ON THE AVENUES: It’s never too late to beer all over again.
A weekly column by Roger A. Baylor.
It isn’t that I’ve fallen out of love with beer. We’re not divorced or anything. A better word is estranged, which implies an alienation of affection, but doesn’t entirely rule out the possibility of reconciliation.
These thoughts occurred to me recently as I was contemplating the future of The Potable Curmudgeon, my beer-themed blog. It dates to 2005, and has enjoyed some fine moments over the years, though recently my commitment to maintaining it has waned.
Slightly less so Roger’s Simple Beer Pleasures, a page at Facebook that I started in late 2015. It is far better suited to the truncated social-media-driven attention spans ruling the planet at present, including my own, at least as it pertains to beer and brewing.
In spite of my efforts, I can’t seem to make The PC blog and Simple Pleasures work in harmony the way NA Confidential’s blog and Fb page do, primarily because my efforts are half-hearted.
There’s the rub.
I care more about what I’m writing at NA Confidential than The Potable Curmudgeon, so I’m willing to make the time at one and not the other. Taking it a step further, this indiscipline owes to my sense of estrangement from the world of beer and brewing. It isn’t that I don’t enjoy writing about beer, thinking about it and even drinking it, just that it isn’t a daily priority at present.
Consequently, I’ll be altering the routine in the weeks to come. The beer writing I undertake will be featured here at NA Confidential, and I’ll allow The Potable Curmudgeon to remain dormant as an archive.
Perhaps Fridays will be NAC’s Beer Day, or some such. Since so much of my beer writing has sought connectivity between beer and other interests in my life, putting them all in one place rather than separating them makes the most sense.
That is, until it doesn’t.
Returning to the topic of beer estrangement, I’m actually optimistic about the potential for reconciliation, and yet those who have been burned tend to shun the fire the longest time.
My last few years at NABC weren’t excessively happy ones, a frustrating situation admittedly arising in part from my own mistakes as well as a bit too much foundational hubris, coupled with self-imposed stressors related to living and working full-tilt-gonzo.
Consequently, I’ve been compelled to examine these previous experiences in great detail, and it’s precisely like being in therapy, with pain and pleasure in maddeningly shifting measure. It’s getting better all the time, although for my own self-protection, I’m adamant about my priorities being in need of clear delineation before I consider re-upping in small business stewardship, whether on my own or in partnership with others.
Beer was my full-time job for 25 years, and it was part-time for a decade before. In many respects, beer has been my life, and while it is not my life at this precise moment, it remains important to me, enough so that lately I’ve been considering the potential terms of such an employment-based rapprochement, and during the year about to conclude, there have been more green lights than red.
I’m encouraged by a few emerging opportunities and have chosen to emulate the timeless wisdom of the hedgehog, confining myself to one big idea rather than an array of smaller ones.
This big idea goes something like this: “In terms of better beer, there still is a market for what I know how to do – and correspondingly, what I know how to do is undervalued in today’s beer marketplace.”
What I know how to do is educate and entertain in comfortable pub confines, and what I’ve learned not to do is try conquering the world. I’m hoping that accumulated insights will help me avoid previous missteps.
In 1990, there was a paucity of choice in the beer marketplace. I set about providing these options at Rich O’s Public House, which at the time meant featuring classic imported brands, primarily from Europe. The genre eventually to be named “American craft beer” began filtering into metropolitan Louisville at roughly the same time, and a few years later we reformatted as NABC and began brewing our own beer.
This house-brewing decision led to alternating evolutions and digressions. Years passed, and the competitive landscape became altered beyond recognition. By some measures, NABC’s brewing operation has been successful these past 15 years; by others, less so, but either way it should come as no surprise, because all businesses face similar challenges.
Perhaps the problem for me is that while market conditions and business necessities changed, I didn’t.
There’s no one to blame for this situation except me. The simple truth is that the more “craft” beer became a business, the less business I had inside it. This was a necessary lesson for me to learn, and our experience at Bank Street Brewhouse (now renamed NABC Café and Brewhouse), taught it to me good and hard. I’m micro, not macro. Rinse, repeat.
For better or worse, I remain a reluctant capitalist, harboring absolutely no interest in business books, business seminars and business envy. It is possible for capitalism to suit me in small doses, so long as I’m not required to wear an actual suit. With Bank Street Brewhouse, I placed myself in the position of having to be more of a straight numbers-crunching businessman, and less of an iconoclastic teacher.
In retrospect, this wasn’t a good fit for me. The business survived, if not thrived, while I gradually died inside. It came to a point where the only way forward was severing ties with the past, which isn’t ever easy. My self-identity had become inseparable from the “craft” beer business, but the “craft” beer business had become both distant and impervious to my whims and commands. We needed to be apart for a while.
Like I said … an estrangement.
To this very day, only one facet of “business” interests me much, and this is the notion of undervalued assets – not exactly in the sense of an undervalued stock, though similar. If the beer market is 95% insipid golden lager, then better beer is undervalued, and worth the investment in time and money. When better beer “wins,” and newcomers flock to IPA, it’s time to advocate other ways of better brewing and drinking.
My advice to myself is to allow the pendulum to swing way over to the other side. It can’t hurt me there, but I must be prepared for the time when it comes back in my direction and be ready with a deft sidestep, like Fred Astaire, because when I’m on the side of the ascendant pendulum, that’s when I can no longer win; then it’s an opportunity for the folks who’ll always have more money than me, and they take the joy right out of it.
The overarching point is that 25 years later, what I started doing in the 1990s – a relentless focus on quality and the gradual process of acclimatization borne of incessant education – has gone completely by the wayside. Hardly anyone has the patience for it, and our collective shrinkage of attention spans has led to marketing by electronic flash card.
Screw that. I can do it, and I like the idea (and the odds) of following my muse full circle back to the origins, and featuring beers I know from breweries I’ve visited, both here and abroad, in a reasonably suitable setting, with boring predictability, not unlimited rotation.
It’s what I’m hoping 2017 will be about, because it’s about time, right? I need to go to the mattresses and get in beer again, and this town really needs a soap box for the resistance.
Two July columns that explore this topic in greater detail.
November 17 and 24: (BYE WEEKS, literally and figuratively)