Just how big is too big for craft beer? The most recent story of a brewery being too big for its craft business came from a surprising location: Vermont. Specifically the Alchemist, which shocked the New England beer scene by increasing it's hermit-like withdrawal from the Craft Beer community. Quite possibly to increase engagement, or at least tolerance within its own community of Waterbury. With an output of less than 10,000 barrels a year, all a single flavor the alchemist grew too big to maintain its focus on its craft. The line of case-buyers and growler fillers was too great a distraction, and certainly an irritation to its neighbors.
Heady Topper is a double IPA with such a reputation, and exclusivity, that some guy in Bangor, ME had the audacity to offer a pair of 16 oz cans as a fair trade for tickets to a Phish concert. The headyness of this coveted elixir is apparently equivalent to a single set of Vermont's finest. History repeats its self. Just as Hurricane Irene flooded the Alchemist restaurant, and forced the brewer to close shop and narrow his focus on brewing, Beer Geeks flooded Waterbury and destroyed the retail side of the business.
Something is clearly out of proportion. 10,000 BBLs is too much of a good thing. That or Beer Geeks are much too tolerant of standing in line, and disrupting communities in search of their coveted elixir. I'm not accusing the community of wanton drunkenness, and disorderly conduct. No. It's the culture of the beer pilgrimage. Disruptive traffic, crowding, and unnecessary queuing, are the signs of decay and cultural squalor. Beer Geekery is crushing itself under its own weight.
Stories like the Alchemists disruptive effects on a small Vermont town will supply legitimate fuel to arguments supporting the zoning regulations that inhibit the establishment of new, and exciting Nano breweries. Just before the Alchemist announced its plans to step back, and continue to duck under the radar, the Boston Globe ran a piece arguing that the city will lose its influence in the Craft Beer world because zoning restrictions are making it too difficult for the next-Alchemist or Hill Farmstead to open within the Hub.
Who would want craft brewers as neighbors if the draws our queuing pedants by day, and drunkards by night? While appreciation for high quality beer is unlikely to go away, perhaps its time to say so long to a culture that embraces marketing of event beers (Dark Lord Day, I'm talking about you and your demon spawn) and instead focus on community and civic engagement. Craft Beer is a life-style product. As consumers we should foster a healthy, balanced life style that's focused on the area community and not just the camaraderie in a line of beards, rejected by the Boston Red Sox.
If idle queues are a necessary product of supply/demand inefficiencies and the awkwardness of our distribution system, then perhaps it is the calling for brewers to find some social responsible application for the attention. Perhaps the idle queue should be turned into an active squad cleaning a local park, maintaining or building something for the community they disrupt. Why shouldn't beer drinkers be as good as their beer?