Poppa Don’t Preach: Do We Need ‘Craft Beer Evangelists’?


This summer, I presented at the annual Beer Bloggers Conference, sharing the spotlight with some talented writers.

In the day leading up to the presentation, I flipped through Twitter profiles of many other attendees, trying to match faces I’ve met with online identities I had known. Among many, there was a common denominator that connected writers.

“Craft beer evangelist”

I don’t know how many times I saw that phrase, or some variation thereof, captured in bios of social media accounts. It bothered me.

So when I stepped to the podium and had my chance to offer insight to the crowd of 150, I wanted to drive home a very specific point.

“We are advocates for our readers first,” I told them. “And then what we love.”

Increasingly, I’ve come across enthusiasts who put the idea of beer – specifically “craft” beer – on a pedestal. It’s Good vs. Evil or not fit for criticism.

That’s problematic.

Yes, we are fans. Yes, we have passion for this community and industry. But is “evangelism” necessary?

Between 2010 and 2014, craft beer dollar sales grew by no less than 15 percent each year reaching $19.6 billion last year. In 2013 and 2014, craft beer sales growth was 20 percent and 22 percent, respectively. Volume share, which was 4.97 percent in 2010, jumped to 11 percent in 2014, as the Brewers Association continues to push to achieve 20 percent share by 2020.

22.2 million barrels of craft beer were brewed last year, more than double from 2010. As an industry, “craft” beer is doing very well.

So why evangelism in the first place? Perhaps it starts with morality and empathy.

Given beer’s “every man” image – one that relies on themes of community and commonality – it’s a product that has the potential to feel particularly welcoming and available to consumers. It fosters feelings of togetherness in its ability to bond people socially and has an easy level of entry.

To this degree, a basis for innate kindness and polite morality toward beer, its businesses and people reflects the moral standards created by our broader social group. The biggest questions, then, are where did these feelings come from and why do they persist? Is it based on the early days of this third generation of craft, when we saw businesses as buoyed by community and it was “our part” to help them succeed?

Whatever the reason, a continued feeling of obligation directs the moral compass of many, which may be for the sake of “helping the industry” or some other reason a “craft beer evangelist” might stand on. But instead, it’s providing an innate feeling to fulfill a need to advance personal interest and provide additional self worth.

From an evolutionary viewpoint, this type of altruism finds its roots at the emergence of our own species, demonstrating that selfless individuals could flourish among groups while selfish ones would suffer more. The act of morality was as much self-preservation as it was for the betterment of others.

Not only that, but a degree of empathy, with which we are born, makes us feel good about relationships with others and promotes social competency. In a sense, the sheer act of “evangelism” in this regard may act like a pat on the back. It makes us feel good because we believe we are helping others, even if that help isn’t needed.

Like with beer, which has followed the same public narrative for several years. Big Beer, the villain in eyes of craft beer evangelists, has been losing share in its marketplace to Craft, the upstart hero representing the blood, sweat and dreams of so many.

But this journey isn’t led by people on their pulpit of blogs and Twitter accounts. It has its leader in the Brewers Association, a trade group that specifically exists to support and further the cause for small, independent and traditional breweries.

nbwa-beer purchasers index
Results of the National Beer Wholesalers Association Beer Purchasers’ Index, which creates a net rising/falling index reflecting beer purchasing activity. Numbers above 50 show expanding purchasing activity, below 50 shows contacting activity. Note craft’s placement against macro beers on the middle and middle-right.

Most important, these shifts in the market aren’t happening because of the niche audience of enthusiasts like you or I. It’s from Average Joe and Jane Drinker who don’t care about the same issues we do, especially high level business matters like mergers and acquisitions. They care about beer that tastes good and makes them feel good, too.

Evangelism is about marketing, but more so, it’s about stories. It should be about humanizing broad themes, but not solely in terms of “Good vs. Evil.” Creating an expectation for others to have even this depth of interest isn’t necessarily a fool’s game, but it may not be too far off from pissing into the wind, either.

