Imagine the scene, a shiny suited, fat tie knotted, cutback collared estate agent rings another competing agent in the same town. They both have a similar house for sale on the same street. Does agent B happily share information about who he is showing the house to and give agent A some tips on perhaps the best way to photograph it? Like hell he does. He’d laugh down the phone and call the other bloke names. Why is it then that when one brewer is having an issue, be it a stuck fermentation, they realise they have run out of yeast but they have already mashed in, they desperately need half a bag of carapils or T90 pellets at a day’s notice, there will almost always be someone willing to help?
Firstly I suppose it is worth pointing out that the big breweries are all very cloak and dagger about this stuff, some smaller breweries too, but not many. There are also some small breweries who due to arguments, trademark issues, money owed, etc who have fallen out in the past as well. On the whole though, everyone muddles along pretty well, there is very little animosity. For example, about three years ago I got put in charge of the dispense installation, troubleshooting, budgeting, maintenance and training people to lineclean at the brewery I was working at. I knew a little, but not all that much about it. I sent a quick email off to Derek Prentice at Fullers explaining my situation and the next week I spent four days shadowing one of their install engineers and one of their cellar inspection guys. They didn’t have to do that for me, Fullers had nothing to directly gain from it, but they did it and it helped immeasurably. In the past I’ve had breweries send me pitchable quantities of yeast they’ve grown up, and once had very expensive post fermentation bittering compound sent to me to correct the bitterness that had gone awry on a batch of beer due to a new brewkit throwing our hop efficiency way out.
I think there are a few reasons why directly competing breweries might be interested in helping each other out. Firstly, there is an element of solidarity, brewers being a band of brothers. Running a small independent brewery isn’t easy. It is hard, physical work with long hours and no huge financial reward. Other brewers are in the same boat, they understand how hard you are working to make it and would like the favour reciprocated if ever they needed it. Secondly, the whole industry is a social one. Rather than you showing off your wares behind a halogen lit plate glass window on the high street like our estate agent does, your sales desk is the pumpclip or font badge on the bar somewhere. It is a tangible thing that people drink, enjoy, chat to their mates with one in their hand. By extension the brewers do the same. Being in a room full of brewers drinking is one of the messiest, impassioned, inspiring things. I think the final piece of the puzzle comes from the fact that brewers are so passionate about what they do they want the whole craft beer category to do well. By helping others, rather than being cutthroat ensures everyone sells more beer, the exposure to the public is greater and demand increases.
Any other thoughts on why our industry is so uniquely friendly?