Is beer art?  The short answer: yes.

To be honest, I anticipate a significant amount of pushback on this idea. One day, however, I hope it will be accepted as obvious, at least by brewers, brewery owners, and those associated with the craft beer industry; and hopefully also by a large majority of craft beer consumers, connoisseurs, and aficionados, if not everyone. Beer is art. Why? Because it fulfills the primary functions of art: it possesses Intentionality; it reflects Individuality; it is Unifying; and it creates Narratives.

  • I love Russian authors. When I taught Humanities at Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design, Dostevsky, Tolstoy, and Gogol were some of my favorites. There’s something about spending 9 months out of the year confined to your home due to 40 feet of snow and subzero temperatures that causes one to turn inward; and of literary introspection, the Russians reign supreme. In his essay, “What is Art?” Leo Tolstoy writes that art “is a means of union among [persons], joining them together in the same feelings, and indispensable for the life and progress toward well-being of individuals and of humanity.” In other words, art is a kind of cultural rallying cry that helps us shape our identities from the level of the nation-state to the clique of close friends.

 

Leo Tolstoy

Beer lowers personal inhibition, becoming the lubricant of innumerable social interactions. Philosophical debate is often borne under the influence of beer; bonds of friendship become stronger, strangers become friends, a long day of work is made easier, and creative and entrepreneurial ideas are hatched.[1]

  • Beers are the amalgamation of the experiences of the brewer. This includes both those didactic ones pertinent to his or her brewing education, and those which, on the surface, seem to have nothing whatsoever to do with beer. My experiences as a Classical Archaeologist working in Turkey and Jordan, and the traveling I did afterward, did not teach me how to brew, but they still directly affect the beers I produce at Intrepid Sojourner. Other brewers I know also put themselves and their interests into the beers they brew, and the best beers they brew tend to be the ones with which they themselves are most intricately connected. There are certainly factors that constrain brewer individuality, such as that breweries are businesses and must brew what the people want. Also, a beer recipe can be replicated by other brewers with little to no perceivable variation, just as a Thomas Kincaide painting can be copied by an amateur painter. That doesn’t take away from the fact that most brewers, and by extension, breweries, tend to have a specific style illustrative of the brewer who crafts the recipes.
  • Many modern definitions of art have difficulty dismissing anything as art.[2] Art hinges on Intentionality. Was art the intention of this creation? If the answer is yes, then we have to evaluate it as art. Good art, bad art, or not art at all, a decision has to be made.

This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. IF more brewers presented their beers as an artistic creation like any other craftsman, then more people would be forced to contend with the idea of beer as art. Art, like any other social construct, requires a society to validate what it contains within its ‘set’ so to speak. Beer is Art. Begin to believe it, and it becomes more accurate.

  • Beer as art strives to create a particular feeling in the drinker. Beer as art comes with a story to tell. For me, the Basil IPA tells a Mediterranean story that includes sitting at a café after a long, hot day of survey work, and that intense feeling of refreshment. Turkish Coffee Stout evokes early mornings or aperitifs, where many of these philosophical conversations would begin. Not every beer tells a story, but not every beer is art. A Pilsner brewed by one brewer as a light lager option to balance the menu may not be art, but a Pilsner lovingly crafted over a 36-hour brew day in authentic German machinery, and delicately lagered over many weeks by brewers studiously devoted to German beer and its history, most certainly does.

Hopefully now, you can begin to see beer as art. Stay tuned for some possible objections in Part II and I encourage you to comment below!

 

[1] Granted, over-indulging in beer can lead to the destruction of several of these productive functions – but it should not take away from the fact that beer does do these things. As in many things in life, moderation is essential. I certainly design my beers with moderation in mind. I want the consumer to enjoy them; hopefully the flavor is a reflection of the hard work and effort I’ve put into the beers. But it’s hard to appreciate after five or six of them.

[2] This is of course ridiculous. If everything is art, then the term ‘art’ ceases to have any meaning at all.