Anti-Artisanal: Budweiser, Craft Beer, Hipsters, and Distributism

David Russell Mosley

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Ordinary Time
5 October 2015
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Today as I was on Facebook, I came across a rather funny video lampooning “hipsters” and the “artisanal” movement. You can find it here. In the video we see two men, an owner and an apprentice, who run an artisanal firewood shop with pieces of firewood costing upwards of $1200. The satire was really quite spot-on, but I couldn’t help but wonder what more was underlying it. Of course artisanal firewood is ridiculous, especially the way the video portrayed it. It reminded me of the hilarious video from the television series “Portlandia”, Dream of the 1890s. You can watch it below.

The video looks at “hipster culture” and sees it for part of what it is, namely a desire to go back to a simpler way of living, without necessarily leaving behind all the true advantages of our present time. This video too is somewhat satirical, as if having funny facial hair were as essential to this way of life as making things from scratch. Which of course it isn’t, though it is an added bonus for the follicularly robust such as myself. But both videos are now, for me, place in the context of this one from Budweiser.

Viewed in this light, the satirical video on artisanal firewood takes on new meaning for me. Perhaps rather than a good-natured ribbing given to some of the oddities of the artisanal and hipster movements, it’s a satire against being artisans of any sort. Perhaps some of this comes from the relationship between the artisanal movements of recent decades and the hipster movement which has been alive since at least the 1950s with both the greasers and beatniks. Perhaps something about the present ironic nature of many “hipsters” has led to a general degradation of any attempts to create things on one’s own or on a micro-level.

The Budweiser video wastes no time in suggesting that craft-beer is merely for the pretentious and not for the person who simply likes a good glass of beer. They act as though the brewers of craft-beer are simply looking to put together odd flavors and act as though they taste good when, in reality, they do not. And this is true of some craft-beer, believe me, I’ve tried (Banana Bread Beer is disgusting). But does this in turn mean that mass-produced beer where the primary fermenters are corn rather than the traditional barley or wheat is by nature better? Or, does Budweiser begin to realize that people are actually beginning to prefer good, solid craft-beer, especially when they can find it locally made, to their mass-produced alcohol that only tastes good ice cold, because it tastes of nothing?

So the big corporation tries to pretend it is the friend of the working-class (because its cheap) and not the affluent millennial hipsters. Even the artisanal firewood video makes this point when we see the $1200 price tag on a single piece of firewood and a well-dressed white woman comes in to buy it. According to these videos, the artisan is a charlatan, by his beard and leather apron he makes himself appear as a working class man, but he isn’t since he caters to the bourgeois. But are really to believe that the big corporation is friend to the proletariat? Now it’s true that many artisanal items, including the organic, are often beyond the price range of many such as myself. For the artisanal this is usually because of the labor required to make the item or items that would normally be machine made. For organic food it often also has to do with paying for the title organic. Now David Cooney over at Practical Distributism reminds us that we need to start re-thinking price when it comes to our purchases (often the long-term price of cheaper items is higher than the short-term price of those of better quality). I’ll let you read his essay for his arguments.

My emphasis in this letter is rather on the need for craft, for micro-productions. Not only are these often more economic in the long run, since they will last longer, but they are usually more sustainable. A leather company that hand makes it’s goods will not go through nearly so many cows as an industrialized one. A micro-brewery will not require industrialized farming to grow the necessary ingredients to make delicious beer which in turn means that the land used to grow those ingredients can be better cared for, will require less water, etc. Now it’s true that I currently don’t buy as much as I’d like from small producers in my area, nor do I create much. These are the plagues of the underemployed, that price must factor in when you don’t make enough to support your family without extended family assistance. Still, we do what we can. However, if more small, artisanal-style, businesses could and did open, it would eventually be easier to buy from them, perhaps not easier than buying from the big box stores, but easier than it is currently. This will never happen, however, unless at least three conditions are met. First, the big corporations will either have to stop abusing the craft industry or else we will have to disabuse people of the false conceptions big corporations are spreading. Second, we as consumers have to change the way we think about buying. We have to stop thinking only in terms of short-term costs and start thinking in terms of long-term costs. Third, we may have to petition our government for certain deregulations that make it more difficult for small businesses than for large ones. Big business can afford certain costs related to many regulations that small or individually owned businesses cannot. These regulations should not favor the big over the small.

