Whoa, Could That Be True?

For BeerNexus.com

As I mentioned in a previous article, my UCONN Alumni Association understands and
loves me! How’s that you say. Well they’ve partnered up with many alumni owned
craft breweries in CT for their 1881 Series. What they do is host a private alumni
event where the brewery brews a unique beer for that day and the UConn alum only.;
Great idea. Now that doesn’t necessarily do much for me being here in NJ, unless I’m
willing to do some traveling each time, but they also understand that alumni are not
confined by the state borders.

Every craft brewery doesn’t have a school affiliation so the series also includes
private events at other breweries and recently they offered one at The Other Half in
Brooklyn and I jumped at that. Not only is The
Other Half one of the better known and
sought after crafts here in the metro area; I also went to a tap takeover at the The
Ambulance House a couple of years ago, so I know firsthand they make great beer!

Just like last time I’ll be sharing this Other Half adventure with the BeerNexus guru,
Vince. The event starts at 2:00 but we get an early start as you never know what can
happen on a drive to Brooklyn. My Garmin says a little over an hour whether I take
the northern or southern route, I decide northern through the Holland Tunnel.
Unfortunately when we get to the Holland Tunnel approach, it’s all backed up and we
waste about a half hour to go a mile or so; glad we left early! Finally we’re through
the Tunnel, through Manhattan and the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel and in Brooklyn, I
specifically took the northern route as The Other Half is in northwestern Brooklyn so
we’re only  a couple of miles away. I miss a turn, do a u-ey, then can’t make a right
on all the one way streets, finally turn, then head back in The Other Half direction. I’m
getting closer to the main drag again which would mean circling around again so
make a left and there behold near the end of the block is the next best treasure to a
brewery event; a parking spot w/o a meter, aka nirvana. And actually it’s in a great
location as we only need to walk three short blocks and down the street to the
brewery and we’re early!

Arrive at the front door and there are two bouncers at the door to a place that’s
hopping. I don’t remember ever seeing a bouncer at a brewery before, but I guess in
the city it’s better to be checking at the door and letting folks know there needs to be
a certain amount of decorum.  We ask about the UConn event and they direct us to
the open garage door we just passed and tell us to go stand in line till they’re ready;
hey that’s fine, better to be early and wait than be late and lose precious tasting time.
We head down and in a few minutes I see Josh, the alumni assoc rep and say hello.
Since we’re early he wisely tells me we should go buy beer now while they still have it
available! The event info said we would be able to buy beer depending on what they
had. I didn’t know if that was just for us, but obviously it was the beer sales of that
day for anyone.

We head back down the block where there is another garage open where they’re
selling the beer; guess I should have figured that out when we walked by it the first
time, but hey it’s my first time there. There are about six different beers available,
some are already sold out; I pick up a mixed case, which we’ll do a tasting for our
brew buds at home and the rest will go up to the upcoming family reunion. It’s up in
NH and I’m doubting if any have tried The Other Half beers so s/b another great
showing for The Big G. So we walk back the three blocks to the car, stow our brews,
(glad I brought a cooler and ice packs) and head back to the event. If we had waited
until after our event we probably would have had little to choose from, so now I can
say not only does my Alumni Association understand and love me, they take care of
me too!

The event starts and we get our first beer and it is delicious. They have a list of ten
different beers, so we switch off, I get one and Vince gets the next so we get to try
them all. Inside the big garage door is a small open area with the stainless steel
tanks behind. Through a door on the left is a small, approximately 16 x 16 tap room
for our private event. Not a lot of space but I come to find out that was their original
tap room! Since their humble beginning in early 2014 they’ve grown rapidly and now
rent most of the small block where they started and still can’t keep up with the
demand. Yes they make very good beer!

As you might guess the vast majority of alums are from the current decade, but there
are a few of us “older” alums holding up our end. Josh introduces us to Andrew, his
go-to guy from Hoboken. Turns out he’s a business major who works for the NBA
advising teams on their media. I always find it interesting to hear about career
journeys, how people got where they are. Unless you’re studying something specific
like doctor or engineering, the best thing a college degree can do is give you a good
general background and prepare you to be open and take advantage of
opportunities that come along…you never know where it will take you.

We also meet Steve, another business grad, who lives in Brooklyn and much closer
to us in age than all the youngsters. He’s not a big hophead and would much rather
be drinker a lighter beer in the summer, which I get, but likes to come to The Other
Half. His wife and young son soon arrive and I mark them down as having good
parenting skills as they’re bringing their young son to a brewery to teach him early
about social skills and beer (although I won’t mention the obvious that they couldn’t
leave him home alone while they were out drinking).

As we continue talking I’m getting the feeling Steve liked The Other Half better when
it was smaller and not as crowded. He starts talking about all the crazy people who
line up and camp out in the cold just to buy their beer. And then he says very
seriously “it’s like a cult.” Now I’ve had a couple of delicious beers but that hit me; I’ve
never heard craft beer described as being a cult before. I don’t really press him on it
and there’s not much more he has to say about it.

