|If beer has soul, does that make Jean Van Roy God?|
This is absolutely fascinating to me because it illustrates the degree to which people relate to beer not as a widget produced by a business, but something of a higher calling. Let's do a thought experiment, and keep in mind the notion of souls and devils as we do it. A group of DIY-ers start a small business that makes an innovative, creative, and well-made product. Because they're a start-up, sales are small and the principals are earning enough to keep going, but they're not getting rich. A large company comes along and offers to buy the business and infuse it with money. They will keep the principals on to continue making their product and selling it to a now much-larger audience. Think about how people would respond if that business were:
- A Portland shoe company acquired by Nike;
- A Chicago comic-book publisher acquired by Marvel;
- A San Francisco software company acquired by Apple.
I'm not trying to make any bigger point here. Even though I no longer hold the view, I'm not entirely sure the idea of a beer with soul is wrong. We all live in the bubble of our own experience. I've spoken to brewers like Jim Bicklein at Anheuser-Busch, and his excitement and commitment to the beer he brews is no different than Jean Van Roy's (Cantillon) or Dan Carey's (New Glarus) or Matthias Trum's (Schlenkerla). My bubble has been formed by interacting with all of them.
But there are other bubbles out there, where people have different relationships to this thing we all love. One of the reasons we're in a golden age of beer is because people do feel this level of passion. Those who were outraged by A-B's purchase of 10 Barrel will help keep small, independent breweries in business, and I can certainly sign up for that. If they had felt this passionate about beer 50 years ago in Belgium, dozens of old, quirky breweries wouldn't have gone out of business and would still be around making traditional, sometimes world-class beer. Passion is good.
Actually, now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure beer does have soul. I just subscribe to a slightly different religion: I think all beer has soul. Well, maybe not Natty Light.