A 90-Minute Ego Trip

4 May

Jeff Alworth of Beervana had an interesting post up the other day regarding Three Floyds Brewing, and an apparent (mis)quote from their founder Nick Floyd.  Seems ol’ Nick might have taken a pot-shot at PDX and the craft beer scene here in a Chicago Tribune article.  The story itself is interesting, but the comment section was where the action was at, as you can imagine that local Portlanders (and possibly others) were a little miffed at Nick’s take on our beer community.

The comment that stuck with me for a couple of days was regarding ego, and the fair amount of it that exists in the craft beer community.  I believe the commenter lumped Greg Koch and Sam Calagione in with Nick Floyd as having an overly healthy self-image.  Now, I don’t know one way or the other how these guys really are…because really, what can you discern from an edited interview?  They seem like well-meaning dudes, who just love to make beer.  But for all I know, they could be raging megalomaniacs who berate their employees and look dismissively on all who dare question their beer knowledge (this seems highly unlikely to me, but stranger things have turned out to be true).  Most likely, the real deal is somewhat of a mix of these two extremes.  

I am sure there are brewers who try to cover up their own insecurities about what they produce and how they are viewed by taking on a more aggressive and slightly condescending persona.  We are human after all.  However, I am also sure that some of these people are just salt-of-the-earth types who love to brew and are just happy to be there.  Never really concerned with how their beer or beer-producing city/region stacks up against others.

My experience with ego in the brewing business is small.  I have never brewed professionally but I brew at home and partake regularly in craft beer all over Portland.  I have only taken a few tours of breweries and have not spent a ton of time with brewers.  The few that I do know through direct interaction are really nice people who have always been receptive to Michael’s or my questions and comments.  People like Brian Kielty at Lompoc or Shawn Kelso at Ten Barrel.  However, I can see how…from a distance…how some brewers seem unapproachable.  They carry themselves with quite a bit of self-confidence, which can easily be mistaken for conceit and braggadocio.  As someone who only brews for fun and doesn’t take the beer drinking world too seriously, these guys and gals can sometimes come across as full of themselves.

I recognize this trait of self-confidence because I also worked in the restaurant and food service business and chefs/cooks are very similar (some would say worse) in how they carry themselves.  Making food for a living is a tough business.  You have to have a thick skin, be able to handle direct criticism, and work your ass off for sometimes little recognition.  Without a healthy ego, even the smallest negative comments can bring your world crashing down around you and send you into a funk that lasts for days.  Cooking (and I imagine brewing) is a very personal thing where you give people a product that represents who you are, and then they get to pass judgement on it.  It’s why normal people freak out when they make food for a potluck or have people over for dinner.  They are nervous that something won’t taste right or that people will tell them they like the food, while secretly talking shit about it on the way home: “Jesus Christ, that was the absolute worst fill-in-the-blank that I ever had!”

All of this is a long-winded way of saying that I think ego is necessary in this business of craft brewing.  It’s like a shield against the cold, dark night of those who don’t like what you are pouring your heart and soul into.  In my experience, the more cooking you do, the more you are able to learn how to ignore that gnawing feeling that your food sucks.  You can chalk it up to minor food allergies or maybe that people just don’t like fucking brussel sprouts, no matter how you prepare them.  Maybe brewers are probably the same way.  Maybe it just takes them some time to come to terms with people not liking their stuff.  Maybe some will never be able to reach that spot.  Maybe those people are Nick Floyd, Greg Koch, and Sam Calagione.  Then again, maybe they aren’t.  Who’s to know?  I think we would all do well to remember that these are people and if we haven’t met them, we probably shouldn’t be passing judgement on them when they are just doing everything they can to survive in a business that judges their life’s work everyday.

As I write this, I am drinking a 90-Minute IPA from Dogfish Head.  Just so happened to have it in my fridge.  It’s good.  I’m sure Sam didn’t personally brew the batch I am drinking, but the effort he put into his brewery has led to it as a result.  For today’s post, I am going to refrain from reviewing it.  These guys got enough people telling them their beer is phenomenal/shitty.  For today, I am just going to drink the beer and enjoy the effort and hard work somebody put into bringing it into the world.  I’ll leave all the shit-talking to the “pros”.

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