Are they Brewers? What’s More Important: Definitions or In-Fighting?

Posted by Jason Gladfelter, M.A. on April 04, 2013  /   Posted in Craft Brewery Conflict Mediation

What’s More Important: Definitions or In-Fighting?

The Roman Empire fell from within. Sure, Alaric and the Visigoths sacked Rome, but it had grown vulnerable in the decades and century before. Loosely governed expansion, disconnect with member “states” and in-fighting doomed the once powerful empire. Craft Brewing is mirroring this empire.

Ok, ok…so the analogy is a wee bit faded, and probably not at all accurate, but as Buford T. Justice would say, that’s an attention getter.

Recently, there have been blogs published by those in the craft beer community rebuking one another for some or another reason.  Most common are the trademark infringement cases that can be handled much better than they have, but which have blown up to become social media disasters. The newest lambasting concerns “gypsy brewers”.  Needless to say, lambasting one’s company, job and profession triggers emotions, and a response.  Everyone has a right to their own opinions and the freedom of speech to express them. With these, though, comes responsibility–for what is said and the reactions the come forth. My concern is that neither the speech nor the reaction, or even the consequent reactions, will be handled well by those involved or the craft brewing industry at large (which includes consumers–and important segment).

While there are only two blogs in this back and forth, the stage is set for ongoing damages.  This is in-fighting, and the Big Boys are loving it: let them fight amongst themselves!  To be sure, the two authors can get together, speak openly and honestly, come to an agreement, and possibly issue a public statement.  Ostensibly, then, the issue is resolved.  Yet, this would be incomplete.  Ripples of the dispute can travel far and wide.   While these two may be “at peace”, those who agree with either side will not. How will gypsy brewers feel? What will they think? How will non-gypsy brewers react?  It is difficult for those following  to come together and discuss the topic (or can’t do so quite as easily).  Animosity can grow, and from my discussions at the Craft Brewers Conference, it has already started.  Who knows where it will lead?  Maybe nowhere.  Maybe to Rome.

So, what are we to do?  In this situation, swift action is needed before the conversation becomes ensconced in online forums, beer chats and other ethereal communities where animosity can grown and partisanship takes hold. Perhaps a statement from the Brewers Association can help nix the growing bud.

And that should not be the end of it. There is a lesson or two here and they should not be ignored. Online blogs are great, they convey information to consumers and other interested parties.  They can be powerful for good or not-so-good. I think we all know about the Strange debacle; that issue rages still.  Some comments are better left off of the public forums.  The chances of miscomprehension, misinterpretation and out of context quotes are too great to post just anything of contention online (unless, of course, you just don’t care–proceed at your own risk).  It is like office rumor mills, or co-workers talking about each other behind each other’s back.  It hurts business.

If contentious blogs are to be written, though, close attention to the words chosen is important. It’s one thing to disagree with someone, and quite another to label them.  The difference is that with the former, you’re stating an opinion. The attention is on you.  In the latter, the attention is on someone else without their knowledge and/or approval, and no way to defend themselves at the time.  People react when they are attacked, and a common defense is a more powerful offensive.  That old saying, “stick and stone may break my bones, but words will never hurt” is only half true. Bones break, but they are relatively easy to fix.  While words shouldn’t be damaging, they are quite often immensely powerful (for bad and good, I might add).  Remember, people are 99% the same. In order to feel unique we sometimes focus on our differences, and those differences that we see as “negative” get the attention. Instead, let’s focus on the positives and the shared qualities…like great beer.

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