So I return to these videos. Two clearly meant as satire and, I hope, satire that is friendly, that is self-effacing because the people creating the satire are the people who believe in these ideas, if not their oddities. The other is much more malicious. It seeks to make us think big business is our friend and the craftsmen are pretentious snobs and therefore our enemies. Let us not buy into that lie.

A final note, if we want to see the changes in society put forward by distributism (and admittedly many of my correspondents do not), we need to stop eschewing the millennials and hipsters and bring them into our folds. Hopefully we can rid them of the chaff of irony and help them keep that kernel of craft.

Sincerely,
David

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The Thing I’ll Miss Most in England: Pubs

David Russell Mosley


St Patrick’s Day 2014
On the Edge of Elfland
Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Today being the feast of St Patrick, you might think I’d be doing a post on him, but this year, you would be wrong. You can check out the post I did on him last year, a post Peter Stevens has done this year, and an excellent article on him from here.

Today I am writing about pubs. No, I didn’t choose this topic because today is St Patrick’s Day. Rather, I have been sitting on this topic for quite some time and finally have a free moment to write up my thoughts.

As the academic year progresses and I get closer to finishing my PhD, my children get even closer to make their grand entrance into the outside world, my time in England is beginning to come to a close. People ask me what I’ll miss most when my family and I move back to the United States. There are many things I’ll miss, a pedestrianised culture, the landscape, the climate, the food, but most of all I’ll miss the pubs.

IMG_0994I will admit, I had romanticised pubs before I came here. I thought they were all places with home-cooked meals by plump landladies, fresh pulled ales from the pub-owned brewery, bands playing folk music every evening, and good conversation ruling the day. Imagine my shock when many of the first pubs we went to had televisions, gambling machines, and standardised touristy food to boot. I was even more shocked when I found out several of the pubs in the City Centre of Nottingham doubled as nightclubs in the evening. It was a blow to my romantic picture of England as a place that hadn’t yet succumbed to the greed and vice that often surrounds the American bar scene.

Nevertheless, by the time my birthday had rolled around in our first year I found what would come to be (though not always literally) “my local”.IMG_0996 The Crown Inn isn’t a perfect pub, but it is an excellent one. Alongside excellent decor, they have an excellent real ale selection. But a pub is more than a lack of individualistic distractions and good ale. Pubs, also known as public houses are places of community congregation. They are places to meet with your friends to discuss life over excellent libations. They are places to sit quietly and contemplatively. They are places to have conversations with strangers. In fact, they are excellent places to spread the gospel.

Now I’m sure my friends in America will be able to tell me what the pub/bar scene is like back home. Truth be told, when we moved to England I had only just begun to understand beer and wine and other types of alcohol. In fact, the American craft beer movement gives me quite a lot of hope that perhaps America can begin to shift its understanding of alcohol from something to get you drunk to something you enjoy especially when used for its proper end, conviviality. This isn’t to say England has everything in order, far from it, but the proper British pub is certainly a bastion of hope in a world of cheap, tasteless booze and community-less individualism. And therefore, it is what I will miss the most.

I want to leave you with a poem by G. K. Chesterton another Christian and lover of ale:

The Rolling English Road

Before the Roman came to Rye or out to Severn strode,
The rolling English drunkard made the rolling English road.
A reeling road, a rolling road, that rambles round the shire,
And after him the parson ran, the sexton and the squire;
A merry road, a mazy road, and such as we did tread
The night we went to Birmingham by way of Beachy Head.