The thing to remember is that taking a position of unabashed evangelist is about more than trying to covert non-believers or to somehow force greater education upon them. It’s about what it means to us.

Get another take from Oliver Gray on the Cult of Craft.

Bryan Roth
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac

Header image via business2community.com.


15 thoughts on “Poppa Don’t Preach: Do We Need ‘Craft Beer Evangelists’?

  1. “Most important, these shifts in the market aren’t happening because of the niche audience of enthusiasts like you or I. It’s from Average Joe and Jane Drinker who don’t care about the same issues we do, especially high level business matters like mergers and acquisitions. They care about beer that tastes good and makes them feel good, too.”

    I really been beating this drum lately. I think a lot of people think that because they’re a super-enthusiast, or a blogger, they’re somehow leading the charge in the craft beer surge when really it’s the thousands and thousands of people today who will be drinking a stout totally oblivious to the fact that it’s International Stout Day. The game is being played out on a large scale by people who are just going about their buisness. We’re just in the band on the sideline.

  2. Who you call an evangelist, others may see as a watchdog. I also happen to believe that employing the dualistic narrative is productive if your aim is to promote an industry that fosters a path to labor freedom and entrepreneurship.

    The bad guys (mega corps who hijack and commoditize beer production) are at odds with such a system, where small businesses are allowed to flourish and consumers’ options for quality goods abound.

    Granted there are some who just want to spread the ‘good news’ of craft beer for whatever personal values they place on it, but some of us think that the phenomenon we are witnessing represents a shift in American economics, one that we would like to see progress.

    And it’s not like the good-vs-evil story is just something authors are imagining to entertain their readers and advance their own agendas. Evil is just what comes to mind when a lot of us observe the tactics of AB-Inbev.

    Come to Cincinnati and talk to folks who have seen what $18M in lobbying spent did to halt the growth of the KY beer industry. AB essentially was able to cut off craft beer to the entire Southern part of the state and waged a SM smear campaign against fair law advocates while they were doing it.

    Go talk to the folks in GA. Ask them if they need bloggers to paint a picture for them about who’s up to no good. I’m sure the folks in Florida, Alabama and Colorado can tell the difference between God and the Devil too.

    Macro bashing – from what I have seen – is a positive thing. It’s a part of the social construct of the craft community. Yes, craft beer is in part growing due to an expanded consumer base, much of which is not privy to the market war between craft and Big Beer. But you have to also realize the craft industry also owes a great deal of growth to the increasing loyalty of the beer nerd – and the SM communities that the nerds have created.

    I just think that we need to frame these conversations properly. When you use labels, make sure that they are applied appropriately. An evangelist isn’t a snob and snob isn’t a protectionist and a protectionist isn’t a nerd… necessarily.

    1. Do you own a TV? Do you have a smart phone? How about cable or satellite TV? Do you wear clothes made by international corporations, and eat food from chain restaurants or bought at grocery stores? What car do you drive?

      It’s easy to remain high and mighty about one topic, while being hypocritical in the rest of your life. I said it before and I’ll say it again, your rhetoric is so dripping with sentimentalism for “craft” that you’re ignoring the everyday (and currently legal) aspects of American Capitalism. You don’t have to like it. Many don’t. Many seek social and legal reform through the proper channels.

      But Evangelism isn’t that. It’s emotional, visceral dismissal. Using words like “evil” make you sound petulant, and makes you guilty of using the labels you’re telling us to apply properly. You can’t go around claiming some big, heartless evil is going to ruin your hobby, especially not when you’re supporting other big, heartless evils passively, elsewhere.

      I get it. You like beer. Perhaps you’re “passionate” about beer. But let’s face facts. Beer is ~$54 billion of the country’s GDP. The total GDP is ~$166.7 TRILLION. Not even a half of a percent. To honestly think we’re somehow going to “shift American economics” with an alcoholic beverage seems laughable at best, delusional at worst.

    2. “Macro bashing – from what I have seen – is a positive thing. It’s a part of the social construct of the craft community.”


      Literally fuck everything you have to say about this topic, and “craft” beer in general. You are whats wrong with this “community.”

