NOTE: Before I get started, it is important to be explicit that in what follows I’m not talking about religious practices or their values. This is about structure and belief but not about faith.
Ed Rossiter, Jr. and Ed Rossiter III were hanging around at Xtreme Brewing in Laurel, Del. having a tasting and waiting for the day’s class to begin. John Panasiewicz, who is the head brewer at 3rd Wave Brewing, in Delmar, Del. was slated to talk about souring beer. The class ostensibly was for homebrewers, people who wanted to be able to reproduce the sour beers that have been coming to prominence. What the class really was about, was how to understand sours in a more basic way.
The Rossiter’s are relatively new to the home brewing scene and said they weren’t likely to try making sour beer on purpose–it can be (and often is) made accidentally by homebrewers–but were grateful for the opportunity to learn more about it. This was not Panasiewicz’s first educational talk, nor his first talk on beer. Like many of the local brewers, he takes every opportunity possible to talk about craft beer, and not only the beer he makes.
The evangelism movement in religion is nearly 400 years old. It came (loosely) from the democratization of religious texts and (according to the Internet) was coined in print the same year the city of Boston was founded. People who believed passionately in the gist of the Bible, if not with the interpretation of the religious establishment, started striking out on their own, talking about their experience and interpretations.
Today’s brewers are not radically different. They love craft beer for their own reasons and want to tell people why. But they’re telling them in their own language and with their own agendas while encouraging their listeners to do the same. The note they tend to hit the hardest is: once you develop your palate, you are an expert on the beer that you like.
Brewers who do this kind of outreach—and nearly all the local brewers here do—understand they are almost always speaking to a mixed crowd. Some people are aggressively aware of the characteristics of beer and others are new to the idea that beer is something that can be enjoyed and discussed rather than shotgunned. Clearly, they teach the less knowledgeable about the craft beer culture, but increasingly they are (in a way) teaching the more knowledgeable how to talk about craft beer.
There’s an important difference between esoteric and exclusive. It’s one thing to possess specialized knowledge and another to be a jerk about it. What brewers like Panasiewicz do well is show people who know a lot about beer how to speak about it without sounding snobby. Snob versus geek (or nerd, or enthusiast) is all in the tone and the speaker’s attitude. By being clearly literate, but also clearly interested in enticing other people to participate in the larger craft beer discussion (rather than making them feel stupid or inferior), brewers are helping create an underclass of evangelists. These are the people who will go out into the wilderness and spread the gospel not only of good beer, but also the language of why great beer is accessible and why each drinker is an expert on their own taste.