SB Beer and the Mint 400

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, the iconic and iconoclastic Hunter S. Thompson book begins as an ill-fated attempt to cover a dirt race outside of Sin City called the Mint 400. It was also what made me realize that I truly wanted to be a journalist, and that the journalistic staples of who, what, when, why and where didn’t have to be as dry as the desert air.

As soon as Thompson attempts his coverage of the race, the impossibility of the task is made clear. The clouds of dust and constant whirring of engines along the race’s route totally obfuscate the action in the same way that booze, ether and hallucinogens muddle up the later adventures of the book. There are those able to cut through the haze and see things that are going on, his clean-cut and highly professional photographer being one of them, but in doing so they miss the whole point. The buggies and bikes roaring through clouds of dust are on a meaningless and pointless path that only served to generate noise and dirt. As they bore on ceaselessly into the night, Thompson retreated to the bar where he could focus on those who stayed on the outside of the never ending race, but not so far away that they could not supply their own cynical opinions on the race. The whole incident stands as a metaphor for the people and stories that Thompson found to be truly intriguing. The subjects captured in his photographer’s lens were meaningless to him, because they were little more than interchangeable parts to the noisy, dirty race. Similarly, those who moved in conventional circles the way society intended were of little interest to Thompson. What followed in the book was an attempt to tell the story of the outliers and drifters that chose not to ride on the noisy, dirty and pointless race course laid out by society.

Wait… isn’t this a beer blog? It is. I’m getting there.

Some may argue that the craft beer industry began as something of a counterculture movement itself. Little guys like Sierra Nevada and Anchor pit themselves against brewing giants, and took every chance they could to gain a foothold into the marketplace. But the American Beer Revolution has progressed to a point that good beer has become mainstream – and breweries have become a part of popular culture and general society.

As the movement toward the middle continues, it is becoming more and more difficult to see through the opaque clouds of dust and understand what is really going on. With each press release announcing a brewery’s expansion or the arrival of a new brewery, more clouds of dirt are thrown into the air. Each of these things are newsworthy for their own reasons, but what about those clouds of dirt?

Thompson chose to ignore the race, and focus on those clouds of dirt. So if the takeaway from the Mint 400 was that the race was filthy and pointless, what is the takeaway from news like this announcement of the opening of Pure Order Brewing Company and the recent announcement of Telegraph Brewing Company’s expansion? It is certainly exciting, but I wonder what clouds of dirt are being thrown in the air here? Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone is already a haven for wineries, and now it appears that it will soon be an even more alluring destination for beer drinkers as well.

Pure Order will be located a mere block away from Telegraph’s new location (and its current one). Then there is the recently opened Figueroa Mountain brewery and taproom on Anacapa St., as well as old staples Santa Barbara Brewing Company and The Brewhouse. I want to be clear and state that I am excited, and I believe that this is ultimately a very positive thing for Santa Barbara and beer drinkers in the area. However, I hope that these breweries and brewers can avoid the pitfalls of the racers in the Mint 400. I hope that they can continue to push boundaries and explore new territory, so that when they do kick up dust, they do it on their own. A lone racer streaking through the desert with a rooster tail of sand behind him is a fascinating image. We celebrate that pioneer and innovator. A crowd of racers following the prescribed course gets lost in its own dust.


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