The thing that's on everyone's mind in the beer and whisky world,
of course, is the passing of our best friend: Michael Jackson. My
thoughts and memories of Michael are here.
I've seen a disgusting trend among the geekerie
lately. It struck me enough to become the topic for this Buzz when I
read the comments
to a post on Eric Asimov's blog, The Pour. Eric had made
passing mention of drinking some New Belgium Fat Tire Amber Ale
while waiting in a long dinner line at a wine festival, by way of
introducing a piece on vintage beers. It sounded like a good idea to me;
I've been in long lines that would have been greatly improved by the
presence of beer.
The comments from readers were not all that happy. There
were a lot of people hand-wringing or snarling about using wine language
to describe beer. These were the folks who apparently think any
description more elaborate than "Mmmm, beer good!"
imperils beer's place as the drink of the people. "30 years ago,
you guys ruined my enjoyment of wine with pretentious descriptions. Now
it’s beer," groused one of them. These folks have been around
since the first time Michael Jackson described a beer; they're nothing
new, nor are they going away. Unfortunately.
I can live with them, I guess, despite the
annoying anti-intellectualism they represent. The ones
that upset me, the ones that offend me, are the ones who turn on craft
beers they don't feel measure up. They were bent on running down Fat
Tire. "Glad to see you made good use of your “oh my these wine
events in the pac nw are sorta big now” time. The beer here is pretty
good too. It certainly blows away Fat Tire," said one of them. "I
don’t consider Fat Tire to be a Belgian-style Ale, since it doesn’t
have bottle fermentation. Using this term is almost an insult to the
amazing Belgian-style beers from Ommegang, Unibroue, Alligash, and other
North American breweries..." said another.
Fat Tire has been one of the whipping boys of
the über-geekerie for years. It's not hoppy enough (not hoppy enough
for what?), it's not big enough, it's not different enough, it's
not Belgian enough, blah blah blah, on and on. It's almost a litmus
test: if you like Fat Tire, you ain't a real real beer drinker,
you're just pretending to like craft beer.
It's not alone, of course. You may see people
whipping up on Sam Adams, too: it's not really that different,
it's not really that good, it's not really a pilsener
(that one always gets me: show me where it says it's a pilsener!).
Redhook gets blasted broadside because of its association with
Anheuser-Busch -- Budhook! Even Anchor Steam and Sierra
Nevada Pale Ale get yawns and disdain, leading a fella I know from the
'Net to remark "Their clothes are weird, their music sucks and
they drink malternatives. And now you tell me they probably don't think
Sierra Nevada is cool? This is what the passage of years does to you: It
makes everyone around you more stupid."
I find their behavior pathetic. They're eating
their young, or more accurately, eating their parents. These are the
beers that made craft brewing. To judge by sales figures, they're still
the beers that make craft brewing. Are they to be tossed aside as just
not good enough anymore, even though they haven't changed, because some
people's palates have become jaded?
This is elitism, plain and simple. It is the
kind of beer drinker who's choosing what they drink based more on
whether the right other people like it or don't. That may be a
local beer fanatic, they may be a raging hophead, it may be someone
who's looking for the funkiest brett-bomb they can find. These folks are
racing out across The Plains of Beer, chasing ever-more extreme --
hoppy, potent, organic, tiny production, sour -- beers, enveloped in a
haze of alcohol and lupulin.
In and of itself, that's nothing I can't get
behind: local's cool, roaring hop's good, bring on the brett. I love it.
But the racing quest is all too often driven by the desire to be further
out there on the Plain than anyone else, to be on the edge, to not
be part of the masses. If the masses (or even a significant fraction of
them) have stepped up to Fat Tire -- or Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
-- it's time to toss them aside and move on.
I don't have a problem with people who simply don't
like Fat Tire. I disagree with them -- I like Fat Tire for what it
is, a Belgianesque take on a brown ale -- but if they don't like that
kind of beer, okay. It's the guys who feel the need to run it down as
"not Belgian" (Duh. It's from Colorado. Is Scotch Silly
Belgian-style?), the ones who run it down as "Frat Tire" or
"Flat Tire" or "not really craft" that piss
me off. In fact, I'm with another one of the folks who left a comment on
The Pour: "It’s ironic that
several of the comments on this page ridiculed Mr. Asimov for ruining
beer with his descriptions while at the same time snottily stating that
if he likes Fat Tire then he does not know beer."
Why does beer enjoyment have to mean beer
denigration? There are plenty of poorly made beers out there; why
slam well-made ones and the folks who like them? Sound too much like
"Bud's a well-made beer, why say it's swill?" for you? Well,
Bud's not craft beer, and it never, ever will be. But if you
can't see the difference, smell the difference, taste the difference
between Bud and Fat Tire, you're not a craft beer drinker, and maybe you
never ever will be. This is a subjective thing. But mainstream
American lagers are just a breed apart. There's a clear, bright
line...and Fat Tire's definitely on the craft side of it.
I suppose I'm awfully close to saying "If you
can't say something nice, shut the hell up." Which would be
kind of weird
for me, I guess. Let me sharpen a bit instead. There's quite a bit
of disagreement on the definition of "craft beer." But the
beers I've noted in this piece definitely fall within any reasonable
definition. They also are significantly more flavorful than mainstream
lagers. Just because they're popular doesn't mean they're bad, and it
certainly doesn't mean they're ripe for slagging.
This is the side of the geekerie that worries me,
that makes me shake my head in disapproval. It's not about liking beer
the masses don't. Too many folks think that way about other things:
music, books, art, wine. Don't pollute the enjoyment of beer with
it. What it's about, what it's always about, is the beer. Do
you like it? Good, drink it, but don't think that makes you better
than those who don't. Do you not like it? Okay, don't drink
it...but don't think that makes you better than those who do.
That's what the folks who are concerned about the
language are getting at. Don't make beer a club, something you can
join by making the right choices and exclude those who don't. Beer's
something to enjoy; it is, as the Beer Hunter himself said, a
playground, not a prison. I don't ever consider myself better because I
like a beer that others may not. I consider myself lucky.