Boycotts in Boomtime

The header from my Pursuit of Hoppiness piece (Summer 2016, p60)
Author not pictured

This piece originally appeared in the summer edition of SOBA’s magazine, The Pursuit of Hoppiness. A few recent discussions1 of whether (and how) we should more-openly mix our politics and our pitching or purchasing have reminded me to belatedly post it here.

Introducing himself and his mission, Michael Jackson (the drinks writer, not the other one — as the inevitable caveat goes) often said “I want you to think about every beer you put to your lips”. He definitely didn’t just mean taste; he always talked about history, and context, and companionship. But my suspicion is that he wouldn’t have stopped there, and I submit we should add ethics to the list: sometimes, the behaviour of the people who make or sell a beer is reason enough to avoid it entirely. I’m even fairly agnostic about the details. I just want to see more people drawing a line somewhere.

This is boomtime for beer. You have so many choices on your pub tabs and your supermarket shelves. You’re going to have winnow them down somehow. So keep some sense of marketplace morality in mind, among all the many other factors you juggle when deciding what to buy. And don’t give me that “it’s only what’s in the glass that counts” line. I doubt anyone really believes that, anyhow — just to skip straight to the obvious, I think we can agree that if there was a Godwin’s Brewery staffed by actual Nazis, then we shouldn’t be giving them our money or drinking their beer. That just leaves us with a threshold question, and I’m happy with you drawing yours wherever you like, on whichever factors: takeovers, trademark shenanigans, racist and/or sexist marketing, dodgy distribution, or the behaviour of their personnel.

Personally, I’ve just got two New Zealand companies on my boycott list. Nevermind who, or how they got there; that’s not the point, here and now.2 I’ll happily concede that each makes some great beer, including former favourites which I sometmes genuinely miss drinking. But, really, you’ll basically never notice. This is boomtime. You are more in danger of drowning in your available options than of longing for things that have become distasteful by circumstance. I have a handful of breweries who aren’t technically on the boycott list, but who hover close enough to the line that I rarely, if ever, buy their beer in the face of the countless alternatives. That’s how easy the choices get.

When I see the sheer awesomeness of the scene right now, it has a strange effect: the crap stands out more glaringly. Which sounds pessimistic, but inside every grumpy curmudgeon is a disappointed optimist. And it’s a little like that “if you don’t vote, you can’t complain” cliché, which has a grain of truth despite being mostly nonsense: non-voting might best express your position in any given election. In any case, here, you are “voting” — you’re buying beer, and (barring weird exceptions) almost everyone will buy many more beers than they’ll ever cast ballots. It’s a trite truth that your choice likely won’t change much. But so what? It’s equally true that all big things are made of individually-ineffective little things. Better to be mindful of your principles even when you bend or break them — when options or information are limited, perhaps — than to have none at all. Your money means something, and it encourages and enables certain behaviours whether you intend for it to or not. Now is an easy time to spend it more discerningly.

  1. Particular thanks for the prod go to Bryan Roth and Ben Johnson.
  2. Very tempting to out them, here, out of the print edition and lurking in the footnotes ― as I did with my Reinheitsgebot Hall Of Shame ― but no. Another time. For now, the point is the principle, not the particulars.

Have at it: