Sunday School: Community & Collaboration

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The following is a part of a guest series authored by Lauren Gutshall on discovering new wines and beers.

The craft beer and wine communities have very different personalities. The wine world is based on competition accompanied by a healthy dose of elitism from both vintners and connoisseurs. I’ve heard people denounce certain styles of wine and winemakers critique other vineyards for the varietals they produce.

The wine community has a long history of tense relationships. The most well-known example may be when wines from upstart California beat France’s most reputable Bordeaux and Burgundies in a blind taste test at a Paris wine competition in the 1970s (it was dramatized in the movie Bottle Shock). But I’ve also witnessed not-so-friendly competition in the Finger Lakes, Virginia and here at home in Pennsylvania.

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Part of the allure of the craft beer movement is that it takes the opposite approach to perfecting the art of brewing. While there is certainly competition among breweries, on the whole, it’s much more friendly and good-natured.  Established brewers have respect for one another and are amenable to helping those up-and-coming brewers who may just be starting out making beer in their basement or garage.

This camaraderie has contributed to a growth in collaborations. Brewers across the country are teaming up to produce one-off bottles of interesting or unusual beers. Last year alone there were approximately 250 different collaborations produced by craft brewers, and they were featured prominently during Pittsburgh’s craft beer week earlier this year. Collaborations allow for experimentation and give craft beer lovers something to salivate over.  In many ways, they are a microcosm of the great sense of community that exists in the craft beer world.

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I would really like to see this openness extend to those just starting to learn about the craft beer movement.  Wine drinkers are seen as snobby and pretentious – and most of them seem to like it. (I once had a gentleman tell me that he would only drink dry red wines aged in Hungarian oak). Since the wine world has cornered the market on elitism, we really don’t need that same mentality permeating the craft beer world as well.

Unfortunately, beer elitism is becoming so rampant that Beer America TV has posed the question: Are you a craft beer snob?

As they aptly point out, those of us who know and love craft beer have a tendency to almost unconsciously react to what those around us are drinking. I will be the first to admit that I am extremely guilty of this. I have been involved in more than one snarky conversation with strangers at the bar over their choice to drink Shock Top or Miller Lite.

But I’ve also noticed that people who have a go-to macro beer often appreciate an introduction into the craft beer world. My brother is a PBR drinker — he has been for years. That will never change, but he is always game for trying a new regional microbrew and has even started brewing some of his own with friends. My dad, the lager man, has developed a taste for chocolate peanut butter stouts and porters like Springhouse’s Big Gruesome and Duclaw’s Sweet Baby Jesus.

With so many bars in the Harrisburg region having between 70 and 100 taps, we should also recognize that those beer lists are daunting, especially for novices. We shouldn’t be so quick to judge their choices, and instead embrace the fact that they are hanging out in a good beer bar to begin with. Read “Decoding Craft Beer” to help you better navigate beer menus.

Collaborations among craft brewers illustrate just how much room there is for the community to expand and grow. We should be more accepting of those who are venturing outside of their macrobrews to try something new and seize the opportunity to show them just how exciting and cool our craft beer community is.

Sara Bozich
Author: Sara Bozich

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