The standing wave of hip: craft spirits and the quest for flow

Like most things, MicroShiner entered the world at a specific a moment in time, but it is simultaneously both an evolving process and an aggregation of past experiences. In other words, it is a standing wave.

The concept was born out of my need to resolve all the influences that had created my worldview into one cohesive vision that was actionable. Within the context of my own life, this would have been relatively easy to do. But I wanted it to be something more, and in order for any philosophy to become a movement, it requires a vehicle.

For the Beats, this was jazz. Today, the term hipster gets bandied around, typically in a pejorative fashion, to describe a certain set of stereotypical accoutrements - a beanie, a flannel, skinny jeans - but in actuality it is more than that. In his book Jazz: A History, Frank Tirro defines the 1940s hipster:

To the hipster, Bird was a living justification of their philosophy. The hipster is an underground man. He is to the Second World War what the dadaist was to the first. He is amoral, anarchistic, gentle, and overcivilized to the point of decadence. He is always ten steps ahead of the game because of his awareness, an example of which might be meeting a girl and rejecting her, because he knows they will date, hold hands, kiss, neck, pet, fornicate, perhaps marry, divorce—so why start the whole thing? He knows the hypocrisy of bureaucracy, the hatred implicit in religions—so what values are left for him?—except to go through life avoiding pain, keep his emotions in check, and after that, "be cool," and look for kicks. He is looking for something that transcends all this bullshit and finds it in jazz.

Likewise, Marty Jezer, in The Dark Ages: Life in the United States 1945–1960, provides us with another window into hipsterism in the Beat era

The hipster world that Kerouac and Ginsberg drifted in and out of from the mid-1940s to the early-1950s was an amorphous movement without ideology, more a pose than an attitude; a way of "being" without attempting to explain why. Hipsters themselves were not about to supply explanations. Their language, limited as it was, was sufficiently obscure to defy translation into everyday speech. Their rejection of the commonplace was so complete that they could barely acknowledge reality. The measure of their withdrawal was their distrust of language. A word like cool could mean any of a number of contradictory things—its definition came not from the meaning of the word but from the emotion behind it and the accompanying non-verbal facial or body expressions. When hipsters did put together a coherent sentence, it was always prefaced with the word like as if to state at the onset that what would follow was probably an illusion. There was neither a future nor a past, only a present that existed on the existential wings of sound. A Charlie Parker bebop solo—that was the truth.

The hipster's world view was not divided between "free world" and "Communist bloc", and this too set it apart from the then-current orthodoxy. Hipster dualism, instead, transcended geopolitical lines in favor of levels of consciousness. The division was hip and square. Squares sought security and conned themselves into political acquiescence. Hipsters, hip to the bomb, sought the meaning of life and, expecting death, demanded it now. In the wigged-out, flipped-out, zonked-out hipster world, Roosevelt, Churchill, Stalin, Truman, McCarthy and Eisenhower shared one thing in common: they were squares ... . [T]he hipster signified the coming together of the bohemian, the juvenile delinquent, and the negro.

There are always hipsters. Their umbra can be found in the Dadaists. And the stilyagi. And, in my day, the Berlin punks who tore down the Wall.

Why am I telling you all this? First, because we moderns do a terrible job providing context, though we desperately need it. But also to illustrate that any successful meme requires a medium through which it can propagate. Like images superimposed with text. And craft spirits.

Clearly, hipsters practice Zen & the art of motorcycle maintenance. If you haven’t read it, here it is. It’s genius. I’ve read it at least three times and still don’t get the half of it. Except ride a motorcycle around the West, practice Zen, make everything your art, and pursue Quality in all that you do.

So in micro-distillers, I found kindred spirits. Even though I lived through it, I missed the moment in craft beer, when it truly was a revolution, grassroots and guerrilla. It’s the only beer I’ll drink, but the convention was pretty well established by the time I really joined the movement. So I missed the period when it was hip, before it became square. When I learned about craft spirits, it was nascent. I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity a second time around.

It was providence. Not only did these folks find flow, pursue Quality, and create art in everything they did, a lot of them had ridden a motorcycle around the West. Best yet, theirs was the perfect metaphor for what I was trying to express. They were distilling.

Distill. To extract the essential meaning or most important aspects of.

Marx, like Freud, gets a lot of shit nowadays. People seem to forget that most of modern thought is founded on their work. As in, they account for the very shift in perspective that allows you to discount them. It borders on comical, if the result wasn’t that fundamental theories were dismissed out of hand.

In his Fragment on Machines, Marx predicted the problem we currently face with automation. It’s hard to know, having only his words to go by, whether his notions about controlling the means of production have ever been properly represented by any of the many experiments that have been carried out over the years. It seems unlikely, because they all appear to have missed the essential point, which is decentralization.

Decentralization. Craft distillers were taking the production of spirits, a highly centralized activity, and they were distributing that activity across the landscape. Often in places where the raw ingredients - water, sugar, yeast - were readily available nearby. It was remarkable, and I was excited about it, not only for its inherent value but also because of the opportunity I saw in it to communicate a broader message. That of decentralization, appropriate scale, and deliberate lifestyle.

None of these ideas are new, or my own. I merely thought to consider them through the lens of craft spirits, rather than motorcycle maintenance or khadi. In Small is Beautiful and throughout the 70s, E.F. Schumacher championed the application of industrial activity that made use of intermediate technologies and was labor intensive. He was mostly concerned with capital, but, like many in his time, he contemplated a future where man could quite possibly automate himself out of a job. When the robots make everything, what will people do?

But I am a terrible host. This is a conversation to have over a drink.

That’s why we started MicroShiner. Because there is a lot that we need to discuss, and there is no better way than over a cocktail.

We’re glad you’re here.

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Cobey Williamson