Beer tends to cross all lines: political, gender, national, class, race, etc. Beer lovers, passionate beer lovers inhabit every station of the human condition. So, is it wise for a brewer to take a position on a politically fraught issue?
I’m talking about fracking. No, not the lame slip past the censors by the writers of Battlestar Galactica. I’m talking about the very real practice of mining for natural gas by literally fracturing the earth. This has been going on for a while now in Pennsylvania, much to the chagrin of many residents of that state. Search YouTube for “burning faucet” and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
The argument against fracking is that it not only releases natural gas into the hands of energy companies but, it also releases natural gas into the aquifers from which many people get their drinking water. Thus, we get flammable water, not to mention the carcinogenic side effects.
The argument for fracking is that these problems have never been conclusively proven to those arguing for fracking plus, the practice is way cheaper than extracting the gas in more traditional methods. More profits for the energy companies, the argument goes, the more jobs for the very people living on the fractured earth. Unfortunately, this argument has risen to the level of national politics and, so, will not be conclusively resolved for a very long time.
New York state is weighing these arguments right now. There are enough deposits of natural gas under New York to make this issue worth worrying about. There is also a popular craft brewer right on the surface of New York state that is worried about the results of the the state’s decision. Brewery Ommegang, of Cooperstown, NY and one of the best US brewers of Belgian style ale, has come down on the side of the anti-frackers. The brewery joined a campaign in the state to stop any fracking.
Is it wise for a brewer to take a position on a politically fraught issue?
You’ve probably heard the phrase that all politics are local. I borrow from that to say that all political decisions have local consequences. See, beer is mostly water. Sure, we talk about the kind of yeast used, the amount of hops and the blend of grains in a good brew. But, when you crack open a bottle of beer you are getting ready to drink a beverage that is, on average, 90-95% water. Now, what if that water comes from a source that has been infused with natural gas. Puts a whole new spin on the smoking ban that’s slowly taking over the bars of the world, doesn’t it?
I say yes, this is definitely a fight that Ommegang should pick and I support them for doing so. Not that I really believe that their beers would be flammable should fracking be allowed in New York – I don’t – but I believe that they have the right to fight to protect their water source. Politics is just politics until it affects you personally or professional, then it becomes something else altogether.