This blog is not about boxing. But the understanding of what a ‘journeyman’ is, is from the boxing usage. To be clear:
A fighter of some skill that can offer a challenge to up-and-coming champions, but will never reach any great height themselves. Also a reference to the longevity of said fighter at an unimprovable level.
A worker, skilled in a given building trade or craft, who has successfully completed an official apprenticeship qualification.
It’s also a chance to litter this post with metaphors from, and I may be leading with my chin here, the sport that has given us the most in terms of commonly-used language. Not to mention the most sports films. When are they going to release Rocky VIII?!! I hear you scream. I hear you.
This blog is not about boxing.
In the modern vernacular, a journeyman can refer to any person or persons that have stuck it out in a professional field, at a reasonable enough level to survive, without ever posing a serious threat to the pack leaders. They quickly lose the moniker of ‘plucky newcomer’ and instead inhabit an oft-derided niche, which pluckier newcomers breeze past, highlighting their mediocracy.
In sports particularly, there are journeymen that engender a large amount of public affection in the later years of their career, and a respect-tinged-with-pity that sports journalists struggle to hide. But now they are all tv pundits, so who’s really laughing? us.
To write these long-serving heroes off is folly however. And I think reflective of an unhealthy societal focus on the superstars, the geniuses and the history-makers. I’ve already railed against this in an earlier blog post I’ve no doubt that you have committed to memory. And I won’t bore you with it again. But I will just say: Anyone who commits themselves to a profession wholeheartedly, and without expectation of reward. Anyone who keeps putting in the effort day in and day out, and has to watch as some of their peers eclipse them. Anyone who appreciates how lucky they are to do something they love, and doesn’t bemoan their limitations. Is someone I’d have a beer with.
The analogy doesn’t perfectly translate to businesses, but that’s never stopped me before: In the burgeoning craft beer industry, I think it is the journeymen that deserve our plaudits, our praise and our songs. I hope you enjoyed that narrative leap.
One more thing before I say what I’m going to say. In business, success is most often measured by profitability. And for the purposes of blog, this is the context I am using. I’m talking about master brewers, with lifetimes of experience, and I’m certainly not calling into doubt their skill and expertise.
As relative new-kids-on-the-block, we owe an awful lot of our existence to the generous time and teaching of brewers and other industry stalwarts. As in any field there are some people so focused on their own goals, that they won’t give you the time of day; our experience of interacting with other craft breweries has been overwhelmingly positive. I’m not going to call anyone specific the ‘J’ word, in case they don’t think of it as the compliment which I mean it to be. They are the gatekeepers, and recognise a shared passion as the only door policy.
The regular London Brewers’ Alliance meetings that we occasionally attend, are testament to the importance of Journeymen in our world. Brewers that began their trade whilst we were still at school are a living encyclopaedia of beer knowledge. And it still surprises me that they share this knowledge so freely. It might be that we all share a common enemy - bad beer - but I think at a more fundamental level people get into brewing because they love it, and love is not selfish.
Only recently have a few lucky breweries been thrust into the limelight as a result of eight-figure buyouts, and I don’t doubt that we all harbour a small dream to follow in their footsteps. A lot of the breweries we deal with have been in the game for longer than those household names, and an oversize cheque from Heineken was not their original inspiration. They continue to put out a truly fantastic range of delicious beer, and we owe it to them to seek it out as much as possible.
Next time you go to the pub, especially if it is somewhere new, make sure you ask if they have any local beer. Or at least choose something you haven’t heard of before. You might not always stumble on a gem, but I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised more often than not. The important thing is you give us some money you are showing your friends, the other people in the pub and crucially the landlord that the little guys matter.
Beer festivals and taprooms are a wonderful way to find new favourites, and a rare opportunity to interact with the people who actually brew the beer you’re enjoying. Both are currently uncertain of their futures, and need your support. Some enterprising folk recently launched an app: Neverspoons, which helps you to find an independent watering hole. Now you have no excuse.