Parties, classes, concerts, and town hall meetings all have something in common. They need space. In the not-too-distant past, churches played probably the largest role in providing space for people with common interests to come together and work, plan, discuss, or play. Studies and surveys from Pew Research Center suggest church participation is way down from where it was 50 to 70 years ago.1,2 So all these shared beliefs and systemic understandings become more compartmentalized, even diametrically opposed, and in the age of the internet, the ability to escape to whatever cubby we feel comfortable in is maybe a bit too easy.
If you ask me, with almost no exception, the internet is why the country is divided in this contemporary age. Some blame the Obama administration while others blame the Trump administration, but you look at individual google search histories, and it’s not hard to figure it out. “Why do Democrats hate Freedom?” or “Why do Republicans hate Science?” Yeah, no wonder people think the world is going to hell in a handbasket. The internet allows me to center my life on anything I want; it’s why I’m more prepared for the robot uprising than the average joe.
One last comment before I transition to the point of this article—the internet, without a doubt, carries with it the potential to create the most educated, well-rounded, and capable public the world has ever seen. Through necessitated optimism, I believe we will one day tap into that potential.
So, community spaces. They allow a diverse public to come together, but you’re gonna need space and something to really bring people in. Say…beer does a pretty good job at getting people’s attention. A lot of the stigma that once hovered around bars and breweries has shifted away from the checkered-stained-glass dive that is Moe’s in The Simpsons . In fact, some breweries have embraced the opportunity to be the place in town to go for good food, solid entertainment, and a family-friendly experience.
“I do feel that there’s a resurgence of an attempt to entertain people here [at a brewery] that’s not just strictly based on alcohol. It’s a gathering. It’s an experience rather than just a get-sloshed-and-go-home kind of thing,” says Sam Green, brewer at Octopi Brewing. People have embraced local brewery efforts in community outreach. The plumes of consequential cannonade ignited by beer surveyors, partakers, and purveyors has grown to such that those uninterested in alcohol not only take note, but often participate in the going-ons and shindigs (rabble rousing or no) to have a good-old-fashioned time and meet neighbors old and new.
These events go beyond local music and trivia nights, though those staples still very much exist as part of the scene. “Paint night, the whole idea of it is ‘hey, go be arts and craftsy at this bar or brewery. Come a little early, get a drink, have dinner, stay and do this event, and then potentially stay afterwards,’” says Miranda Ladwig, event coordinator and taproom manager at Octopi Brewing.
From rock concert to knitting class, anything goes, but at the end of the day, the brewery is a brewery. Still, there’s this microcosmic effect. By taking a position of flexibility when planning out the week’s events, the space born from necessity when operating a brewery can be quite reflective of the community that supports it, whether creative, health focused, or simply relaxed.
One of the results of breweries taking themselves to task on the role they play in their communities has been organizations embracing the opportunity to collaborate, including some inspired startups, Om Brewers (ombrewers.com) being one that came up during my discussion with Sam and Miranda. It’s yoga meets beer.
From the Om Brewers site:
New Years Eve, 2016
Melissa was drinking alone at LynLake Brewery wondering why she was the only one of her friends not getting engaged. Struck up a conversation with LynLake Brewery’s new marketing director, and Om Brewers was born. She sketched the logo on a napkin, and built the website that night.
Om Brewers now has events all over Madison and Minneapolis, so if you’re looking for a place to do yoga, whether or not you have an interest in beer, you might find yourself signing up for a class at Octopi Brewing, Old Sugar Distillery, or Working Draft Beer Company. “I want to try to find more things like that,” says Miranda, “where people have a reason to come here and just hang out. That’s the point.”
With all this collaboration, the really cool thing that happens from time to time is a beer is born. Breweries partner either with each other or local organizations to do something truly unique. Sometimes benefiting the community as a whole while working with nonprofits that tackle everyday problems we’re not always privy to, like homelessness, hunger, underserved veterans, and the continued maintenance and staffing of animal shelters. Being a Sun Prairie resident, one of my favorites of these collaborations is when Potosi Brewing Company created #SunPrairieStrong Pilsner. The profits went toward the Sun Prairie Disaster Relief Fund after last year’s explosion downtown.
The well-being of a community isn’t dependent on one facet of a city or town doing well—it’s measured by the successes of everyone and everything impacted by the actions and decisions of others, be they nonprofits, government, local businesses, or commercial enterprises. Our individual bubbles are part of this massive sphere-shaped Venn Diagram of influence. Each one of those influences is either connected to some sort of hub or plays the role of the hub itself. Some breweries have taken on the role of hub for their communities, and I think that’s not only a cause for celebration, but a great reason to get involved.
As breweries take on a new role in engaging an ever-more-diverse range of people, we as patrons can do a lot to create a welcoming place where physical health can be maintained, mental health can be nurtured, and ideas can percolate and proliferate without leaving anyone feeling defeated.
May the glass we raise tomorrow have more company than the glass we raise today.
1 Religious Composition of adults in Wisconsin. Pew Research. http://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/state/wisconsin/
2 U.S. Becoming Less Religious. Pew Research. http://www.pewforum.org/2015/11/03/u-spublic-becoming-less-religious/
Kyle Jacobson is a copy editor for Madison Essentials, and a writer and beer enthusiast (sometimes all at once) living in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin.
1131 Uniek Drive, Waunakee, WI 53597