I started brewing my first batch of beer this weekend. I know that I am more than a little late to the home brewing party, but life (and human reproduction) just didn't afford me the time to take up the hobby when brewing at home was first becoming popular amongst a certain artisanal-minded set. I'm excited to finally have a small vat of water and malt and yeast doing its thing in my basement. There's really no need for me to brew my own beer. I can buy moderately acceptable inexpensive beer brewed by an enormous corporation at the gas station, but I prefer to buy extremely tasty and only slightly more expensive beer made closer to home. Beer suited to my personal taste instead of the mass market justifies a few pennies more every time.

I am looking at something like two months until my first batch is ready to drink, so I'll have to continue buying my beer in the interim. Even once I have my own bottles to savor, I suspect I will continue to purchase and enjoy the fine artisanal brews borne from the home brewing movement. I gather that having brewed your own makes you appreciate the nuances of a master brewer's craft all the more.

I'm not just going on about beer because beer is delicious; I'm going on about beer because the brewing industry is a lot like writing. Used to be, there were a handful of major breweries, just like there were a handful of major publishing houses.

If you enjoyed the mass produced products, those were available in abundance and at a low price. If you wanted something different, something more specific or esoteric, you were probably out of luck.

If you wanted to get into the profession--if you wanted to brew or write or edit--well, there really weren't many options open to you other than the major players. Sure, there were always a few scrappy upstarts and underdogs, but all of the real action were with that handful of large companies and the ecosystems that supported them. If you wanted to be a big deal, or even have a decent shot at making a living, you generally had to find a spot in there somewhere.

Times have changed. I can buy artisanal beer with the character I like, rather than having to settle for a beer with a flavor targeted to simply be acceptable to as many people as possible. I'm not close to the only one who prefers the artisanal route. I can now band together with other authors to publish and sell a book. I'm not the only one who thinks the traditional publishing houses are not altogether necessary for writers; the sales figures say that readers increasingly don't think traditional publishing houses matter that much for them, either. I can make my own beer with a kit; self-publishing isn't much more difficult than that.

There's nothing wrong with enjoying mass produced beer or books, it's just that you don't have to limit yourself to those options anymore. You can make your own, if you are of a mind. Whether you make your own or not, you should try smaller artisans who create products specific to what you enjoy. The risks are low: a few bucks on a six pack or an e-book is a small price to pay for a chance at discovering something better suited to you than the mass market provides.

Life's short. Drink the beer you like best and read the books you enjoy most. You aren't limited to what the big companies produce anymore, so give the artisanal options a try. You won't regret it.