BEER WITH A SOCIALIST: Vandals strike Asheville brewery: “No more breweries” and “**** Beer City.”


My initial thought upon reading about “anti-brewery vandalism” in Asheville was something on the order of: “Just their luck the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union is still alive and kicking.”

Indeed, the prohibitionists remain extant, drastically weakened but forever persistent. However, it’s doubtful the WCTU is taking the war to Demon Craft Beer at night, clad in dark attire, masked and with spray paint in hand.

Here’s the story.

Asheville’s One World Brewing Responds to Anti-Brewery Vandalism, by Jess Baker (Craft Beer Dot Com)

It’s been a frustrating week for One World Brewing, a small and independent craft brewery in Asheville, North Carolina. The brewery, which originally opened four years ago in downtown Asheville, was busy prepping to open its new location in the West Asheville district when vandals hit the brewery as well as surrounding local businesses.

The vandals scrawled messages in black spray paint on the front of the brewery’s white brick building at 520 Haywood Road: “No more breweries” and “**** Beer City.”

The vandals’ anti-brewery messages are stinging words for the Asheville beer community, a city where independent breweries are considered a major driver for tourism.

“We will not be deterred from doing what’s best for our employees and our community,” One World Brewing wrote on its Facebook and Instagram pages Thursday. “We are a homegrown, local, independently owned brewery that does so much more than just brew beer. We use beer as a platform to support so many other aspects of life that we are passionate about.”

The Asheville brewery, like many local breweries, is invested in supporting its employees as well as the community. The brewery used the incident to flip the script and talk about their strong bond with Asheville …

Beer writer Bryan Roth, who shared the preceding link at Twitter, commented.

“anti-brewery messages” is a new one to me.

Not for Richard Florida, who mentioned the “g” word (gentrification) in a CityLab piece late last year — or Athena Hobson, from London, two years ago.

During a shameless binge watch of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, I couldn’t help but notice all the references to gentrification (or in simpler terms – places becoming more trendy and modernised, which drives up the costs of living in that area, meaning poorer residents may be forced to relocate).

Hobson expands on her thought.

Don’t Blame The Brewers: Craft Beer And Gentrification, by Athena Hobson (Cultured Vultures)

First-time business owners are taking advantage of run down areas to set up shop and driving up the cost of living for local residents.

Understandably, it is gentrification that is largely responsible for provoking a deep hatred of the craft beer trend, but to what extent can we actually blame the brewers? Had it not been about beer, it may have been bubble tea cafés or ‘soul cycle’ studios. The aforementioned Cereal Killer Café has been under attack of petty vandalism as well as keyboard warriors since word spread of its opening – but would they be so successful if we weren’t so willing to buy into what they’re selling? After all, what is business but seeing a need and providing the product or service?

When you hand over your money to a company, however much or little that may be, you are funding their objectives …

Regular blog readers residing in New Albany hardly need this reminder, but it’s always better to be explicit, so kindly note that Mayor Jeff Gahan’s 2017 seizure of public housing, with a stated objective of reducing the number of units by half, is an exercise in socio-economic cleansing — and this displacement is not being conducted in a conceptual vacuum.

In fact, Gahan’s war against the working poor is the logical consequence of our “success” in resuscitating downtown. It’s part and parcel of gentrification, and as a “Democrat,” the mayor illustrates that callous measures directed against the most vulnerable cannot always be blamed on right-wingers. 

Thanks in large part to food and drink businesses like my own brewery, with which I’m no longer involved, the historic core of the city has experienced a decade of substantive reinvestment.

The result has been an increase in “upscale” thinking, as opposed to those cross-cultural core retail stores operating downtown long ago prior to suburbanization and white flight.

As a corollary, the local political dialogue continues to narrow; either we explore ways to expand the “upscale” developments already in progress, or we do nothing at all. The ensuing shock waves are hitting those community members least able to cope economically, in part because the powers that be in New Albany view gentrification as a social phenomenon of unqualified and unquestioned good.

Few wish to contemplate the consequences, and most are willing to encourage even more of it with measures that gradually have crept beyond those designed somewhat modestly to encourage investment (as with loosened alcoholic beverage licensing in riverfront development areas), to ones like the public housing putsch that actively push social engineering, or the recent proposal (likely inevitable) to spend $8.5 million on local government wants (a new city hall) rather than affordable housing needs for a growing segment of the populace.

Back to the point. Why would someone vandalize a small brewery?

