Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition
Oral Presentation Session
Craft beer is booming. There are presently more than 260 small-scale breweries in North Carolina alone. Popular print on the industry often reproduces a romantic image: a laid-back, quirky, passion-driven pursuit. What could be better than making beer for a living? But these idyllic accounts too often obscure or omit a persistent, potent actor in the industry and in the lives of its professionals: ethanol (C2H6O).Centering alcohol in brewing suggests new questions: What are the potential occupational, physiological, and social ramifications of brewers’ daily work with alcohol? How might this chemical agent gradually shape the everyday lives and livelihoods of craftspeople?
In this paper, I examine the mosaic collaborations of craft brewers and ethanol through a hands-on study of drinking on the job. Drawing on over eighteen months of ethnographic research as a professional brewer in North Carolina’s craft beer community, I explore the myriad pressures that motivate brewers to drink while working. I trace what the vocational consumption of alcohol enables: moments of repose, bursts of creativity, and sessions of collaborative conviviality. Conversely, I also consider how habitual drinking can degrade brewers’ emotional stability, innovation, and professional community. Through these observations, I seek to illuminate some aspects of the nuanced reflexive relationships between brewers and the object of their trade; what it means to craft alcohol, and also to be crafted by it for better and for worse. I conclude by considering what might an intimate study of brewer/ethanol interaction reveal about our own working relationships with alcohol?