During our visit to Montreal, our host was Alexandre Enkerli, an anthropologist who teaches folklore and ethnomusicology at Concordia University and participates actively in a number of virtual and face-to-face DIY communities around music, coffee, and beer. To get a sense of his work, you can read his paper "Brewing Cultures: Craft Beer and Cultural Identity in North America." Although the material on identity-formation is certainly interesting, particularly the stuff about gender non-inclusiveness, I would have liked to have seen more about the political side of the movement, which he alludes to at the end. Because Quebec has strict regulations about commerce involving alcoholic beverages, so that its citizens are often forced into state-owned liquor stores, political resistance is certainly part of this group's subversive ethos. Alexandre also described how they were governed by "open source" principles, in which recipes were shared even by those who aspired to be brewmasters in conventional pubs.
We also learned a lot about coffee and about CoffeeGeek.com, since Enkerli is an avid home roaster. (A popcorn popper is apparently the key piece of equipment for the most tasty transformation of the bean.) A required stop was Veritas, where we spoke in depth to the proprietor Sam, who had left a career as a Rolls Royce engineer to embrace life as a cafe owner. His third place award-winning barrista was unfortunately not present, but we managed to drain some tasty espressos and cappuccinos nonetheless.
As a good Habermassian, I had to pick a fight with Enkerli about this home-brew culture that he was putting on display. Doesn't consigning brewing of coffee and beer in private homes eliminate third spaces for social interactions with a cross-section of people and opportunities for discussions and debates? Isn't it like putting yourself in a cul-de-sac with a garage door facing the street in that you aren't participating with neighborhood businesses? Enkerli strongly disagreed, since beer-making involves large quantities, parties, and collective beer making sessions. He thought that it was a powerfully social activity and one that was often situated in specific neighborhoods.
Labels: participatory culture