I came across an AP article yesterday about The Alchemist having to shutter its retail space in Vermont next week.
The beer-making biz has been good to the Waterbury, Vermont husband and wife team of John and Jen Kimmich, the owners of The Alchemist. Output at the brewery has jumped 500% in the two years since they opened their commercial operation (their original brewpub was destroyed by flooding during Hurricane Irene), and as I most likely don't need to tell you, Heady Topper—The Alchemist's one-and-only brew—is quite popular.
Maybe a little too popular, and that's what disturbs me.
You see, The Alchemist isn't closing the retail end of its business because sales have slumped or because of supply issues. It's closing because people coming into Waterbury to buy the Double IPA have become so disruptive to the tiny hamlet, that the threat of legal action against the brewery—by its neighbors—became a such real possibility, that the Kimmichs decided to shut down their retail store.
That's too bad. Heady Topper is a great beer and I'm sure the Kimmichs are great folks. But, as anyone who has ever spoken to a beer geek—let alone read any of the reviews on Beer Advocate or Rate Beer—can tell you, sometimes (and by sometimes I mean all the time) can take "beer" a little to far—like this bit from the article about the constant traffic in the driveway of one of the brewery's neighbors:
The driveway at the Kimmichs' business is easy to miss, and Kinsell said there was one half-hour period last summer when 26 people turned around in her driveway. When she parked a vehicle across the entrance to her driveway to slow that traffic down, people turned around on her grass.
I love beer, and I'm enthusiastic about it, but sometimes I find my fellow beer comrades are a little too enthusiastic—like at about a ten, when they should probably be closer to a six or a seven. The thing is, this enthusiasm isn't just about "beer", or even "craft beer", for that matter. It's the apotheosizing of a only a few besainted brews. Fanaticism for beers like Founder's KBS and Westvleteren 12 seems to have reached a fever pitch with Heady Topper.
I've got to be honest I find the whole idolatrizing of beer to be bizarre—and truthfully a bit hive-minded. I don't like anything that much. Is Bell's Two-Hearted really that good, or is it more important to say that Bell's Two Hearted is really that good. The beer rating sites love that mentality, as do the breweries. But who are we fooling? Is Westvleteren great because it's great, or is it "great" because Rate Beer has it at number one on its list?
I don't want to sound all anti-establishment here, but we praise the independence of craft brewers—those plucky beer makers doing it their way and getting out from under the shadow of big beer—but then we mindlessly follow, lemming-like over the cliff when it comes to "The Top Ten IPAs" or whatever other invented ranking of beers are out there.
Stop and think about what happened in Vermont. The Kimmichs opened their business with the best intention. Make a little beer, make a little money—and it worked. Heady Topper worked. Then people started acting like fucking morons and ruined it for everybody. That doesn't just affect you and I and our chances of getting a great beer. It affects, the Kimmichs, their family and the families of the 25 people they employ. Those are the people who make the beer! Messing with the system screws it up for everybody. How many people made the trek to Vermont, turned around in that woman's drive way and "just had to try Heady Topper" because they read about it on Beer Advocate. Converging on a tiny town in Vermont like the Visigoths sacking Rome—in hindsight—probably wasn't the best move. I guess the old adage is true, a person is smart, but people are stupid.
In the end, I'm saying drink beer, but don't be a douche about it.