February 3, 2015

Big Box Brewing Vs Craft Brewing

By: Ryan Hodros, Culinary Arts Student

I won’t lie, I skipped the Super Bowl this year.  When the Broncos lost to the Colts, I lost most of my interest in the NFL, and deflategate killed whatever was left.  But as a beer writer, I couldn’t help but catch wind of the Budweiser ad that aired during the big game (not the one with the cute puppy, which was a tear-jerker.  The other one).  Most of my friends came to me for some kind of commentary on the subject, but in the grand pantheon of insulting commercials put out by Budweiser, this one is fairly mild.

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For those who didn’t/can’t click the link (and by all means, don’t feel obligated), the commercial highlights Budweiser’s status a blue collar beer made for people who like to drink, as opposed to craft brews that are for heady intellectuals who dissect their beers.  They take pride in being a “macro beer” and all that implies—it’s a consistent, inoffensive beer that’s cold and refreshing.  Bud is brewed “the hard way” (in a largely automated factory where most of the labor is done by machines) and is crisp and simple, while craft beers are overly complex “pumpkin peach ales.”  The commercial is somewhat offensive to craft beer drinkers and makers, but otherwise not a big deal.

The commercial does bring to light a topic that, as a prospective or current culinary student, you should probably be aware of—the idea some people hold of “culinary snobbery.” Let me say off the bat that I don’t mean to imply that large-scale consumer products are inherently bad, and small scale artisanal products are inherently good.  I’m a home-brewer, and I’ve definitely choked down a batch or two of my own poorly made pale.  Meanwhile, New Belgium (brewers of Fat Tire, my personal favorite beer) sold nearly a million barrels of their work last year alone.  You judge whatever you’re enjoying using your own idea of what is good and bad.

You’re meant to drink beer, not dissect it, says the commercial. “Just shut up and drink,” is the implication, as though you have no right to criticize anything you consume.  Extended out to the rest of the hospitality industry, the commercial is saying “shovel this food in and leave.”  And while I’ll admit that there are times in life when this is appropriate (midway through a project, during your ten minute work break, during a road trip, etc.) I would argue that this is no way to enjoy anything.

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Does that mean you have to pick apart every meal, trying to isolate every little herb and spice and identify every flavor profile as you chew?  Of course not.  But when any manufacturer starts to even imply that you have to stop thinking in order to enjoy their product, it smacks of desperation.  Ignoring the “just keep drinking” implications in the commercial, it’s your right as a consumer to examine every experience you have of any product.  As an example, I love Fat Tire, but quite often it gets old and I drink something else.  That’s not New Belgium’s fault—sometimes I need to mix things up.

As an up-and-coming chef in a difficult industry, you’ll find this attitude in a lot of your friends and family.  “Chill out, it’s just food.”  Friends who put cut-up hot dogs into their ramen noodles and call that “cooking” will tell you that you’re wasting your time making cassoulet.  People who are totally fine with making a giant batch of spaghetti on Monday and surviving on that until Thursday will tell you that your beef bourguignon isn’t worth the three days it takes to make.  These people exist, and they will tell you in one way or another that your food and profession is stupid.

Do your best to ignore them.  There is a market for artisanal food and drink, populated by people with green money that spends.  Not only that, but the alternative in the beer industry is the same three brews that taste more or less the same every time you decide to crack open a cold one for the rest of our lives.  Who does that really benefit—the consumers or the manufacturers?

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If someone tries to tell you that enjoying a new ethnic cuisine, or a twist on an old classic, or anything you find interesting, do your best to ignore them.  Not to sound judgemental, but they’re missing out—mixing up what you put on your plate or in your glass is a fun and easy way to squeeze some adventure into your hectic day-to-day life.

And if you’re on the other side of the order window, take pride in the fact that you make something no one else does.  For the last few decades, the food industry trends have been moving gradually away from a homogenous “Chili’s or Applebee’s” restaurant scene.  In Denver alone, you can choose from all five continents on a Friday night.  It’s a great time to be a consumer, with more and more choices in the restaurant guide.

This understandably scares a company like Budweiser, which grew up well before this new trend began.  But that’s their problem.  This weekend, sit down to a nice meal of your choosing, crack open your favorite beverage (or something new if you like) and take solace in the fact that next weekend could be completely different if you so choose.