Seeing is Believing

Let’s just state the obvious – craft beer is really, really popular.

If you have a social media account of any kind you can quickly find the endless conversations, pictures and hashtags about craft beer. And the numbers back it up too. Craft beer is far more than a fad. It’s become a big time player in the beer market.

Despite all the evidence, there was always part of me that wondered if the market shift was truly due to a love of craft beer or simply from customers being fed up with big brewery beers.

My doubts were put to rest over the Labour Day long weekend.

I’m lucky enough to now work part-time in the retail store of the new Collective Arts Brewing location in Hamilton, Ontario. Labour Day was my first weekend working for Collective Arts, and I’ve already learned a lot.

First, is just how useful a job like this is for someone who spends his days in an office. The brewery is a great spot to unwind. Who knew that talking beer to complete strangers all day could be so relaxing?

Second, I caught a glimpse of who buys craft beer. And I’m sorry Budweiser, but the craft beer audience is a lot more than bearded hipsters.

In the short time I’ve worked at Collective Arts Brewing, who have I spoken with?

The craft beer enthusiast. Yes, there were plenty of what many people call “beer nerds”. Companies like Budweiser would have you believe that beer nerds are all plaid wearing, bearded men who apparently hate sports and fun. They’re so insultingly wrong. The enthusiasts I spoke with came from every demographic. There was the middle-aged man who savoured every taste of his samples. He took note of, and appreciated, the aroma and appearance before taking every sip. He really knew his beer. There was the older woman who seemed to have an encyclopedic knowledge of Ontario’s craft breweries and all their beers. It didn’t feel right that I was the one explaining our beer to her. The enthusiast group I saw the least of? Plaid wearing, bearded, young men. They were there, but it was a very equal mix of young, old, male, female, born-and-raised Hamiltonian and new Canadians.

The walking distance buyer. Some people who stopped in were just happy to have a brewery in the neighbourhood. They couldn’t care less what the beer was, they were just happy to be buying it directly from the source and within a few blocks of their house.

The curious. This was pretty much everyone. But within this crowd was a specific group of people who simply heard about the brewery on social media, by word-of-mouth, or saw it while driving or walking past. They stopped in for a couple samples and often walked out with a six pack. I really enjoyed talking beer with this group in particular. Some weren’t even beer drinkers, but they still wanted to taste a Hamilton made product.

The beer traveler. We also had a fair number of people who were brewtripping. They knew the brewery had just opened, so they came to check it out and learn more about Hamilton. It was fun to meet fellow brewtrippers and give advice on what to discover around the city.

The big beer crowd. Collective Arts, in partnership with Nickel Brook Brewery, is now in a former Lakeport (Labatt) brewery. It’s located on Burlington Street East in Hamilton’s north end. This area is a mixture of residential and industrial and still has that blue collar, hard-working feeling leftover from the steel production era. Many of the locals are used to Lakeport’s 24 beers for $24. Cheap, ice-cold beer meant for the factory worker. Well, they also love craft beer! We had one guy in particular make three visits throughout the weekend, each time bringing a new group of friends who lived nearby. And each time, these former Lakeport drinkers walked out with growlers of delicious craft beer! Of any group, I’d say this is the one I saw the most of over the weekend.

My first week at Collective Arts was very important. I got to be on the other side of the counter and actually speak with beer lovers – the people we’re trying to write for through this blog. They are people from every walk of life, and each has their own reason for buying craft beer.

But the most telling thing is the moment they take a sip of a beer they’ve never tried before. It’s a facial expression I’ve never seen from someone who takes their first sip of Coors. It’s a smile that’s unique, and I had never noticed it before.

Any brewer who sees that smile must feel an intense sense of accomplishment. It’s hard to explain, but seeing truly is believing.

Jenn’s Edit:

As a beer-drinking woman, I’ve received my fair share of pigeonholing as well. Sean said that the craft beer stereotype is a bearded hipster, which is usually also equated to a male-identified person, which, last I checked, I am not. “Women drink wine, not beer!” Watch TV and tell me how many women are drinking something other than wine or a cocktail–not many! Those who do enjoy beer are put into a narrow category of women who aren’t “ladylike”. But in real life, women do drink and love craft beer. We don’t all fit the stereotype (I’ve been known to wear pearls while drinking a strong IPA), and the number of women becoming involved in the craft beer scene has grown in recent years. There are even organizations, Facebook groups, and beer-enjoyment programs just for women, like Barley’s AngelsPink Boots Society and Wellington Brewery’s Queens of Craft. So, to women who are scared to try beer because “it’s a man’s drink”, fear not! There are plenty of women who enjoy the suds and they’re not all weirdo hipsters; we can appreciate beer and not feel like we don’t belong on the scene. Besides, I liked craft beer before it was cool. #blessed