In the world of politics today, you are either for a walking sack of hateful misogynistic garbage, or you’re against it. The people against President Garbage Sack of Hate break down into other camps, mostly normal human beings with empathy and compassion. Some are very left and some are very right, but most are in middle in that they are against keeping children in cages and against touching a woman’s genitals without her consent. The Very Left are blaming all this on CAPITALISM (bogeyman organ music plays in the background), and they say we should go full communist. People in the middle are like, “Whoa! We just don’t want a president who sleeps with porn stars, and then pays them enough hush money to… (not even pay cash for a home in Durango?!), WE DON’T WANT FULL COMMUNISM!!!” but what those people in the middle don’t see is the actual middle: socialism.
So what exactly is socialism and wtf does this have to do with beer? Socialism is an economic and social system of collective ownership or management of the institutions and resources in the community. Basically, you work for a company, and as an employee, you are allowed to own and/or help manage the company as well, having a vote in its direction. In a socialist economic system, this would be the default position. In a socialist social system, the same rules would apply to all institutions: churches, clubs, schools, golf courses, hospitals, and prisons would all be socially managed by the community.
What does this have to do with beer? Well, the craft beer industry is filled with employee-owned businesses, businesses that heavily benefit their workers, and businesses that take care of their communities. If you’re a benefit to your neighbors and greater community, if you respect and take care of your employees by matching savings or health insurance contributions, and even allow the employees to own part or all of the company, then you’re a socialist business (by at least a little tiny bit).
New Belgium, Left Hand, and Odell are all examples of breweries in Colorado that used an employee stock ownership program to convert the company to employee ownership. The process is a way to provide the cash a business needs to grow, but without selling the company or going into debt to get it. Employee ownership in craft beer is widespread. Modern Times, Deschutes, and Harpoon are also owned by their employees. These companies operate just like all other companies and can sell to other companies or private equity, but if they do, it has to be the decision of the employee-owners. Giving that kind of agency to workers is the epitome of socialism.
Giving an enormous amount of respect and dignity to your workers is also a sure sign of socialism, and breweries are leading the way in treating their employees well and giving them an enjoyable working environment. When I worked at Ska Brewing, it was the first time I had worked for a smaller company that provided health insurance, a 401(k), ample paid time off, and a very healthy bar tab and beer program. I can still say that Ska treated its employees better than anywhere else I had worked. It’s no wonder they made Outside Magazine’s list of top companies to work for. Breweries are on these lists all the time. In fact, Allagash, New Belgium, and Deschutes were also on the list last year. Two out of those four are also employee-owned.
Craft breweries are not just good for workers, they are good for their communities. I don’t have a lot of statistics on the amount of money craft breweries donate, or on the number of benefit brewfests that are held, or how active brewery workers are in volunteer work for their communities, but it’s a lot. When I worked at Ska, volunteer hours could go toward your hours at work. Ska also donates space for fundraisers, and recently organized Save the San Juans, which raised $28,000 for Durango’s community emergency relief fund. Breweries, specifically craft breweries, have a tremendous positive impact on their communities. They don’t just provide jobs and they don’t just sell you a product. They make living in a community better. If that’s not socialism, then I don’t know what is.
Robbie Wendeborn is the head brewer at Svendæle Brewing in Millerton, New York. He is also a former beer plumber at Ska Brewing.