Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Honor Thy Brewers (Especially the Ones with Digs of Their Own).

It's one thing to brew. It's not always easy, and some are (much) better at it than others. But it can be learned. It's another thing entirely to run a successful brewery -- small or large -- keep it clean, keep it running, keep the books, and make the business last. Brewers and families with the guts and fortitude to raise the capital and pull that off deserve some extra honor and attention for it.

Some families have been doing it for generations, but it's those initial risk-takers who really impress me. I'm thinking, for example, of the guys at Struise, whose flavorful beers became popular in geekdom before they bit the bullet and opened their own place in Oostvleteren, West Flanders, last year. I'm thinking of my friends Yvan and Bernard of Brasserie de la Senne, who have gone through hell to open their dream brewery in Brussels next month. And lately I'm thinking about these guys trying to make and sell craft beer in Costa Rica of all places. We owe them all congratulations and crossed fingers. Buying their beer wouldn't hurt, either.

Clay Risen's interesting "gypsy brewers" piece today on the Atlantic website is what brought this all to mind.

Basically, all the reasons I think brewers with breweries deserve more applause are the flip side of what's so attractive about itinerant brewing. It takes a lot less money, and therefore less risk. Someone else can maintain the machines. Someone else can pay the rent. So we are enjoying the work of a greater number of creative types who otherwise might not be brewing at all -- or at least, not be making exactly the recipes they want to make. Which occasionally are exactly the recipes we want to drink.

I met Brian "Stillwater" Strumke in Baltimore one night in July. I asked him a bit about his brewing situation. I bugged him about what I thought were high prices on expensively packaged small-batch beers. And then I paid up anyway, of course, and thoroughly enjoyed his Staateside Saison on a few occasions in the D.C. area.

So the hedonist in me wins out. As usual. But with a caveat.

The nomadic brewers making a good product deserve our duckets and pats on the backs too. But maybe they also deserve to be bothered repeatedly with a simple question, if for no other reason than to nudge them toward further greatness:

"So, um, since your beer's so good... when are you going to start your own brewery?"


  1. I see your point - and an happy to read of someone else being upset (and then caving) on the high prices for expensively packaged small-batch beers.

    But... aren't the nomads helping out the static brewers with spare capacity? Wouldn't it be better if it was more of a normal practice for both sides of the equation?

  2. The short answer is yes. Sure. And there is also the point that itinerant brewing might be a springboard to greater glory... Making interesting beer on someone else's kit could be just the thing to attract money and/or investors.

  3. I love it when we agree. Beats the crap out of that whole "style" argybargy.