So we leave a very successful event and head home with the ability to taste The
Other Half beers we bought; but even weeks later I’m still remembering Steve’s
description of craft beer and The Other Half in particular as a cult. To me cult has a
negative connotation and usually involves a whack job; like a Jim Jones or a Charles
Manson or David Koresh and in many cases abuse and/or death. Maybe I have too
narrow a definition of a cult so I looked up a definition.- A system of religious
veneration and devotion directed toward a particular figure or object, a relatively
small group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as
strange or sinister, a misplaced or excessive admiration for a particular person or
thing and lastly a person or thing that is popular or fashionable, especially among a
particular section of society.

Craft beer isn’t religious, although some beers do use their own special shaped
glass. And it’s definitely not strange or sinister. Well okay there are some things
there you could associate with craft beer, certainly that’s its popular and fashionable
and I guess you could say a particular section of society, but you can’t define that by
age or gender, just that they like good tasting beer.

Now that I think of it we do have cult films or cult classics. They are usually obscure
or unpopular with mainstream audiences, often revolutionary and sometimes defined
by the audience reaction as by content. But they are such a small almost minuscule
part of the entire body of film whereas craft beer even w/o the breweries bought by
big brewers or private enterprise was 12.7% in 2017. That seems a little large for a
cult. And if craft beer is a cult is the GABF our ultimate cult festival? If Woodstock was
three days of peace, love, happiness and music, is GABF three days of beer, beer
and more beer??

Maybe we can compare it to some other things; let’s start with Star Trek, a TV series
with 79 episodes. It could be described as a cult phenomenon, but some call it a true
cult with religious overtones. Okay so you’ve seen all the episodes a billion times,
know all the words, maybe get dressed up and go to a convention and really like the
idea of space travel and that we’re really the good guys…well seems like a bit of a
stretch but you could point to all kinds of inferences and statements to defend
thinking of it as a cult. Don’t we call their loyal fan base, Trekkies?

What about Harry Potter and all the children along with adults who stood online to
buy the next book or see the first showing of the next movie. With all the wizardry and
good over evil could that be a cult? Actually there’s a name for their loyal fans also,

And let’s turn to music, one of my least favorite groups, The Grateful Dead. What
about all those people who followed them around for concert to concert; stoned yes,
a cult, maybe or just fans who loved their music who we call Deadheads.

Maybe we should step back and start with the basic of just being a fan of something,
where you really like something like a singer, band, sports team, movie, etc. So then
a fanatic is a fan with excessive zeal or enthusiasm for something. If we look up
synonyms for fanatic we get a wide array; activist, aficionado, zealot, extremist,
devotee, enthusiast, militant, freak and a bunch more. Some are definitely more
derogatory descriptors than others, but I guess it depends on what kind of fanatic
you are.

But let’s get back to craft beer. I certainly do not consider myself a member of a cult.
Do I enjoy drinking craft beer, absolutely. Do I enjoy drinking it with friends and
talking about it with them, again absolutely. Do I write about it, sure looks like it. Do I
stand in line at breweries to buy their beer, NO. But there are some that love it so
much they will do that and some will travel around to stand in line. Maybe there’s a
subset of us that could be considered a cult?!? I’ll bet if you ask them they talk about
the social aspect of hanging out with other like minded folks and the excitement of
getting and trying something sought after; somewhat similar to tailgating.

Interestingly enough as I’m looking up definitions and articles on The Other Half, I
find one from this past February titled “How This Brooklyn Craft Brewery Built a Cult
Following.” In it they talk about how popular it’s become, the long lines each
weekend, the people who travel to stand in the cold for hours to buy the beer, how
they’re also a social media (Facebook, Twitter & Instagram) success in Brooklyn
ranking third behind Brooklyn Brewery and Sixpoint, how they hired a designer for
their labels for a better visual, etc. So maybe, just maybe Steve read this article and
it was spot on for him.

Maybe what we need is own craft beer moniker to set us apart. We already have
“hopheads”, but that’s really a subclass of us, although a rather large subclass, who
love IPAs. So how about….
•        Craft beeranatic…eh
•        Craft beeratic…too negative
•        Craft BeerHood…like neighborhood…not like in the Hood…
•        Craft beer mavens…so a fancy name for an expert, connoisseur, one with
knowledge…if you described yourself as a maven to someone I think they might
move over a barstool or two…

This isn’t working. Craft beer spans so many different people and what one likes
about it may be different from what the person sitting on the next barstool likes about
it. Maybe at some point they’ll be a unique commonly accepted term for us, but for
now I’ll stick with CBL…Craft Beer Lover.

Glenn DeLuca writes about beer and culture of drinking. He may
be reached by writing thebigG@beernexus.com.

***   ***   ***
Glenn DeLuca
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