Labor and Beer


When I did my Forty Day Forty Pennsylvania Microbrewery Tour two years ago (hence the name of the blog), it became a fairly predictable paradigm and pattern: Craft brewing, in old industrial towns, located generally in old repurposed factories.

Since Pennsylvania is one of the oldest states, I could practically chart the trajectory of the Industrial Revolution: craftsman, to factory worker, to white collar/white flight to the ‘burbs, to deindustrialization, and the rise of the strip mall. Think Harrisburg, Easton, Phoenixville,Bethlehem, Pittsburgh, Erie, Lancaster, Williamsport, Berwick, Philadephia, Chambersburg, etc. Kind of depressing and sad but with hope brewing. A faint pulse of innovation and imagination fermenting anew.

Mummified Main Street whose innards were sucked out by chains. Yet, now, a return of Craft. Full circle. Prior, very few breweries survived this spherical trajectory truncated additionally by Prohibition. Yuengling was one of the anomalies that did in Pottsville. Just far enough out of reach of the big boys, sheltered in coal country. Now, the largest independent in the U.S. The emergence of Craft brewing as a force to be reckoned with, ironically positioned above mainstream beers in both taste and price. Poetic justice.

The independent breweries before corporate suds domination were typically cheap and awful. We cannot romanticize how bad some of those beers were: Iron City in Pittsburgh, Schmidt’s in Philadelphia, National Bohemian in Baltimore, Knickerbocker in New York. The corporate model created consistency. Hard to love, but not nasty swill either. Inoffensive. Bland. But you wouldn’t go blind taste-wise drinking it.  Nothing to behold either. The light lager.

Craft beer now: Hands-on and high-brow. Out foxing the bigs with asymmetrical strategies. Taking the hammer and striking a blow for the working man who has been replaced by the machine. John Henry getting a good bit smarter, tools and techology, turned against the beer behemoths. What would Marx say? This development in beer gives me hope that getting smaller and smarter is actually how to grow opportunity.

We just have to stop giving our dollars to those who seek to deliver us mediocrity and tell us we should shut our traps and suck it down. Unthinking. Enough, enough, enough.


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