Dancing at the Margins of Ignorance
Every job has its plusses and minuses. I usually joke that everything about writing is great except the salary, but there's actually another downside that freaks me out nearly as much. A reasonable working definition could be: "writing about things you don't understand." The next story is always something intriguing, something you'd like to explore further. That generally means wandering off into some subject on which you have tenuous grasp. Knowing, of course, that the successful outcome of this little foray is an article that will go out to many people who know more than you do on the subject. (Along with, thankfully, many who know less. Blessed are the uninitiated, for they do leave angry comments.)
We have come to a phase in the realm of beer where interest is highest in the business rather than the product. Thanks to eye-popping numbers, intervention by multinational corporations, rivalries and sniping, the business of selling beer now entertains us much as the drinking of it. Well, at least where blog posts are concerned.
This is all well and good except the part where I know nothing about it. I have spent many hours doing things that make me feel incompetent: trying to translate old foreign-language texts, slogging through technical science papers, navigating the absurd address in the UK (Hook Norton's address, for example, consists of "Brewery Lane" and nothing more), attempting to understand weissbier mashing regimes, but in no area was I more unprepared than business.
I have never worked a day in a business that had more than ten employees. I've been self-employed (several times), worked at universities (lots), and done odd jobs for small businesses (a long time ago). I studied religion and developed an active allergy to corporate life. None of that was a good preparation for writing about beer, a big part of which is always a story about business. If you refuse to engage the business elements of brewing, you are basically not covering beer because nothing is free of it in those sixteen delicious ounces of IPA we regularly hoist.
This came into sharp focus when I interviewed Nicole Fry recently for the Beervana Podcast. Nicole is a managing partner for First Beverage Group, a a company that invests in and advises beverage companies, and which has been involved in several of the recent major brewery acquisitions. She's one of the people at the center of the business side of things, and she probably knows more about how beer is made and sold in America than just about anyone. I hope I did an adequate job.
Fortunately, Patrick was on hand to shore up my knowledge--and yours. In addition to my discussion with Nicole, we talked about what reaching the 5,000-brewery threshold means and why certain beers are so damn scarce in some markets. In other words, another in our regular podcasts on the economics of beer. Give it a listen:
I'll probably give it another listen, too, because this is a subject I really need to get a handle on!