Most of us, I would wager, do not actually make things for a living. Providing services has become far more common in the modern American economy than providing goods.
In my day job as a newspaper reporter, I provide a service. Typically, this means reviewing the previous day’s events, or a particular issue or situation, with the intention of producing a succinct representation that offends neither truth nor clarity.
My line of work has its rewards, and its drawbacks. It involves a fair amount of other people’s work, so I’m not necessarily the master of the product I produce.
Brewing is quite different. For better or worse, the brewer is the master of his product, which he makes according to his intentions.
When a brewer decides to make a new beer, it is up to him, and no one else, how the beer turns out. If it contains too much hop flavor as opposed to malt flavor, or not enough, he has no one to blame but himself. If the yeast do not attenuate well, or the beer is marred by diacetyl, it is his fault alone.
Brewing is in many ways a throwback to a pre-industrial economy. A brewer produces a relatively simple and understandable product that is judged by its merits alone.
If the brewer wants, he can forge further relationships in the community by purchasing local ingredients. The Durango Bootleggers Society has done this with their dandelion ale, and Ska and Steamworks have done with this by purchasing freshly harvested Colorado hops. Ska has also done this by using Honeyville honey in its True Blonde Ale.
Sure, there is marketing, and federal regulatory approval of beer labels, and legal restrictions on geographic distribution. There are labor laws and worker’s compensation claims. There are vertical business relationships with bars, liquor stores and distributors.
But at bottom, the key relationship in brewing is between the brewer and the drinker: Does the beer made by the brewer taste good? Is it worth the drinker’s time and money? The relationship is one of refreshingly simple accountability.