Probably for the same reason that residents of my city greet the news of another new bar or restaurant …

The former Comfy Cow location will become a bar, but we have no further details.

Downtown NA restaurant and bar scorecard: one new location, two openings and four coming soon.

… with predictable but perfectly plausible questions like these.

Seriously, another bar?

How many downtown restaurants and bars are enough?

Will we be able to afford to eat at these latest and greatest places?

These questions have short-term answers: yes, it’s too early to tell, and it’s complicated.

Alcohol licensing exists to regulate drinking for the ostensible purpose of societal good, although maximum tax harvesting comes closer to the truth.

Indiana’s riverfront development area mechanism is a legal construct expressly designed to “open” a delineated geographical area to licensing with fewer restrictions.

Riverfront permits have the effect of making a demarcated area slightly more free than before, because it provides a framework for licensing outside the customary allocation. It greatly reduces the overall cost of a permit, and opens the market to more participants.

As long as there is available money, and entrepreneurs are eager to spend it, there’ll be contestants entering the game. We’ll know when there are too many bars and restaurants when more establishments are closing than opening.

As for the pricing, this is a difficult topic somewhat outside the scope of these thoughts. I’ll add only that there are fewer disparities in pricing than might appear to be the case among independent and chain/franchise when their menus are comparable, and while I’d never suggest that operators don’t look for ways to squeeze a few cents more from any mark-up, it’s hard to base a business model on $3 burgers and $6 beers.

There are other questions and answers, but I have no glib conclusions to offer about any of these potential digressions. I’ve agonized over them for years, and will continue to do so.

At the same time, there is another complementary Pandora’s Box to be broached, this being the junction of morals, wages, costs and benefits pertaining to “craft” breweries as workplaces.

I’ve referenced work by Dave Infante on a couple of past occasions, and he’s at peak provocation here.

Infante’s piece raised a tremendous din in the usual beer discussion portals. About all I can do is shrug and say two things: Welcome to capitalism … and I’m happy not to be tormented by these considerations any longer. The economics at a bar stand to be much simpler than those at a brewery.

Craft Beer’s Moral High Ground Doesn’t Apply to Its Workers, by Dave Infante (Splinter News)

Scott Timms is taking a break from brewing beer. At 35, he’s been at it for 13 years, most recently having worked at Falling Sky Brewing, a popular brewpub in Eugene, OR, that regularly appears on “best of” lists in the state.

Brewing beer commercially can be hard, thankless work. “It’s a back-breaking job, lifting a hundred 50-pound bags” of ingredients and carrying them up stairs to be added to the mash, Timms says. And it can be dangerous: “You’re dealing with boiling liquids and pretty harsh chemicals that can definitely injury you…It’s not a safe job by any means.” At small breweries, where OSHA visits are unusual and procedures are unstandardized, the “outlook towards safety” can be “laissez-faire” verging on “lackadaisical,” he says.

For his work as a production manager at Falling Sky overseeing a team of brewers and working up to 65 hours a week, Timms made what came out to a little over $40,000 a year. Frustrated, he quit his brewing job in early 2018, convinced that craft brewers were getting shorted across the U.S. beer industry. “There are people making money here,” he says, “but it’s not us.”

In 2017, Lauren Michele Jackson wrote in Eater about the rise of “craft culture,” a food and beverage market that “fetishizes the authentic, the traditionally produced, and the specific [and] loathes the engineered, the mass-produced, and the originless.” Craft beer—made by brewers like Timms at more than 6,000 small, independent breweries across the country—has been a standard-bearer for this progressively infected, anti-commodity eating and drinking movement for more than two decades. Its staggering economic success has spurred an explosion of products in other food and drink categories marketed to like-minded customers. Walk the aisles of your closest Whole Foods and craft culture surrounds you.

But even as sales of craft-culture products steadily rise, the conditions for workers that make and serve those products vary widely. The labor is often physically demanding. Specialized workers are asked to “wear different hats” to make up for understaffing, and gladly answer calls for extra hours because they genuinely care about the products they’re making. Owners, either unwilling or unable to spend on quality executives, take on management responsibilities for which they have no training. The workforces are often small, giving rise to a much-touted familial intimacy that in turn can bring a distinctly familial dysfunction of favoritism and manipulation. Wages and benefits are inconsistent across industries and even within individual companies.

But craft culture is growing, and it’s bringing in a lot of money …