The American Dream, Patriotism and Craft Beer

Have you guys heard “God Bless the U.S.A.” by Lee Greenwood? Of course you have. You probably were forced to sing it in some pageant as a child which your parents remember fondly.

While internally the song serves as a microcosmic cog in the sarcastic machine that has turned most people between the ages of 20 and 50 incapable of genuinely enjoying anything patriotic. We did not grow up in the Greatest Generation or conquer the Great Depression. If you’re my age you only needed to survive Lunchables. Besides the nitrite filled, prepackaged and processed school day meals we endured, we take a lot for granted.

But geez that song is super serious — and that’s why we think it’s funny! (And please don’t hear that I think the song is a joke. It is often sung as a tribute to troops and that is no laughing matter. Some of my best friends and a stellar employee at Wiseacre are veterans and I have nothing but respect for them.) It’s the tone of the song that some people find goofy. It’s easy to be sarcastic when it comes to patriotism. It’s ironically cool to wear American flag Zoomba pants and sing songs from Team America World Police on the Fourth of July. In 2017, it’s not “cool” to profess sincere patriotism.

And hey, I think that movie is hilarious, having often mocked older generations for their political ideology that seems attached to a world that existed 100 years ago.

But I’ve changed my mind on patriotism. Allow me to explain.

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Life as a Cynic

This is coming from someone who suffers greatly from a propensity to always be cynical or make a joke rather than experience the joy or beauty in something. Now more than ever is the time to be serious AF! And it’s all about beer!

wiseacre brewing
Kellan (right) admits he’s always been a cynic. Pictured with his brother Davin at their brewery, Wiseacre Brewing. (Credit: Wiseacre Brewing)

Or maybe it’s just about life and beer is a focal point because of what I do for a living. (Yeah, that’s it.) And it’s definitely OK to be patriotic about beer during American Craft Beer Week.

I recently had the privilege to head to Washington, DC to lobby with the Brewers Association and discuss our industry with politicians. We discussed the plight of smaller breweries to those who affect policy, influence taxes, and all the other stuff we commoners don’t really understand but that affects our lives drastically. We discussed the Federal Excise Tax to update and modernize the excise tax and regulatory requirements for craft brewers as well as vintners and distillers, and thereby help to ensure the continued growth of America’s craft beverage industries.

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We discussed buyers and mergers, which give a façade of choice to consumers and inhibit a smaller brewery’s access to market. What does that mean? That means the biggest brewery in the world (which is not based in the U.S.) is purchasing smaller breweries from around the country. Then the shelves and taphandles in your town are suddenly full of well known “craft breweries” you couldn’t get before (which are now being mass-produced in plants not in the city where said breweries started). You are excited about your new choices, but instead of supporting the small breweries, independent spirit and job creators you think you are supporting, you’re actually supporting a giant international business that is sneakily crushing the ability of smaller businesses to grow.

A Giant Shot of Patriotism

The trip to DC and the points I am making are not to say “woe is me.” I don’t want your pity and neither do most small breweries. We chose this path and most of us knew what it entailed when we got into it. We love what we do and we want people to choose us because of the quality of our product and the chance to connect on a personal level. This industry is the American dream.

“I am fully aware of how cheesy that sounds but just get past your tendency to roll your eyes a little bit longer.” Kellan Bartosch, Wiseacre Beer Co-Founder

I am fully aware of how cheesy that sounds but just get past your tendency to roll your eyes a little bit longer.

It’s American manufacturing and job creation. It’s really, really hard work. American breweries contribute to the culture and fabric of towns, cities, regions, and even our whole country — or beyond — in the case of industry pioneers like Sierra Nevada or Deschutes to name a few.

I say all this not as if craft breweries are the most important thing in the world – we’re not. But the same way art, music, food, history, traditions, landscape, architecture, recreation and more all play a part in defining us as Americans, both in an all-encompassing national zeitgeist kinda way but also on a local level, so does beer.

My lobbying trip to DC was a giant shot of patriotism as I and many other representatives of state brewers guilds were able to discuss our challenges and joys with elected official — and they actually listened and supported!

Wiseacre Brewing
Davin (left) and Kellan (right) Bartosch, the brothers who founded Wiseacre Brewing in Memphis. (Credit: Wiseacre)

Brewing Craft Beer IS the American Dream

According to Wikipedia (sign of the times), “the American Dream is a national ethos of the United States, the set of ideals (democracy, rights, liberty, opportunity, and equality) in which freedom includes the opportunity for prosperity and success, and an upward social mobility for the family and children, achieved through hard work in a society with few barriers.” That’s what it says on the internet so it must be true (or that is what somebody edited on Wikipedia right before I was too lazy to find an actual encyclopedia). Find a Craft Brewery

I do fully recognize the injustice in that statement considering our sordid past which has oppressed, discouraged, and systematically made that statement untrue for many. But for the sake of this article and this moment in time let’s consider it a mostly good thing that notion exists in some form.

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My translation and what most of us probably heard growing up: if you work really hard, find something you care about, get good training, prepare yourself, overprepare yourself, learn from good mentors, take a risk, learn the history of an industry, study the heroes, understand quality and strive for it at every turn, hustle, hustle, hustle, create educated innovation, aren’t afraid to get dirty, drink a giant humility shake, and are a little bit crazy but in a good way, then our country has a system that will likely reward you. Some people who don’t follow the rules get lucky and some people don’t catch any breaks even though they’ve made all the right steps. But for the most part, the statement above seems to be true.

Much like people treat patriotism with a sense of sarcasm, I understand that the beer industry currently has a component that is trendy. It’s easier for people to say what we do is a fad and pick up a macro-lager with a retro can and roll with an “I don’t care” attitude. But just like the Rolling Stones were lumped into a category of trendy bands when they started alongside other blue-eyed soul, the fads fade away while the best things are timeless. Most of the breweries I know around the country are following the long-winded paraphrasing I did of our nation’s spirit and plan on having a lifetime of relevance, just like “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.”

So for American Craft Beer Week put down cynicism and pick up a beer made by a small and independent U.S. brewery.

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