Just this morning, I clicked on a link that wound up on my Twitter feed, leading to a post entitled “Why The Rocky Mountain Region Has The Best Beer“, at mensjournal.com. The tweet that contained the link is shown below. (It’s clickable. Go Ahead. But Come Back.) I read the post through and got that same old weary sensation I get when reading one of those thrillist.com or dailymeal.com “Best Of” lists that succeed at very little other than to point out that people who are not devoted fans and students of craft brewing seem to always be the ones chosen to write those lists. In this case, however, one of America’s truly great breweries, Sierra Nevada Brewing, had lent their considerable name and weight to the enterprise…which provoked me considerably and caused me to go to my The Pour Fool page at Facebook and go off like a cheap bottle rocket. Later, upon reading it, I realized that it belongs here.
“I don’t have a ton of readers of this The Pour Fool Facebook page. I treasure everybody who has “liked” this page and try to keep some content here. But, this morning, it serves me well that it’s not read that much, because I NEED to get something off my chest and it ain’t gonna be very nice:
I saw a link on Twitter for Men’s Journal’s piece, about which Sierra Nevada Brewing (doubtless some over-eager marketing functionary or “social media coordinator”) noted that “all these brewers” claim that Colorado has the best beer. Upon closer inspection, it turns out that only five of the eleven people quoted are Colorado brewers. The rest, except for one guy from North Dakota(?), are marketing or administrative types whose JOB it is to promote a Colorado brewery or the state’s brewing culture. The tweet admonished people to “Keep it classy, folks“, realizing, I guess, that reading that would set a lot of people off. Curiously (or not)(really), the Men’s Journal post didn’t allow for responses on their site. Wonder why, eh? Could it be that the folks at MJ knew damned well that readers would have enough sense to read the attributions on each Colorado bragging point and maybe, uh, REFUTE the whole damned piece?
I have ZERO against Colorado. In a weak moment – say, as in my hitting my head and forgetting that California and Oregon both exist – I might well be inclined to agree with the assertion that C-rado is the best beer state. I dearly LOVE dozens of Colorado breweries and I borderline WORSHIP Sierra Nevada…which, it should be pointed out, is actually based in California. But tweeting something like that is just dead flat, obliviously, willfully-ignorant WRONG in several ways. And it would be wrong no matter what state it was said about.
Beer can only really be judged with any semblance of objectivity – or, more realistically, fair-minded subjectivity – on a bottle by bottle, glass by glass, batch by batch basis. For every beer from Colorado that I’ve tasted, now numbering well over 400, I can name a beer from somewhere else that will beat it, at least according to my taste buds. And while I’m not exactly an Average Joe beer fan, I suspect that many, many people could do the same. Tweeting something like this or writing that post in Men’s Journal buys into that slipperiest conundrum of the internet age: where does the element of personal or collective responsibility enter the equation when lending the gravitas of a large, very public website to a flat statement like “Colorado has the best beer”? Does it enter in at all? I submit that it absolutely does.
I’ve been VERY careful – some would say (and have said) too much so – to state that what appears in The Pour Fool is One Guy’s Opinion. I’m not being either noble or charmingly self-effacing. The blog is written by me, edited by me, based on NOTHING but my tastings. What else could I claim? I’ve issued that disclaimer dozens of times in posts and literally hundreds of times in responses to readers. What was written today in MJ and on Twitter carried no such qualifiers. Bald-faced statement: “Colorado has the best beer”, validated and ratified by the combined reputations and followings of Men’s Journal and Sierra Nevada. What’s wrong with that? This…
We’re at a stage in the evolution of American craft brewing at which many know a lot but MILLIONS know a little…or nothing. Every time a new “Best Of” list or a post like this makes the rounds on the ‘net, newbies read it and say, “Hmmm…Men’s Journal says that Colorado breweries are the best. Must be true.” And then they go out and tell friends and pass up their own region’s beers because, hey, who wants second best? Who loses? The breweries in every other state, whose products are passed over for Colorado beers and those newbies, who miss out on the INCREDIBLE beers that they skipped to feel “in the know”.
For ALL eleven points made about Colorado in the MJ post, I can make just as valid claims for Washington: Great Malts? In barley, the base grain for MOST beers, the USDA figures show that Washington has 195,000 acres planted to this primary grain. Colorado? 63,000. Wheat? Washington ranks fourth in the top ten producing states. Colorado? Not in the top ten. That fabulous Rocky Mountain water? Cascade Mountain water comes from an even more geographically complex set of soils than the mostly-stone aquifers of Colorado. Tourism? Washington is one of the largest destinations in the country for outdoor enthusiasts and the scenery takes a back seat to nothing in the Lower 48…Oh, and did I mention one thing Colorado doesn’t offer but that Washington has all over the place? Water! Oceans, lakes, rivers, fishing, boating, diving, sailing. Denver has the Platte River. Seattle has Puget Sound. No comparison. The post even mentions legal weed as a bragging point. Really? Colorado is the ONLY state with that? Interesting. Curiously, hops – arguably THE most important element in American Brewing, here in the Age of The IPA – were mentioned by, um, NOBODY in Colorado’s boasts. Meanwhile, 80% of all US hops are grown where? That’s right: in Washington.
And I could make just as convincing a case for Oregon or California.
My point is not to puff for Washington. It’s that EVERYWHERE that beer is brewed there is the real, serious, batch-by-batch potential for greatness and that potential is being realized daily, all over the US. I don’t blame the
Colorado folks for saying what they said AT ALL. Everyone who lives in an area where breweries are open and operating will, I fervently hope, say the same things about their homies. THAT is how breweries and brewing regions get great, in the first place: belief, loyalty, encouragement. And that’s why I say that writing a post that makes the claim made in Men’s Journal – especially when you lack the stones to open yourself up for comments and take your lumps for what you wrote – and the one implied by Sierra Nevada are just a bad, divisive, misleading, and, YES, irresponsible thing to do.”
Ultimately, for me, Men’s Journal can go suck it. I think that, if you require any sort of magazine as a guide to how to be a man, well, that’s just beyond my definition of pitiful. Sierra Nevada, one of the breweries that I love most and with whom I have the most history, (I occasionally find a little blood in my Celebration stream, every December) is a different matter. I have to believe (okay, want to believe) that Ken Grossman would have gone, “Yaa… but nope” if shown that tweet before it went out. Maybe not. I can’t claim to know. But what I will say is that SN holds its famous Beer Camp every year and involves aspiring brewers from every state in the country. It’s hard to believe that they would even open a debate on such a fluffy subject. So, Sierra Nevada maybe doesn’t suck it. I don’t want to be that unkind. But they might want to gnaw on that Tweet for a while and savor the flavor. I suspect they might find it doesn’t taste all that great…