been honored by this tag of gadfly, a term for describing “people who upset the status quo by posing upsetting or novel questions, or just being an irritant.”

That’s my kind of guy, although naturally gadflies are detested at the speed of knee-jerk by small, non-expandable minds of the sort serving as the norm in societies the world over, including craft beer’s insular priesthood.

Accordingly, you can picture the scene in the Athenian agora, with Socrates and his small band of followers avidly questioning accepted beliefs, while the true believers hover nearby, muttering, and eavesdropping on the dialogues. If only they’d had social media; these many centuries later, I can almost hear the bellow from behind the adjacent stone wall, followed by the pitter-patter of fleeing sandals:

“Hey, Socrates, if you aren’t happy here, then why don’t you get the hell out and leave us alone?”

Socrates stayed, of course, and was made to pay dearly for it. During a period of political upheaval, he was put on trial and convicted of corrupting the morals of Athenian youth. Offered the opportunity to devise his own punishment, the philosopher wryly suggested that his “sentence” include a regular monetary stipend and free meals for life.

While refraining from making direct comparisons between myself and Socrates, note that I’d take session-strength ale before food.

The humorless judges gave Socrates the choice of exile or death, and he opted for the latter, drinking the hemlock (today’s Trojan Goose), cementing his martyrdom, and proving that in ancient Greece as in modern-day America, folks don’t take kindly to having their premises examined.

That’s too bad. Craft beer began as an upheaval, the lancing of a boil, and a revolution, one savagely challenging beer orthodoxy, before deciding that maturity somehow suggests donning the trappings of conformity and finding they fit more nicely than imagined. Now we’ve come back to the future, and those who appreciate better beer must do so via shared orthodoxies. Well, gadflies suit me, and I’m intent on questioning these orthodoxies.

Q. Does a rising tide lift all boats?
A. I’m not sure. It might depend on the construction of the boat.

Q. Are more rare/expensive/highly-rated/over-the-top beers always best?
A. Only if you’re more comfortable reading “Finnegan’s Wake” than “Fifty Shades of Grey” every single day, and I seriously doubt you are.

Q. Does beer pairs better with food than wine?
A. Well, of course it does. Do you really think I can be in the same room with Garrett Oliver and say otherwise? But can we at least avoid the egregious obscurantism of the wine-lover’s verbiage?

Do I hear the sound of Bics flicking in the metro Louisville night? That’s fitting and proper, because Socrates had it right: The unexamined life is not worth living. Whether or not the craft writing symposium proves transformational, the run-up to it has provided the opportunity to reconnect with myself, and for this, I am appreciative.

What's your take? Please comment below.