Drink Magazine

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

By Bryan Roth @bryandroth
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.

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.

Bryan Roth
"Don't drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life." - Jack Kerouac

Header image via business2community.com.

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