NOTE: When I moved to a new site, this "Beer Wars" series was mangled/destroyed during the move. I've reconstructed it by copying/pasting another copy of the original posts. I also lost the comments in their original form. I've copied/pasted the comments, but had to do so under my own name. So although it looks as though I'm the only commenter, I'm not. In each case, I've identified the original commenter.
Sorry to disappoint, but individualism and entrepreneurship are not particularly new, nor have Americans only recently learned to value them. Indeed, they are two of our most overt expressions of “freedom” and are two of the factors that make Americans and the U.S. unique. If that were not the case, millions of people would not have emigrated here. In the 19th century, for example, German emigres came here and opened breweries because entrepreneurship was valued in American society in a way that it was not in northern Europe.
Greg, Sam, Todd, Rhonda? They’re following in a fine American tradition: using the relatively unconstrained American legal and financial system — both of which are reflection of our American obsession with nurturing opportunity and individual liberty — to build businesses.
(I know that it seems like our governmental and legal systems are burdened with too many laws and regulations, but compared to other nations in the world, we live in a near-nirvana of tax-and-legal freedom.)
It’s also worth noting that during the panel discussion, someone noted that 120 years ago, the U.S. boasted about 2,000 brewers, individual entrepreneurs brewing beer for local markets. Just like, ya know, the much-touted 1,500 or so “local” brewers today.
Put another way: there’s not much new under the sun. I love what the craft brewers do. I admire and respect their passion and dedication. But they’re not unique. They’re not inventing the wheel. Which is why I said to Sam and Greg, check back with me in ten years: Because I doubt that they are so unique that they will buck the norms of human, and American, behavior. (*1)
Indeed, they might want to check with their colleagues the Widmer brothers. Back in the 1980s, Kurt Widmer and his brother, passionate brewers both, founded a microbrewery so they could make “real” beer. At the time, they criticized Jim Koch (maker of Sam Adams beer) for not being a “real” brewer and for daring to sell his beer on contract. (Contract brewers hire vat space from another brewery.)
Guess which beermaker, a few years later, shifted to contract brewing and then sold a significiant chunk of his business to a Big Brewer?
That’s not a criticism of the Widmer brothers, by the way. It’s an illustration of ways in which success, hardship, ambition, and so forth change the way people define their lives and their idea of what’s “good.”
*1: But again, as I’ve asked before: Are we living in a new age? Perhaps there is something new under the sun? I dunno. Check back with me in, oh, fifty, sixty years. (Oh. Wait. It’s unlikely I’ll be alive then, sad to say.) (Unless of course this is a truly new age and we conquer the process of aging.)