Postmodernity and Craft Beer – by Drew Sewall

In 2008 when the economy slid into the worst recession in memory, I can’t tell you how many conversations I had with liquor store owners/managers that were convinced that this was the end of the craft beer revolution. “Nobody in this economy is going to pay that much for beer.” Yet they did. As we now know, 2008 saw barely any growth in non-craft sales and a drop in import sales nationwide, while the craft segment grew steadily. The revolution hasn’t stopped. In 2010 and 2011 the craft beer industry grew 15% in dollars nationally.

So what gives? Most likely if you’re reading this, you already know and accept the superiority of flavor that a craft pint has. The experiential cash value is rich, deep, ever evolving and experimenting. But is the success of the craft segment solely due to the superiority of flavor? I think that may be too simplistic. It may be that the time and culture itself is helping this revolution.

Few words are currently being thrown around today with as little understanding as the word postmodern. The postmodern era can be characterized as skepticism toward truth claims. The understanding goes that reality is not simply reflected in the mind but is constructed. Interpretation therefore is everything as it builds reality around it. The logic flows that since reality is interpreted and interpretations are subjective and varied then all claims to truth, with the exception perhaps to personal truth, should be shunned.

How does this world view play itself out then? I am haunted by the way Pico Iyer’s put it in his book The Global Soul: Jetlag, Shopping Malls, and the Search for Home.

‘The Global Soul may see so many sides of every question that he never settles on a firm conviction. He may grow so used to giving back a different self depending on his environment that he loses sight of who he is when nobody is around. Everywhere is made up of everywhere else, and our very souls have been put into circulation. Yet even global beings need a home. We live in an anthology of generic spaces: the shopping mall, the food court, the hotel lobby, which bear the same relation to life, perhaps, that Musak does to music. The global soul is a ventriloquist, an impersonator for an undercover agent. The question that most haunts him is, “Who are you today?”’

The postmodern man has an identity crisis and since he can’t rely on objective truth where must he go? He must go to the subjective and build his identity around it. Nick Hornby’s book (and later movie) High Fidelity puts it “Dick and Barry and I agreed that what really matters is what you like, not what you ‘are’ like.” The three characters in agreement all work together at a record store and use likes and dislikes of specific artist and albums as means of identification for themselves and others.

It is possible that this also happens with beer. Jim Danay, general manager of Uno’s in Hamilton was interviewed for a local publication in which he was describing the success of all his craft beer and said, “beer is one extension of originality, people are looking for originality and they find it in their beer.” So when the market crashed and money became tight, the decision of what beer to buy had a whole bunch of baggage that wasn’t easily jettisoned.

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