Love & Hops: Craft Beer and Culture by James Fraley

July 12, 2010 9 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

I, James Fraley, am going to speak to you about beer. Craft beer to be exact, not the fizzy yellow stuff that comes in clear bottles. That's the enemy, the bad guy; the toxic swill pushed by bikini babes and jack Russell terriers. We won't be talking about beer pong or keg stand tactics at all. No vortex bottles or cold activated labels here. What we will be discussing is liquid poetry, taste bud tantalizing fermented beverages that heighten experiences and elevate the soul. We will push boundaries together; challenge our perceptions as well as our palates. We will delve into the world of craft beer as a team and be better for the voyage.

By James Fraley

      As we begin our journey, the first and most important point about beer I can bring to your attention is that we, as American consumers, have been bamboozled.  The big three (from now known as BMC, or Bud, Miller, and Coors) have spent more money on fooling us with marketing then actual brewing of beer. Since the end of prohibition it has been their goal to sell us a sub-par, tasteless, and offensive product and make us love them for it. Why? They do it because they can and it makes them rich.

      Before prohibition there were a multitude of American craft breweries making excellent renditions of famous German and English style ales and lagers. There were also big, industrial breweries that made crap (and tons of money).  When “The Noble Experiment” took hold in the U.S. from 1920 to 1933, all forms of alcohol were banned and in turn the smaller craft breweries went broke immediately. The BMC monster stayed alive by selling alternative malted products (i.e. beer flavored soda and malted infant formula) and when prohibition ended they were the only companies to be able to brew “beer” on a large enough scale to survive the now rebounding economy after the Great Depression. They had to keep up with demand as well as turning a profit and they did this by creating a style of beer known as the “Light American Lager”.  What does that style entail? Basically, it means making a beer that is low in flavor and alcohol that can appeal to anyone with out overwhelming or challenging their taste buds. It also means using junk additives (corn, rice, artificial flavors, and chemicals) instead of the traditional ingredients of water, hops, barley or wheat, and yeast.  The last key to this style is making suckers out of the general public, which the BMC’s do much better than their principle job, brewing beer. They started pulling our leg in 1933 and haven’t stopped yet.

The executives at these companies know that image means everything so they go out of their way to assure the modern American man that drinking their potion will result in athleticism, a colorful and exciting sex life, a thin waist, and cure the everyday rut of existence. Kind of like what McDonalds does, Right? Kind of like what the cigarette companies used to do as well.  One thing I hope you learn from this column is that the harder a company tries to convince you that a product is great just means that you need convincing and that the product can’t stand up on its own two legs. When is that last time you saw an ad for New Glarus brewery? Most of you haven’t ever heard of them. They do no advertising, only sell in Wisconsin, and have one of the largest followings in the craft beer world. Why? It’s because they make beer that rivals Steinbeck’s novels in complexity.

      So to sum it up, you’ve been ripped off and lied to about beer. If that doesn’t make you mad, consider the fact that the BMC machine considers you dumb and incapable of making your own decisions. If my female readers aren’t angry, I’d like to inform them that beer comes in six packs because the BMC executives consider that to be the maximum amount of beer a woman can lift into the shopping cart for her husband.

      So, what do we do from here? We educate ourselves. Read this Column. Send me questions. But most of all, lets think for ourselves and try some of the beer from the over 1500 craft breweries in America that are trying to liberate you from the BMC thought prison.  You owe it to yourself to drink the best and live your life as you see fit without the undue pressure from corporate mind control.

      Isn’t that what freedom is all about?
Next Article: What is good beer and how to appreciate it.

James Fraley is co-owner of J&P consulting, a local fermented beverage consulting firm and owner of one of the most prestigious cellars of rare beer in America. Questions can be emailed to