I knew no harm of Bonaparte and plenty of the Squire,
And for to fight the Frenchman I did not much desire;
But I did bash their baggonets because they came arrayed
To straighten out the crooked road an English drunkard made,
Where you and I went down the lane with ale-mugs in our hands,
The night we went to Glastonbury by way of Goodwin Sands.

His sins they were forgiven him; or why do flowers run
Behind him; and the hedges all strengthening in the sun?
The wild thing went from left to right and knew not which was which,
But the wild rose was above him when they found him in the ditch.
God pardon us, nor harden us; we did not see so clear
The night we went to Bannockburn by way of Brighton Pier.

My friends, we will not go again or ape an ancient rage,
Or stretch the folly of our youth to be the shame of age,
But walk with clearer eyes and ears this path that wandereth,
And see undrugged in evening light the decent inn of death;
For there is good news yet to hear and fine things to be seen,
Before we go to Paradise by way of Kensal Green.

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley

In Defence of Beer

David Russell Mosley

English: The Crown Inn Beeston Hardy Hanson pu...

English: The Crown Inn Beeston Hardy Hanson pub (now part of Greene King). The trees to the right were subsequently removed to make way for an apartment block Later became a Free House 1523868. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

18 September 2013
The Edge of Elfland
Windermere, Cumbria

Dear Friends and Family,

I’m in the Lake District on holiday with my wife and in-laws. This morning we were watching a morning news program on ITV where a brief story was given about police forces wanting to turn over dealing with drunks to private security companies. People who are drunk would be locked up in privately run cells and left there until they sober up, being charged a fee upon release. I don’t want to go into the politics behind these ideas, but I do want to write briefly about beer.

Britain is well known for its drinking problems, as is Ireland, and the USA. People are drinking large amounts of alcohol trying to get drunk, trying to get sex, trying to escape from their own problems. For whatever their reasons, people drink to excess and cause social and domestic problems. This, I want to argue, is offence to all who truly enjoy alcohol.

I love beer, especially local cask ales; I love wine, especially good dry reds; I love whisky, especially good single-malts. I love alcohol. I love pubs, proper pubs. In Beeston we have two excellent pubs, neither of them have gambling machines, nor televisions. They have musical groups in from time to time, they have darts and board games, one serves excellent food and both have excellent cask ales. They are bastions in a world of night-clubs and dive bars. They are strongholds against a world which goes to two different extremes, binge drinking and abstinence. For those of us who love the various kinds of alcohol for how they taste and the effects a temperate amount of them can have on us find solace in these places where a proper enjoyment of alcohol can be experienced.

G. K. Chesterton wrote an often forgotten novel The Flying Inn wherein a local British community has outlawed all non-government sanctioned inns, taverns, and pubs. A rogue sailor and inn keeper, join forces to combat this abstinence movement, by taking the sign of the Inn and moving from place to place, taking beer with them and exploiting an ambiguity in the law. In a sense, the point of Chesterton’s work is that abstinence from alcohol for all people is not the proper response to issues people can have with alcohol. I would argue, as Chesterton does implicitly, that alcohol, beer particularly, is a great part of Western Civilisation (though fermentation of liquids for consumption is Egyptian in origin). It therefore must, like all things in life, be enjoyed virtuously. Temperance, true temperance, is a middle road, between the extremes.

If you love alcohol as I do, stand with me against the drunks and the militant teetotallers. If others wish to abstain, bully for them, for don’t put that on the rest of us. For those who wish to abuse, well, they need to be taught how to properly consume alcohol and the purposes it serves. It is a social lubricant, it is a delicacy to be enjoyed for its subtleties. It is not for drowning our sorrows, or forgetting our problems, or releasing all our inhibitions. Let us also stand against cheap booze which is created purely for the purpose of allowing people to get smashed on the cheap. We must stand firm for alcohol and against the abuses. Let us stand with Chesterton and others who remind us of all the good uses to which alcohol can be put and against the abusers of this wonderful product of our civilisation. Remember, Christ himself turned water to wine and was called a wine-bibber because of the company he kept and the drinks he drank.

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley