Though I matriculated in Colorado, I am not a Buffalo nor am I a Ram. I’m not even a Pioneer, Roadrunner, Falcon, Bear, or Oredigger. In a state full of relatively obscure colleges, I chose the obscurest. I am a Mountaineer.
The reasons I chose to study at Western State College (now, to my irksomeness, known as Western State Colorado University—too awkwardly worded for my liking) are legion. Coming from the flatlands, I wanted a real Colorado experience and, for me, that meant being in the mountains not simply near the mountains as are the Front Range schools. I embraced the small campus of only 2,500 students as well as the remote communities of Gunnison and nearby Crested Butte (CB). The easy access to outdoor adventure was also a major draw.
Most of all, I loved my little valley because hardly anybody has heard of it, keeping Gunnison and CB nearly free of corporate influences—almost 100% of the businesses are locally-owned. Between Gunnison and CB, CB is the purest; while Gunnison has one or two fast food joints and a Wal-Mart (the world’s smallest Wal-Mart, it’s been claimed), CB, when I graduated, had two gas stations will nationally-recognizable names but, beyond that, everything else was unique to the location. It is untouched, high-country living. Although the uber-rich have built log mansions on the outskirts of town, CB’s heart-and-soul is its down-to-earth, nature-loving, community-centric population of ski bums, bohemians, artisans, and other sundry mountain folk. That’s why I was heartbroken to hear Bud Light’s #UpForWhatever campaign was coming to literally “paint the town blue.”
Many thoughts flew through my mind. CB has forsaken everything it stands for! Why don’t they stick that promotional party in a lame-ass town that won’t have their reputation damaged by Anheuser-Busch’s intrusion? How can the people of CB allow this? Then I started thinking about the area’s craft beer industry. Inconsequential though it may be in the greater craft beer scheme, Gunnison and CB both boast a craft presence. It was the Gunnison Brewery that first sparked my passion for hand-crafted beer, weaning me off macrobrews and into the world of good beer. It was CB’s Brick Oven Pizzeria & Pub that offered up a wide range of après-ski libations, choices that went far beyond domestic piss-in-a-pint. Brick Oven is, in fact, the self-described “best beer bar this side of Denver.” There are definitely very few beer bars in the Western Slope that can contend that assertion.
I was curious: how would a city-wide Bud Light commercial affect a craft-centric restaurant and bar like Brick Oven, a business that makes its living on Elk Avenue, the epicenter of the promotional party? Would their taps sit unused as hordes of light-lager-lovers, with palates anything but refined, descended upon CB? Would the Brick Oven be disgusted by the corporate spectacle of it all?
Brian Schneider, co-owner of Brick Oven, and his team used last weekend’s #UpForWhatever to the Brick Oven’s—and craft beer’s—advantage. Instead of scoffing at the multitudes downing watered-down booze, Schneider tried his hand at converting a few partiers: “We still offered Avery products throughout the weekend for people like me who would rather pay for a good IPA than drink free swill.” Brick Oven essentially infiltrated enemy territory. In a town that, for one weekend, belonged to Bud Light, a beacon of hope, of decent beer, existed in the heart of downtown. Perhaps craft beer gained a percentage-of-a-percentage of market share via Schneider’s efforts.
The publicity of #UpForWhatever certainly didn’t hurt Brick Oven, either; “The party was great and [it] helps to get us on the map,” said Schneider, “people can come enjoy Pliny the Elder, Firestone Parabola, The Bruery Smoking Wood or some DFH [Dogfish Head] Red and White.” People came for the Bud Light but, with any luck, they’ll stay at Brick Oven for the 30 taps of craft beer.
It is hard to remember, too, through the ire, that all businesses—both soulless mega-corps like Anheuser-Busch and down-home suds-slingers like Brick Oven—are designed to make money. That’s no easy task in a ski town—the cash flow melts with the snow. “Here in CB times are tough, it’s a seven month famine every year,” Schneider explains. “So any large national promotion is great for the Brick and the community.” In a very roundabout way, Bud Light actually helped craft beer by hosting their party in CB; Brick Oven enjoyed a plethora of new customers they wouldn’t have otherwise attracted and this autumn won’t be the financial crunch they’re used to.
My feelings for #UpForWhatever have swung slightly from “righteous indignation” to “begrudged acceptance.” I still don’t like the idea of #UpForWhatever and I still believe my kinda-sorta college town’s been defiled by greedy commercialism but, on the other hand, I can’t deny the facts—craft beer flowed in CB last weekend and, because of #UpForWhatever, it may now flow even more abundantly. In the end, I’m torn between idealism and realism but, then, aren’t we all? The key, I suppose, is to focus on the positive aspects and, for me, that means knowing craft beer went through the furnace that is #UpForWhatever and, instead of cracking, came through the flames hardened and as ready as ever to wash the taste of Bud Light out of the community’s collective mouths.