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On beer elitism

I used to consider myself a beer snob.

I don’t anymore, and I think I’ve talked about this in the past. I do still quite like beer, and by that I mean good beer, but I try not to go out of my way to be a prick about it. I have had exactly one bottle of Bud Light and one can of Budweiser in my life, because people have handed them to me and I didn’t want to say “Huff! No thanks.”

Except with pint glasses and hop cones

Even so, places like the Blue Monk and Mister Goodbar are my candyland. The first time I walked into the former, I got a little giddy looking at the tap list. For years when asked where I wanted to be taken out for [insert special occasion], it’d be Pizza Plant because I could get good beer and a pod with jalapenos. I spent $70 on beer for Thanksgiving, entirely due to Rudy’s advice (and, okay, some of those were for my own cellar).

So it was (so it goes) that I read an editorial in Time Out Chicago called “The Contrarian: Has the craft-beer revolution gone too far?” Its premise, essentially, is that beer lovers are ruining beer because they’re too damn picky about things and why can’t we all just drink a beer and be done with it?

Has the craft-beer revolution gone too far? Its beverages are delicious, but its culture can be oppressive. And its most outspoken creators, servers and consumers have become a new generation’s record-store clerks: If a record-store clerk is someone who knows everything about music except how to dance to it, then the craft-beer connoisseur is someone who knows so much about beer that he’s the last person in the world you’d want to drink it with.

Not surprisingly, I disagree with this thesis.

Some of it is self motivated: author Keir Graff argues that bars need fewer taps, so ordering a beer isn’t as complicated. The fewer taps at any given pub, the harder it will be for us to get our beer attached to one. That goes beyond just business, of course: I like having choices. It’s a bit odd that the tagline of the article talks about beer “losing its democratic appeal” when it later argues for bars limiting options.

I also take issue with the idea that knowing more about beer is a bad thing. Graff says that he isn’t saying that, of course, while reiterating the point constantly. The hypothetical situation of a party where the host spends an overlong period of time describing what beer is available while the helpless guest’s “mouth grows drier and drier”? He’s going to the wrong sorts of parties. At every homebrew club meeting, every beer gathering, every time I go to a CBW member’s house, beer is immediately pressed into my hands and then we talk about what to drink next.

“Beer doesn’t have to be fussy, elitist and overcomplicated. That’s what wine is for.” Now I think he’s just trolling me.

Okay, enough of Outraged Blogger Dan. I’m aware of my own ridiculousness. I mean, I have an opinion on the Oxford comma, for Eris’ sake (it’s unnecessary, tedious, and no longer officially supported*). Time for Devil’s Advocate Dan to step in.

Choices can be bad. I admit that I have occasionally run into the paradox of choice, where I have to choose one thing — be it a beer, an entree or something I don’t put into my mouth — and none of the choices stands clearly above the rest, so I feel like I’ll regret it no matter what. The solution to this, of course, is to order a damn beer and be done with it, not to limit the number of options I have.

“You’re the one who wrote ‘every kind of mustard’ on my shopping list!”

Then there’s the fact that 30+ taps, many of them bearing names that are Belgian, German or otherwise, can be intimidating. It’s true. Sitting next to someone who takes a sip and identifies the varieties of hops used, when you’re feeling proud of yourself for trying a “dark” beer that isn’t Guinness, may not be the most welcoming situation.

Yet there’s no way I’m going to say that the straw man I just invented shouldn’t be able to go on about beer to whatever minute level of detail they want. If you’re new to the beer world, I’m going to let you in on a secret. Whenever you feel intimidated by someone who clearly knows more than you? Don’t be.

The beer community is by far the nicest group of people I’ve ever met. They’re absurdly friendly and welcoming, even when you occasionally say something silly that shows you don’t know as much as they do. We don’t care. We just like beer, and want you to enjoy it too. People that are condescending about beer aren’t called beer snobs, they’re called assholes, and we don’t like them either.

Graff’s editorial was not for me: it may have been about me, but I was not its target audience. While I disagree with much of it, I think it raises some very important points: mainly, that if we want to embeer the world that we need to remember the people currently drinking Labatt’s might be interested in craft beer, but not if we force it upon them in an overbearing way.

In the end, I’m an outlier: I brew, I write about beer and I’m devoting my life to the production and propagation of beer and beer culture. One of my favorite books is about the history of the IPA. I’m curious to see what others think of the article, because I may think this isn’t a problem (can’t you just get off the elevator?**) when it is. That would be the real problem, and if us overbearing know-it-alls are getting in the way of your enjoyment of beer then we need to know. It takes a village to embeer.

* Did you catch that delicious irony?
** You are either annoyed by this reference or don’t get it, and either way you don’t need to read up on it.

2 comments on “On beer elitism

  1. Steve Jeromos on

    Hey Dan, I think we all go through the ‘real beer doesn’t have rice or corn in it!’phase.. After you discover the wonder of craft beer you want to spread the love.. but we all usually get to the point were we realize everyone has different tastes and who is to say what someone should think is good or not.. I am an all grain brewer and I tend to stay away from IPA’s .. I know.. sacrilege… but I perfer a less hoppy flavor.. I guess we just gotta love beer for being beer and accept all it’s quirky offshoots.I love to chit-chat about beer with anyone interested and I totally agree that the beer community is a great group of people.

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