Sunday, August 2, 2009

Blogger Scorns Craft Beer; Fires of Rectification Rain Down via Comments Section

As reported recently by The Beer Brotha, MSNBC stock blogger James Dlugosch stirred up a little more reader interaction than he bargained for in observing recently – in a post about beer, mind you – that "despite what the microbrewers will tell you, all beer is pretty much the same."

You can guess what happened next. Out from the woodwork came beer lovers eager to defend their beloved suds' honor. And boy did they, with a ferocity and bluntness that only the Internet can facilitate. Browse through the comments yourself, or see The Beer Brotha's take for some highlights. Reactions ranged from the "you're-dead-to-me" disdainful to the bitingly sarcastic. Plenty managed to capture the sense of dumbstruck amusement most of us felt after Mr. Dlugosch had so naively – and unfortunately – laid bare his sheer ignorance on the topic he was (we are to presume) being paid to write about. Such tragedy! Such comedy!

Fifteen pages into the ensuing flame-fest, Mr. Dlugosch emerged, lumps confessedly taken, to offer his mea culpa:

Uncle, Uncle Uncle. I give up. Not all beer tastes the same. My bad. In making somewhat of a throw away comment - poorly written at that - I raised the ire of the entire beer drinking nation. How can I rejoin the club? Perhaps if I figure out how to shotgun a beer from a box I would earn back my stripes. It would have been better stated to say that the big beer brands all taste the same (they do at least to me). Anyway, the point of the blog seems to be lost as I really was merely trying to poke fun at the idea of beer in a box. Again my apologies for offending anyone.

Jamie Dlugosch (returning from a trip behind the comment woodshed)

So we're good now, right? Evidently not – currently there are 71 pages of comments; Mr. Dlugosch's apology did little to slacken the onslaught.

Perhaps that's because it may have had the opposite effect. There are clues aplenty in Mr. Dlugosch's reply that he may not have been as contrite as he wanted us to think. Let's take a closer look.

Excerpt: "I give up. Not all beer tastes the same."
Interpretation: Give them what they want right off the bat. "You win, I'm wrong. Happy now?"

Excerpt: "My bad."
Interpretation: Smacks a little of wave-of-the-hand, forced-apology insincerity, doesn't it? This is how young people "apologize" for things, and we all know how insincere young people are.

Excerpt: "... a throw away comment - poorly written at that ... It would have been better stated to say that the big beer brands all taste the same (they do at least to me)."
Interpretation: On this last point he appears to finally "get it," though he may simply be trying to score points by echoing the sentiments of microbrew-loving commenters who had already clarified Mr. Dlugosch's statement for him. At any rate, the problem wasn't with how inartfully the offending sentence was crafted – it was the content itself. Mr. Dlugosch takes a clear shot at microbrewers and then implies that they simply offer style over substance. If this knock was, as claimed, meant to apply only to mass-market brewers, the sentence should have read: "Just as the microbrewers will tell you, all megabrewed beer is pretty much the same." In this sense, Mr. Dlugosch would be agreeing with microbrewers, not calling them out. Sorry, but you can't chalk this up to erroneous wordsmithing.

Excerpt: "How can I rejoin the club? Perhaps if I figure out how to shotgun a beer from a box I would earn back my stripes."
Interpretation: Practically drips with disdain for "the beer drinking nation" he seeks to make amends with. "OK, beer losers, if I do a keg stand, will you stop crying?"

Excerpt: "Anyway, the point of the blog seems to be lost as I really was merely trying to poke fun at the idea of beer in a box."
Interpretation: "Thanks for ruining my hilarious blog post. Losers."

Excerpt: "Again my apologies for offending anyone."
Interpretation: "Lighten up, crybabies."

I should add that I myself have not gotten worked up into a lather over this brouhaha. Mainstream media's ignorance concerning beer stopped shocking me long ago. Yes, it's discouraging on one level, but mostly I find the whole episode entertaining and amusing.

To his credit, Mr. Dlugosch on Friday addressed the issue in a full post inviting beer nation to a discussion on the financial health of the industry, craft and macro. It would have been easy for him to brush off the episode – after all, most of the angry readers likely had simply been tipped off by friends or Internet sleuths; the whole of MSNBC's regular readership didn't need apologizing to. So at least he reached out and tried to right a wrong. Mr. Dlugosch opened with another full retraction and an apology that rang a little less hollow than his previous one, but then no doubt sent a few palms to foreheads in pondering, "While it may be true that the microbrewers craft a wonderful-tasting product, it's not so certain that they make money."

Alas, more enlightenment is in order for poor, embattled Mr. Dlugosch. A more accurate statement might be: "While it is true that many microbreweries have failed, particularly as the bubble burst in the 90's, plenty do make money." One need only consider the slew of successful craft brewers operating today. Mr. Dlugosch acknowledges the publicly-traded Boston Beer Co. – how about big players like Sierra Nevada and the ever-expanding New Belgium; growing outfits like Left Hand; or little-known brands like Houston's Saint Arnold, which doesn't sell a drop of beer outside Texas yet has been expanding for years and is in the middle of moving into a new, larger facility entirely. Or how about upstarts like Charleston, S.C.'s Coast Brewing Co., which would sell more beer if they could only keep up with demand.

So yes, craft beer makes money. Like any other businesses, microbreweries that are well-run, offer a quality product and honor market demands can and do succeed. Not to the extent that brands like Bud, Miller and Coors do – no doubt about that – but I think most craft brewers would tell you they have no interest in that kind of success. Perhaps Mr. Dlugosch meant "it's not so certain that they make enough money to turn the head of a market analyst or stock trader."

No knock on him (necessarily), but perhaps in Mr. Dlugosch's world, if you're not making big moolah, you're not making money. So be it. But I think there's a place in our economy for small, locally run businesses that offer unique, high-quality (and yes, diverse) products to a fervently devoted, if relatively small, constituency.

1 comment:

michael Reinhardt said...

I think the "I give up" and "how can I rejoin the club" comments are particularly irritating. Like it's some elitist club. I guess he was never really in the "club".

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