Earlier this month, a Twitter user noted that lately Beer Twitter doesn’t really talk about beer so much anymore. Instead, people like me often spend our time being goofy and arguing about silly things, such as sandwiches or bodegas. After reading that, a tinge of guilt set in for me. If you check out my account, you’ll see me touch on a wide range of topics, from art and music to video games and various trains of thought. In fact, there’s very little beer on what is ostensibly my professional beer-related Twitter account.
Twitter and I have a complicated relationship. For the purposes of staying in people’s minds and publicizing what projects you’re working on, I understand why people use it professionally. But when it comes to actually discussing the beer world, I mostly voice my opinions on my podcast or published works rather than on my feed.
There are a few reasons for this. One of them is the overwhelming sense of pessimism—verging on nihilism—that I feel in regards to what Twitter has become, particularly when discussing topics with any hint of seriousness. When I started my first account back in 2007, the social media platform felt so exciting, but somewhere along the line it turned into a tiring exercise of repetitive arguments. As Pete Brown explores in his book Craft: An Argument, the topic of “what is craft?” or “is it craft?” has been a decades-long debate. Now, at the close of 2020, the constant arguments and outrage over brewery sell-outs has just become tiring after so many years of working as a beer writer. At some point logging on for work purposes began to feel like...well, work.
Strongest of all, there’s additionally a deep sense of frustration that I and others feel when it comes to advocating for progressive change online. The short tempers and even shorter memories that seem to characterize Twitter tend to lead to a cycle of expressing performative outrage on behalf of and in support for marginalized groups, but not necessarily anything that might lead to meaningful change within the industry itself after the dust clears. Ren Navarro of Beer. Diversity. sums it up nicely: “You can say you’re saving the world, but it doesn’t mean you're actually doing it.”
On the surface, social media activism seems to be missing the one key element to actually enacting change—putting in the work away from the keyboard. “If breweries retweet something and say ‘that’s how I support you,’ that didn’t pay for a family in bad scenarios, that didn’t help a community make any changes,” says Navarro.
Lily Waite, a beer writer, artist, and owner of The Queer Brewing Project in England, feels that the argument is a bit more nuanced. When the project launched in 2019, much of its initial growth had been due to social media. While the physical events were always well attended, its mission to provide visibility of LGBTQ+ people in and around beer while raising money for charities was met with wide online support around the globe.
While work may not be getting done, we’re feeling a little less lonely and a little more hopeful about humanity.”
But over the summer, Waite began to question the overall usefulness of social media’s role in enacting positive change, particularly in a world that seemed to be mutating into something horrible. “Part of my burnout was looking at the state of the world, including our government and the strong resurgence of transphobia in the British media and in general thanks to J.K. Rowling. It got me thinking, ‘what’s the point?’ And I think in terms of intent versus impact, likes and retweets, how much does social media activism actually fucking do?”
Before she had a chance to throw in the towel, Paul Jones of Cloudwater Brew Co. tapped Waite to be the first candidate for the Wayfinder project, in which the brewery’s resources and a £10,000 budget are available to a chosen recipient to lead the way for true, meaningful change in the beer world. Not only was the Queer Brewing Project given new life, but for the first time since its inception Lily has found herself with a staff, a chance for expansion as a brand, and an upcoming core range of year-long beers that she hopes to be bringing to the LGBTQ+ market. “Getting those cans in our hands and thinking that this is our own brand and this has the potential to be really impactful in a number of different ways, that feels much more exciting than getting 40 retweets,” she says.
It’s not controversial to say that 2020 has been a horrible year. In order to deal with the despondence and sense of futility I was feeling during the first lockdown, I began to embrace the philosophy of Absurdism. Albert Camus once said: “Against eternal injustice, man must assert justice, and to protest against the universe of grief, he must create happiness.” So it is by that guiding principle that I’ve sought to find happiness where there isn’t, and part of that means making Twitter fun again by just having a laugh with beer industry friends from all over the world, often barely talking about beer at all. And truthfully, while work may not be getting done, we’re feeling a little less lonely and a little more hopeful about humanity.
“I kind of think of it sometimes as like a bar after work,” Waite says. “If I’ve been writing a really heavy piece about beer all day and I don’t want to think about beer, I’m still going to log on to Beer Twitter and talk to people about whatever.”
Gripes aside, it’s important to remember that Beer Twitter has its uses. In Waite’s case, and in the case of many online subcultures, it can help elevate the voices of someone from a marginalized community even making them a role model within a typically homogenized culture dominated by straight white cis men. Or it could be a place where you can see the professionals of the beer industry shed their two-dimensional enthusiast veneer, bonding over non-beer things and finding comfort, kinship, and solidarity during a time when we need it most.
Perhaps in the future when travel is allowed again, we’ll all be able to meet up over a beer and chat about what’s in our glass. But for now, as Waite says, “It’s nice to have a space online where we can just let off steam and be weird.”