The party still echoes in the memories of those who were there, and in the tales that are told to this day. Lilit Barsegyan speaks of her parents' engagement party in a backyard in Soviet Armenia and the central role that beer played in that everlasting day.
Her grandfather, a man of business from her mother's side, had rolled in a barrel of draft beer to the festivities - a rare and daring move in those times. "They served draft beer," Lilit explains, "something unheard of in Soviet Armenia." Her aunt sums it up best: "The food, the music - they are all forgotten. But the beer, ah, the beer. No one will ever forget that."
It was a night that burned bright, and in Lilit's mind, it illuminated the truth - that good beer has the power to bring people together.
“If you know the history of beer, you know the history of people,” says Lilit, founder of Draft In Style, a Los Angeles-based mobile draft beer bar. A true aficionado of history, she speaks with conviction of beer's place in the story of civilizations across the world. "Wine and vodka have their stories, but none have captivated me as fully as the history of beer," she declares.
If you close your eyes and picture a beer drinker you’d probably think of a man. Beer advertisements present stereotypical images of men that uphold myths of traditional masculinity. That wasn’t always the case. Lilit explains, “Beer was something women made thousands of years ago because they were cooking at home.”
Women’s involvement in brewing has been documented back four-thousand years ago in Ancient Mesopotamia. Throughout history, beer was often considered a women's beverage, and women were the primary brewers and vendors of beer. However, as beer became more commercialized and the brewing industry grew, women were circumspectly pushed out of the brewing process. The rise of large, industrial breweries and the association of beer with masculinity made brewing a male-dominated profession.
Lilit and her brother Arthur co-founded "Draft in Style," to challenge people's notions of beer and reveal its diversity of its flavors and forms. ‘Draft in Style’ is a portable bar based in Los Angeles that specializes in bringing an aesthetic beer garden to any event.
I posed the question to Lilit, seeking to understand why there is a negative perception of beer within our culture. "Beer is not seen as a sophisticated beverage," she answered, her voice devoid of inflection.
In America, the majority of beer produced is cheaply manufactured, lacking the nuance and complexity of a finely crafted brew. Lilit continued, "The quality of beer available has been a barrier to its appreciation. Europe, however, has a thriving craft beer community, one that values and venerates the history of beer-making."
So, how did the mass production of beer begin in the US?
The 19th century saw the rise of German immigration to the US, bringing a strong beer culture and a preference for lagers. This was also a time when the industrial revolution and advancements in refrigeration made it possible to mass-produce beer and distribute it more widely. As a result, beer became even more popular, and by the mid-1800s, there were thousands of breweries across the country.
Prohibition in the 1920s dealt a heavy blow to the beer industry, but it did not kill it. In fact, during Prohibition, many people brewed their own beer at home, and bootlegging and speakeasies kept the beer flowing. Once Prohibition was repealed in 1933, the beer industry slowly started to rebuild, and by the 1960s, a few large breweries dominated the market.
Lilit notes, "It’s impossible to mass produce quality craft beer.” The use of inexpensive additives undermines the very essence of its artisanal nature.
"People are blind to the boundless possibilities of food and beer pairings," says Lilit. Beer, with its over 120 styles, is versatile and can be paired with any and every type of cuisine. She continues, “beer is just as amazing as wine if you explore and learn about it.” The potential of beer is waiting only to be discovered and savored through exploration and education.
At events like weddings, community gatherings, corporate events, and more, while working her draft beer bar, and through countless conversations with customers, Lilit gleaned an understanding of their beer preferences.
From this well of knowledge, she crafted her own unique brews, the "Drink in Style Wit '' and the "Drink in Style IPA." These recipes, born of Lilit's interactions with customers, were not merely a collection of ingredients, but a testament to her dedication to her craft. Lilit creates the recipes and works with a local brewer to bring her vision to life.
"So many events, serving beer to hundreds of people, taught me what kind of beer people liked, and even what kind of beer might coax those who didn't initially enjoy it into a newfound appreciation."
“What do you love most about beer?" I asked Lilit. "Safety," she replied. "When you're out and about, a cocktail can be a mystery, its alcohol content unknown. But with beer, you always know what you're getting into, you can even check online if you have to. I like a good buzz, sure, but getting drunk? Not so much. Beer is a safe drink, allows you to let loose without losing control. Wine and shots, they can be a slippery slope.”