Part three of a three parter on the cambridge beer festival

Listen, I like old people more than most people my age. It’s not merely a “respect for my elders” attitude, although that’s part of it, but there’s something beyond reproach about older folks. There’s a kind of attitude that projects the confidence of experience among those who age gracefully. The key word, though, is gracefully. There are two ways to get old, if you think about it. One is with an increasing self-awareness and the other is with a growing fear that immortality is beyond your grasp.

The difference between a self-aware oldster and a terrified one is basic and has been elucidated better in every piece of fiction wherein the old have the presence of mind to pity admiringly, rather than to fear, the young.

If you’re looking for a litmus test about whether you’re dealing with an fearful or self-aware oldster, ask them about craft beer. Generally, they will fall loosely into those who say they don’t understand it, say they do understand it and don’t care, or are avid participants of it. All of those people are friends of the craft beer movement. In fact, pretty much anyone that knows that people increasingly are attracted to better beers is a friend, even if they think it’s stupid or a fad.

But there is another class of older individual, and that is the (still significant) number of people who think drinking beer is for getting loaded. Now, I’ll be the first to endorse the happy accident that is the coincidence (pronounced co-inside-ence) between enjoying a bunch of great beers and an improved mood and reduced antipathy. But the point and the result are incidental. I can tell a lot about a person by their attitude toward beer.

If you think beer is for getting drunk, you are either very young, very old or very naive. If you think beer is a drink that occasionally has a side effect of drunkenness, you are (constitutionally) neither very young, old, or naive.

Getting to the point

The reason it’s important to understand these fine distinctions, is because of beer festivals like the one in Cambridge. The enthusiasm with which a town embraces beer festivals says a lot about how the elected officials think about their town, and it’s a great place to look for political fissures (if you, like I, are a boring enough person to care about small town political fissures).

Old people vote, young people spend; this is the crux of a lot of small town political dilemmas. Beer is the great decider. Cambridge, which is in the midst of a massive epicurial and artistic revolution, is in the enviable position where no one for a second believes that beer on the streets is anything but great, as long as there’s not too much of it.

Patrick Fanning, who is a leading voice for good food and beer in Cambridge, has the most to gain and lose, personally and professionally, from a realistic approach to the value of craft beer as a higher-end demographic tourism draw. He and his supporters have struck a balance between the realization that street festivals where beer is allowed are a benefit to the town, and the political realities that there are those among the developmentally arrested who think that beer is for getting loaded.

Cambridge has beer festivals (so far two per year) and that works for them. Berlin has four (down from six, I think) and Salisbury has, for all intents and purposes, zero. The town does allow one beer truck at its 3rd Friday event but only has one legitimate multi-brewery beer garden a year.

Three guesses which month that is.

Strange bedfellows

On the Eastern Shore, Cambridge has almost the least to lose and so can be looked to for the next big innovation. Berlin has settled into its rhythm, with Burley Oak essentially holding multiple ancillary festivals (check in next week for an account of one), that complement the town’s major events. Ocean City is struggling with the balance between whether it will have a major or a massive annual festival, but in the intermediate time, there are beer truck license issues we’ll have to cover elsewhere.** Salisbury (and Wicomico County, generally) still is trying to drag its electorate into the 20th century and a practical beer policy might be a bridge too far. Although, to be honest and fair, the continued attempts by Salisbury University to upset Division One schools as the biggest party school rightfully gives the political elite a little pause.

But people look at Berlin’s rise to relevance as a craft beer destination and look at the inroads made by the town of Cambridge and consider the real implications of a more open beer policy. Berlin was a ghost town in the 1990s. It’s rise was coincidental with Burley Oak’s, but not because of the beer as much because of the attitude. What Berlin got right was to (on some level) embrace the courage to buck the short-sightedness of some members of the Greatest Generation. In doing so, it made money, won friends and influenced people.

Cambridge isn’t afraid to borrow from that playbook.

Berlin believed in a brewery and succeeded. Cambridge (which has a world class brewery) believes in a beer culture and will succeed on those terms.

Imagine what will happen once the Eastern Shore embraces the concept of a beer region…

**We probably won’t, because they’re kind of convoluted and almost beyond the town’s political control.

Tony Russo
Author: Tony Russo

Tony Russo has worked as a print and digital journalist for the better part of the 21st century, writing for and editing regional weeklies and dailies before joining the team that produces and among other destination websites. In addition to having documented everything from zoning changes to art movements on the Delmarva Peninsula, Tony has written two books on beer for the History Press. Eastern Shore Beer was published in 2014 and Delaware Beer in 2016. He lives in Delmar, Md. with his wife Kelly and the only of his four daughters who hasn't moved out. Together they keep their two dogs comfortable.

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