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Move Over - Here Comes the Brewer
By Jim Anderson

Beer Mug The room's so packed there's barely any air to breathe. The smartly-dressed crowd is abuzz. There's an electricity in the air, heightened by the icy ring of priceless diamond jewelery clinking against fine Czech crystal. "When will he arrive", someone asks. "Shh - I think he's coming", another whispers back. All of a sudden, there's a hush in the room as the lights dim and a lone spotlight narrows its beam in on a single doorway. With a flourish, the doorway swings open. The crowd gasps in awe, then jumps to their feet with a cheer as scores of photographers scramble over one another to get the perfect closeup. Flashbulbs pop as a figure emerges from the doorway, his starched jacket bleached to a blinding white, baggy pants with a loud floral print cascading gently over top of designer clogs. You can bet it's not your local brewer.

That's right, it's your friendly neighborhood celebrity chef, sitting down amid an obscene arrangement of eucalyptus and gladiola to sign copies of his latest $50 cookbook with a Mont Blanc pen gripped ever-so-lightly between his perfectly-manicured fingers. Your local brewer, on the other hand, is eleven hours into his day, already having unloaded several 100 lb. bags of grain, stirred countless 300-gallon batches of boiling wort, carefully cultured yeast in a corner of his brewery that is relatively dust-free (he hopes), and debated with a dozen homebrewers on the practicality of growing his own hops.

Such is the glamor of brewing.

Beer Kegs In an era when flamboyant chefs with questionable credentials float from restaurant to restaurant pledging allegence to the highest bidder, the finest brewers in America plug quietly along, refining their craft for a salary that, if celebrity chefs were free agents in the NBA, would make brewers more like, say, professional water polo players, with none of the fringe benefits.

Not that the beer world doesn't have its heroes. In fact, there's actually one celebrity brewer in America. He's as good a spokesman for the industry as one could choose, complete with jeans, flannel shirt and baseball cap. His beard is slightly ragged, and he just looks like the kind of guy you'd expect to see emerge from behind a fermenting tank. His name is Pete Schlosberg, and he's the Pete of Pete's Brewing Co.

Now, granted, Pete has an advanced degree in Business Administration from an Ivy League school. He's a savvy businessman who once worked for IBM. He even markets a line of beer sportswear that was at least as popular as his beer in the company's early days. But Pete did start his career as a homebrewer, and his personality doesn't stray far from picture of today's typical weekend brewer - a regular guy with a couple of kids to schlep around and who likes to shoot some hoops every now and then. And who feels a little out of place in a suit and tie.

Beer Keg So what's the point? The point is that the beer industry is at a very electric time in its development. The changes in the business are quality-based, so there's no need for the smoke and mirrors of tall dessert contests and haute couture du chef that plague the creatively-challenged food industry. Consistency is a requirement of being in the business, not merely a goal, so there's no time for photo ops. And fashion has nothing to do with good beer, so there's no need for self-congratulating spreads in Food Arts magazine.

Today's brewers are merely concerned with making the best beer they can, and having the beer do their talking for them. And with dining dollars as tight as they are today, that makes a lot of sense.

Who hasn't been disappointed at one time or another by a $200 visit to a restaurant headed by a celebrity chef? If you have, than you probably shrugged your shoulders and racked it up to an "off night", or even welcomed it in perverse affirmation that cooking is really an art, not a craft. Maybe someone told you that you should have gone on a night when the chef was actually working, and it would have been better.

But when was the last time you had a disappointing bottle of Pete's Wicked Ale? Probably never, and probably you never will. That guarantee of quality and consistency, not of public image, is the brewer's commitment to his customers.

And clogs? Let the the celebrities wear 'em.




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