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Craft beer movement pushes Americans to choose more wisely

Don't fear and loathe, embrace and foam

By Will Foster Beer columnist
On May 1, 2012


"We were someplace around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold." And with that sentence, writer and journalist Hunter S. Thompson set off on his wild drug-fueled literary odyssey, better known as Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream.
The semi-autobiographical tale follows Hunter as he ventures to Las Vegas, ignoring his journalistic assignments, and instead going on a multi-day bender that would make Charlie Sheen blush. Anyone who's seen the 1996 film adaptation, starring Johnny Depp, knows Hunter meant it when he wrote the voyage was "a gross physical salute to the fantastic possibilities of life in this country."
That's where the American Dream part of the title comes in. Between buying a monkey on mescaline and going to the circus on ether, Hunter ruminates on what exactly happened to the summer of love, the end of the Counterculture movement and the widespread social unrest that plagued the nation at the time. By the end of his search for the metaphorical - and physical - American Dream, Hunter's a ragged mess. This shows his vain struggle to break from a coarse reality never works, only creating a generation of "failed seekers" full of fear and loathing.
That was the thing about Hunter. He sang about America the beautiful, like Walt Whitman and so many others before him, but he just felt it couldn't survive in today's world. A world where politicians bicker over nothing as we pollute and poison our planet. And though "doomed" was a frequent idiom of his, Hunter's writings were never outrightly pessimistic. He still held there were good things and good people in life. He placed traditional values, such as integrity and character, on a pedestal and had a feverish contempt for Nixon and everything he represented.
I agree with Hunter, and that's why now, more than ever, we should celebrate our carbonated companion.
I'm talking about beer - a beverage as old as agriculture and just as important. Beer was an early source for potable water and was crucial to society. The Egyptians even payed those who built the pyramids with beer. Almost every ancient civilization has had some form of the fermented beverage, making beer a worldwide tradition. It's a lot like life. Now that we've moved past the survival part of it, beer's grown to be so much more.
Not only is beer our link to humanity, but also a substance that's intrinsically American. Having a cold beer is synonymous with ending the American workday. Our nation's founders all brewed their own beer and its been the beverage of most every sitcom - Cheers was built around beer and The Simpsons made Duff beer almost as popular as any real brand.
I'm not just talking about beer, but the recent surge in craft beer. Hunter once wrote, "Good people drink good beer," and though it's true, it's hard to define. The definition of craft beer is about as concise and direct as Hunter's American Dream, more a far off concept that can only be labeled as, "I know it when I see it."
I'm talking about beer that's more quality than quantity. Not just the flavorless swill pumped out by the mega breweries, but the brewers who give every bottle the attention it needs and often more than that. It's beer that aims to perfect the ancient art, just like we've gone from cave paintings to mirror images of reality, and beyond.
Unfortunately, there's always those who hop on the bandwagon for a quick profit.There are also many crafty faux-craft beers out there, like Shock Top, which is actually made by Anheuser-Busch. But there's one thing those posers can't pretend - the foam. You can't fake foam; they tried in the '70s with cobalt salts, which ended shortly after people started getting seriousily ill. A good beer has a proud strong head - one that defiantly clings to the sides of the glass, not the limp, defeated froth that hangs at the top of a lesser beer. This type of hearty froth shows the beer was brewed with purpose.
But why craft beer, and why now? Because much like Hunter's wild tale, we're at the point in history where a shift is occuring - though perhaps not on such a grand scale. Just like the Flower Power movement was blooming into full effect around the country, so too is the opinion that beer should taste good. Pioneers like Dogfish Head are celebrating the weird in beer, finally starting to break from the age-old steretypes in which beer has been pigeon-holed. Just like the late '60s was all about free expression, so is exploring the great possibilities of this free nation.
The true beauty of this blossoming of craft beer is it won't wilt like the Flower Power movement. Hunter's arguement was that the momentum was there, but the drugs misled the people. It was cold corporate America that put the final nail in the coffin. The craft beer movement isn't about some lofty philosophical goal, like the Counterculture movement was. Hunter focused on possibility, when he should've focused on opportunity. The beauty of America isn't the pie in the sky, it's the fact that each of us can grab a slice in the first place.
Beer is great because it's all created equal. It's not like wine, where the quality resides in the soil and earth, leaving the power to those who can afford it. Beer gets its taste from the wide range of processes that go into fermentation, all of which can be tweaked for different results. It's like having an orchestra in front of you and it's all how you conduct it.
Hunter's fear and loathing came from the nation's poor politics, which used corporations as a crutch to pursue profit over the people's needs. What better way to combat this corporate elite than by buying craft beer. Nothing is more grassroots than beer. It's a cornerstone of our society, currently in the hands of the big players, but not for long, if we can help it. So, good beer is not just good for you, but good for America.
That's where Hunter was wrong. He saw the end of the tunnel, the high score. But happy endings are a fallacy because nothing ends. We shouldn't be filled with fear and loathing of our inevitable demise, but rather embrace America as the land of opportunity and embrace a life of beer and foaming. Just as life's a journey  and not a destination, so too is beer and the American Dream present somewhere between the beauty of the first sip and the sadness of an empty bottle.


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