Thinking about Independent Study is a pretty daunting task. Being committed to a single topic for an entire school year is probably the longest relationship I will have in my college career. My Junior I.S. addressed the significance of SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) antidepressants on the public perception of depression, which I decided was a little too bleak to continue for my Senior I.S.

I had no clue what I wanted to write my I.S. about until the summer after junior year was well under way in my hometown of Birmingham, Al. Having recently turned 21, I took full advantage of the bar scene in Birmingham and found that most of the places I frequented stocked a number of different beers I had never heard of. I heard terms like porter, IPA, imperial IPA, stout and was thoroughly confused. However, thanks to the friendly bartenders at the J. Clyde and On Tap Sports Bar and Grill, two of my favorite bars in Birmingham, I learned about all different styles of beer, that they were more complex in flavor and production than the Keystone Light that can be found at most of the parties on campus.

The real eye-opener for me was the Magic City Brewfest, a beer tasting event that was held over a period of two days with over 50 breweries, most of which were from the Deep South. What I noticed was the enthusiasm people had for exclusively regional and local beer.

One of the primary sponsors for this event was a non-profit organization called Free the Hops. At this point in the event, I still didn’t know what hops were except I had a slight inclination that they were an ingredient in beer. However, this Free the Hops table at Brewfest was handing out stickers and beer glasses, which intrigued me. What I found out from talking to representatives of Free the Hops was that beer and brewing was in trouble in the state of Alabama. The state is known as the buckle of the Bible Belt, which didn’t help aspiring brewers who wanted to brew craft beer.† Craft beer is known for having complex flavor compositions, which typically has a higher ABV (alcohol by volume) percentage, and that doesn’t work well for the Southern Baptists that make up a great deal of the state’s population, who have a very negative view towards alcohol consumption. Other issues that complicated things for brewers and the beer business were other restrictions on container size and locations of draft sales given the number of dry counties in the state. Beer was now a political issue in my state, and that triggered a real interest. Why was beer so significant? Was it evolving into an art form and therefore gaining legitimacy? Thus, an I.S. topic was born.

I am writing my I.S. on the craft beer and microbrewing movement and its significance in changing consumer culture in the United States. I want to prove that craft beer shows demonstrate how Americans’ beer standards have changed because of political and social changes. Beer has now taken a turn to a local, authentic, and traditional craftsmanship sense, rather than the previous mass-produced, industrial and bland nature. One might notice these trends in local foods, clothing, furniture and art. Part of this shift in wanting a more unique product is a result of Americans growing tired of the mass-consumer culture that has defined the United States since the beginning of the Cold War. My research consists of studies done on American consumer culture, observation of the microbrew movement, American beer history books, beer tasting guides and a variety of interviews. Part of my studies also include some ethnographic and field research, so naturally I have taken part in my share of beer tastings, festivals, educational talks and generating a new appreciation for the brewpub scene.

Since my project deals with very recent history, there are few scholarly sources on the development of craft beer alone. Therefore I have focused a great deal of research on testimonials given by those who experienced the resurgence and growth of microbreweries. Since the beginning of the fall semester, I have contacted over 60 breweries across the U.S., outlining my research and asking them to meet with me for interviews.

With the help of Copeland funding, I will travel to Colorado and California to meet with brewers and beer enthusiasts, some of which include Sierra Nevada, Lagunitas, Great Divide, Boulder Beer, Wynkoop, Breckenridge and others. Not only will I be able to meet with these brewers, but I will be able to experience and observe the beer community where craft beer started: San Francisco. In addition to my Western travels, I have spoken with brewers from Michigan and Ohio, including Great Lakes Brewing Co., Thirsty Dog, Bell’s, and New Holland. I even received a phone call from the Boston Beer Company (better known as Samuel Adams), which proves that craft breweries large and small are eager to find historical legitimacy and recognition as a movement.

My first interview was with Wooster alum Andy Tveekrem ’85, who was a brewmaster for Great Lakes Brewing Company in Cleveland and the illustrious Dogfish Head Brewing Company in Delaware. Tveekrem is currently making moves to construct his very own brewpub in Cleveland. He is nothing short of a brewing icon and after our interview as well as a lecture given by the Center for Entrepreneurship, I, along with a few peers and professors attended a fantastic beer tasting at the Wooster Inn.

It was a rare occasion on campus to be able to discuss the depth and variety of beers at the tasting, as well as trading ideas for food and beer pairings. Overall, my first interview was a success. Tveekrem basically said everything I was trying to prove about patterns of consumption, especially in regard to the baby boomer generation looking for something new to identify with.

While tasting is enjoyable, I want to make my ethnographic research all-inclusive and hope to discover every possible avenue of the craft brewing community. During Fall Break, I attended a tutorial and walk-through of the home brewing process at the Brew Mentor, in Mentor, Oh. The Brew Mentor is a small shop nestled in a large commercial strip center in a suburb of the East side of Cleveland and offers supplies as well as instruction for home brewing† and wine making.† I learned a tremendous amount about home brewing during this seminar, and even had a chance to participate in the brewing process by helping a member of the audience brew a batch of Christmas ale.

Throughout the seminar, everyone in attendance took notes and asked thoughtful questions, leaving me no doubt that the brewing movement will continue to grow. The I.S. process for me is always evolving, as I am learning something new about beer and brewing daily. I will† plug along and record interviews with not only brewers, but consumers and beer advocates as well to gain a comprehensive knowledge of this emerging beer society.