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Thursday, April 14, 2016

Hagiographies and Game Theory

I have two random little bits here that don't amount to posts by themselves--but with a bit of baling wire and a squint we can make them appear to demonstrate some larger point. Bear with me. (Don't you always?)

The first random bit comes from The Atlantic, in a post about elections and game theory by Andrew McGill. He uses the following example to describe the way delegates may behave in the GOP convention, but that's immaterial for our purposes. He writes:
In 1936, the economist John Maynard Keynes invented a beauty contest. In examining why stock prices fluctuate, he suggested the metaphor of a newspaper pageant, where readers select the six prettiest faces from 100 photographs. But only people who picked the most popular choices would win.

“It is not a case of choosing which, to the best of one’s judgment, are really the prettiest, nor even those which average opinion genuinely thinks are the prettiest,” he wrote. “We have reached the third degree where we devote our intelligences to anticipating what average opinion expects the average opinion to be.”
This got me thinking about my rumination on what makes a "great brewery." Whenever we're examining something largely subjective--the best Texas swing band, which color to paint the bedroom, breweries--we're always looking over our shoulder at what the gal next to us thinks. In matters of aesthetics the currency is taste, and nothing is ever so negotiable as that. So, like Keynes' pageant models, we tend to add the opinion of the masses into our calculation. In arenas like wine appreciation and art collecting, it's hard to see much driving prices except the view of the masses. We like to associate ourselves with admired things to burnish our own prestige, so it's easy to see how certain beers and breweries seem to enjoy a reputation not entirely consistent with their actual production.

Which brings me to the following video clip, which is "journalism" in its most fawning. The object of this piece is Jim Koch and Boston Beer, and I'm guessing the folks in Boston Cincinnati and Breinigsville are tickled to death. [Stan Hieronymus tells me, "Since Schaefer built it in 1972 - and when Stroh owned it and then Diageo - it has always been referred to as the Fogelsville plant," not Breinigsville.] They could hardly have produced a more hagy hagiography if they'd put this together themselves.

And how does this clip relate to Keynes' beauty contest? Because breweries are spending increasingly more time trying to convince you that they are the Van Goghs and Cote de Nuits of the beer world. They know that to convince you they make the best beer is only a part of the battle; they also want you to think that's what everybody else believes. And getting CBS to do pieces like this is really, really valuable in that regard.


  1. Groupthink is rife in current beer discourse, IMO, much to its detriment.