    3. Not to necessarily pile on here – and I truly appreciate you reading the whole post and sharing some additional thoughts – but I feel the word choice of your comment only adds to the “us vs. them” mentality I wrote about. That’s in addition to the ask that the craft industry owes something to the “evangelists” for offering time and effort.

      I don’t disagree that large corporations like SABMiller and AB InBev have advantages that small outfits can only dream of, and political issues abound (please see these posts I wrote about this exact thing), but invoking God and the Devil is rather heavy handed.

      I most definitely invite you to add more to your thought and engage with others, but this topic may just be one of those “agree to disagree” situations. Which is certainly fine. The conversation is important, even if we can’t see eye to eye.

      For what it’s worth, I’ll leave you with a post from this week about mergers and acquisitions:

      “The hard core craft beer drinker is bothered. But they’re a small proportion. There really aren’t many people like that. The majority of people don’t know, the person on the street doesn’t know. What our research shows is that the majority of people don’t care.”

      1. I get the position of the old guard in craft beer. Hating macros is probably passe at this point. I think I admitted that people like me are in the minority, who are vigilant in watching every unethical tactic, sometimes worthy of investigation by the DoJ. But that doesn’t change the fact that anti-macro sentiment is still alive and well in the place where folks are drinking the good stuff. I know because I’m there, a lot, talking to those people. And my dualistic rhetoric was just for emphasis, to paint the picture more vividly I guess. I’m one of those atheists who believe pretty strongly in good and evil as they manifest in the decisions of individuals in very specific situations, like in board rooms.

        In response to why I don’t take on every single multinational when I write and why every consumer choice I make doesn’t reflect my commitment to the craft beer industry – I’d say energy. I only have so much of it. I’d also say I happen to love good beer a bit more than the other consumer goods in my life, which present me fewer choices.

        There’s one farmers market in the city I’m from and I’m a cubicle slave who can’t shop there during the hours it’s open. I try to shop at the grocery that sells food grown and raised locally, but that place is a hike and sometimes I don’t have the time. I boycott fast food… most of the time.

        Craft beer has become widely available and Southern Ohio has almost 40 breweries now. I don’t want to see that go away. It’s a model for how other industries can be reformed. I really don’t think it helps to question the integrity of the author, shoot the messenger so to speak.

        It’s funny you asked me about cable and cell phones, though. I worked in the telecommunications industry for 8 years. You think opening a brewery is capital intensive. It cost us $25K just to acquire a new customer in some cases. My point is that it’s an apples and oranges comparison.

        I also have had the opportunity to get to know a lot of good people in the industry, craftspeople. So, maybe I am a bit sentimental to the industry itself for less than everything it represents economically. I can’t see what’s wrong with that.

        My suspicion is that there are a lot of beer nerds in the world who were nerds before they even had their first beers. Really, they’re just nerd nerds, anti-social types. They had this little club that the cool kids didn’t know anything about and now the whole world is becoming preferential to their once-exclusive hobby. That’s why they don’t like “beer evangelists.” Don’t get it twisted, I am not a fan of the carpetbaggers with their “best of” lists. If you listened to Thrillist, you’d think the best beer in Ohio is named after an FBI agent.

        Don’t worry, this is the last you’ll hear of me on this topic on any comment forum. I’m way to busy devoting my entire life to eradicating the world of Bud Light and shaming everyone I know into drinking beer that was brewed right down the street.

      2. Ah, the passive aggressive ad hominem, the height of serious debate, the world round.

        An atheist who believes in morality (from pagan roots to modern Christian meaning) is an oxymoron.

        It takes a special kind of subtext to say your opponent is wrong because he’s an anti-social nerd. Sorry we’re not all brewstuds, bro. Nice hat.

  3. @Oliver an atheist with a Christian view of morality is perhaps an oxymoron but to suggest that all atheists do not have some kind of personal moral code by which they live their lives is insulting

    1. I am an atheist who just so happens to also be a good person. I was arguing semantics; morality typically relates to spirituality/theology, while ethics are typically secular. There are plenty of ethically good atheists.

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