One of the biggest perks of beer making and working in the beer industry is the fact that you rarely have to pay for beer. Your friends and associates also rarely pay for beer when you’re around. If you’re going to a friend’s house, you bring your free beer. Going camping? Bring your free beer. Snowboarding? Backpack full of free beer. The great social lubricant also lubricates the beer maker’s social circles. People know you’re the guy that makes beer. You’re the guy that always has free beer. You’re the guy.
When I lived in Durango, my neighbor grew weed (all my former supervisors at Ska, quit reading right now, because I’m probably not the only one). When he needed beer, he would trade me a few nugs for low-fills of beer. It got to be such a good little arrangement that I would leave a stack of low-fills on my back porch and he would put nugs of weed in a mason jar in the tool cabinet next to the back door. Once, when I forgot to stock the back porch, he knocked, I didn’t answer, so he helped himself to a case of beer in the fridge. In its place was about an ounce of untrimmed outdoor bud. I was a little upset having someone just walk into my house, but that was probably the headiest trade I’ve gotten for a case of beer.
It wasn’t just my neighbor; everyone in Durango understood the value of delicious craft beer. The number of barters I had in Durango was fantastic. You got hooked up at bars because you’re the guy that made beer. You always got invited to raft because you’re the guy that’ll have a case of good beer. You could get rides up to Purg super easy because you’re the guy with the beer. If I could have paid my rent in low-fills, I probably could have lived solo in a three-bedroom on the grid.
Pierre Bourdieu stated in the essay “Forms of Capital,” that “Capital is accumulated labor...” He argues that there are all sorts of labor – farming, painting, writing poetry, singing, dancing, being a good politician, etc. – that can produce and accumulate capital for the laborer in his or her field. Before I go into this too much and before I lose you, I need to say that Bourdieu was an idiot. No, he wasn’t wrong; it’s easy to see that a politician doesn’t need to work hard or have a good education to achieve a good living. His labor is political and social, not intellectual or economic (per se). I think what Bourdieu forgot was that exchange rates of capital, and rates of accrual exist. A dollar made in New York doesn’t go as far as a dollar made in Cleveland. A dollar made in Paris is worth more than a dollar made in Thailand. Some forms of cultural capital aren’t worth a damn thing.
Nobody is going to trade you weed for poetry (maybe, depends on the Wook, I guess). Nobody is going to give you rides in exchange for an interpretive dance inspired by the bronze work of Rodin. Nobody is going to trade you a raft trip for a critique of social forms of capital. But beer – beer is usually a good form of capital. There’s a great exchange rate on beer. At least there’s a good exchange rate in Colorado.
When I lived in Louisiana, beer had very little value to the general public. “Beer” was just something at a store. If you offered to trade beer for something, you might as well have tried to trade macaroni: I can get my own macaroni, thank you. Beer in Louisiana is generally not a form of capital, but a commodity. As the writer Malcolm Harris said, “If you can’t turn it into money, it isn’t ‘cultural capital.’”
I’ve since moved, and the beer-as-capital is, thankfully, back! Upstate New York loves its craft beer, and loves its brewers. I’ve already got the hookup at a pizza place and coffee shop and an organic deli. Now I just need to find someone with a snowmobile and someone with nuggs...
Robbie Wendeborn is the head brewer at Svendæle Brewing in Millerton, New York. He is also a former beer plumber at Ska Brewing.