LIQUID IDENTITIES: COMMUNITY REPRESENTATION THROUGH BEER
by John Bidwell
First off, let us state the obvious - beer is just a beverage made of barley, hops, yeast and water.
To some it’s a thirst quencher; to others it’s a way to unwind after a long day at work. Sure, each of these uses holds a shred of importance to the individual, but why does beer matter? What has made it so ubiquitous worldwide? Why has beer become celebrated in cultures around the world? Perhaps it’s because beer acts as a window into a community. It allows a town, city, or region to tell a story about who they are in liquid form. This isn’t the case with all beers, but the most unique and imaginative beers begin to reveal their heritage after the first sip.
By the turn of the 21st century, the craft brewing scene had exploded; long gone were the days of mass commoditization and conglomeration. Craft beer was now commonplace, but in Santa Cruz, California, Alec Stefanski was doing something most uncommon. “It’s a brown ale brewed with pork!” Alec exclaimed emphatically. He is the founder of Uncommon Brewers, a new brewery that prides itself on doing things a little differently, and he had just gotten his first shipment of pork belly to brew his new bacon nut-brown ale. Santa Cruz is a city known for its independent spirit, alternative living, and its reputation as an international nexus of organic farming. Uncommon’s beers reflect Santa Cruz - they are unique, broad-minded beers flavored with an arsenal of bizarre ingredients including kaffir lime, poppies, anise, and candy cap mushrooms. The brewery is run by an offbeat staff that incorporates these ingredients into their 100% organic beers. Like so many other food and drink based businesses in Santa Cruz, Uncommon Brewers is grounded in the principles of the Slow Food movement, sourcing their ingredients from the farms in the surrounding region. To taste Uncommon is to taste the community of Santa Cruz, and if the essence of the city could be captured, it would be in one of Uncommon’s signature tall boy cans. But Santa Cruz is just one of the cities that can tell a story through its beer.
Garrett Marrerro was young and powerful; he was a recent college graduate making big money as an investment consultant. Like so many others, it seemed like Garrett was destined to spend his life working 9-5 for his paycheck. Unlike many others, Garrett took a bold step: he quit his job, moved to Maui, and opened a brewery. Many others have dreamed of leaving their unfulfilling jobs and moving to paradise. With sandy beaches, a tropical climate, and palm trees, Maui is, in effect, heaven on earth to the working stiff. It’s a laid back community that doesn’t take anything too seriously, and Maui Brewing Co. embodies that lifestyle and the Aloha spirit. This isn’t your typical Hawaiian beer that you drink at a ‘luau’ in line for the pineapple-glazed ham behind other tourists while a fire dancer bounces around on stage. Instead, Maui Brewing Co. produces truly local Hawaiian beer by sourcing many ingredients from the islands - CoConut Porter, anyone? Also, it is made by Hawaiians - Garrett prefers to train the local workforce as opposed to bringing in experienced mainland employees. Garrett explains: “It keeps more money on the island instead of sending ninety cents of every dollar to the mainland.” This is what Garrett refers to as ‘Brewing with Aloha’ – buying local first and supporting the community. His philosophy has led to Maui Brewing becoming the best selling locally produced beer on the islands. Garrett, like Alec and so many others, has created a product that goes beyond barley, hops, yeast, and water. He has helped mold a community identity, and has once again shown why beer matters.
Beer is a reflection of our communities; it has the capacity to convey societal values and ideas in an accessible and unpretentious manner. Think drinking a beer isn’t like tasting a community? Try one of Alec’s brews, and when you taste the organic ingredients of the Santa Cruz Valley, you’ll quickly reconsider. Open a can of Garrett’s CoCoNut Porter and try not to envision relaxing on Wailea Beach.
Beer showcases our community bonds; it promotes our societies’ collective creativity and displays our penchant for and acceptance of new ideas. The art that is created at breweries across the world is every bit as important to their communities’ identities as Mozart was to Salzburg’s or Van Gogh to Amsterdam’s. Yet the art of beer is down-to-earth and genial. A simple trip to the pub can take the consumer from the beaches of Maui to the beer halls of Munich and any number of places in between.
Beer matters because it acts as a cultural medium between communities, a common language in which to communicate the following:
‘We crafted this beer for your enjoyment, but also to let you know who we are. We crafted this beer, and it reflects the values, beliefs, and attitudes of our community. We crafted this beer from our land’s ingredients and through our people’s labor - both are contained within every bottle. We crafted this beer for you to know us, so drink up and enjoy.