One morning, not too long ago, I was reading a list of tweets and a couple of comments from a person whose screen name will remain anonymous. The comments and tweets leaned heavily on this theme:
“Dear US Craft Beer: You are trying too hard.”
“The reason for calling something “craft beer” is an additional $2 – $4 a six-pack.”
“@GABF In terms of German styles, not winning a medal would appear to be more of a badge of honor than winning one. Embarrassing.”
“Jeez. It’s bad enough that 95% of U.S. beer geeks have never explored beer beyond their own borders, but now our most “experienced” beer bloggers haven’t even heard of some of the most important beer scholarship in the world. The U.S “craft culture” in a sad, sad state indeed.”
…and finally, the crux of the matter…
“I hate #craftbeer”
For more than 20 years, now, I’ve worked in a business in which snobbery was as ingrained a part of the culture as the beverages themselves. That’s the wine business, to be precise, and (if the truth enters into this at all), while snobbery among wine aficionados is such an accepted cliche that many people just expect to be condescended to when entering a wine shop, snobbery in wine has never been anything more than what we would call it in any other arena of human interaction: rudeness. There is absolutely NOTHING acceptable about it in a wine shop. It is not a sign of erudition, enlightened level of awareness, a broader knowledge base, or anything else that’s admirable or excusable. In fact, MOST times, it’s quite the opposite: those are the grown-up edition of the kids who were picked last for the softball teams in school and weren’t invited to the cool kids’ parties, doing the same thing that has caused the legal profession to bulge at the seams: that oath sworn while shaking a fist at the heavens, “I’ll show ’em! One day I’ll be the one doing the pushing around…I’ll become…a lawyer!” (Cue heavenly choir.)
Wine shop snobs are the people who said that but lacked the fundamental ambition to be able to do anything as demanding of focus and persistence as law school. They enter the wine world and quickly learn that talking a great game is fundamentally the same as playing a great game, and do a lazy walk-through of a half-dozen styles or regions or grapes and then adopt at Attitude that would be visible to the Hubble Telescope and spend their time compensating for their childhoods.
Does this seem harsh? So does making a woman cry because she declined to purchase the recommended Cotes du Rhone and opted for a California Cabernet. So does patronizing a group of tourists by haughtily dismissing their inquiries about Australian wines by saying, “If you’re so in love with that Australian soda pop, why did you come to Washington in the first place?” So does badgering a guy whose father loves Spanish Riojas into a kicky little Vacqueyras for a birthday gift, just so the clerk could help “introduce your old man to real wine.” This is not acumen. It’s ego run amok. I was witness to all three of those episodes. I was able to help relieve two of them but the guy with the Vacqueyras had to watch his dad’s puzzled reaction when he gave him a wine that the fellow had already told the clerk his dad doesn’t like.
Here in 2013, we’ve now evolved a new cultural phenomenon, craft brewing, that’s inevitably spawning the same sub-stratum of detractors and elitist twits that’s always plagued wine. My cranky codger correspondent is just the same animal as the people I’ve mentioned in the other cases. His withering disdain for American craft brewing and mocking of what most certainly IS a burgeoning culture that’s grown up around it reveals far more about his own frustration and lack of connection than it does about the brewing community. He reveres the Old World styles of beer – German, Austrian, Belgian, etc. – but has somehow missed the fact that many breweries from those very places now make beers in the style of American craft beer and that collaborations between Euro and US brewers are happening almost daily. No brewer anywhere in the world (except for the odd jackass) is slamming the US beer culture but self-satisfied twerps like him act as if the 2,500+ American breweries and what they make is just some big fad that’s running its course and it’s only a matter of time before we all become enlightened enough to eschew those gross old IPAs and Stouts and Sours and come sniveling back to the glories of this precious little Pilsner vs. that precious little Kellerweiss.
And there is absolutely nothing wrong with his expressing a simple preference for German beers…if that were all he’s doing. But, unsatisfied with merely stating a preference, he flails impotently, heaping disdain on a culture that’s grown from a total of about a dozen breweries in 1980 to over 2,500 today and whose businesses fail at a rate that’s waaaay less than half of almost any other business class. Somehow, all the literal millions of us who frequent our local breweries and love American craft beers are just clueless sheep and Herrburgess and his ilk are the Keepers of The True Flame. At its core, what this behavior is, really, is simple insecurity. As people move away from the style of beer that the Euro-geeks prefers, they perceive it as a judgment of themselves and their tastes. It isn’t anything of the sort, of course. It’s just “different strokes for different folks” but try telling that to the hard-core snob. They see the incredible boom in US craft beer and crank up this feckless, pathetic stance, just like a guy who stubbornly sits on the same park bench day after day, even when flocks of pigeons roost in the tree overhead, and then refuses to admit he’s covered in poop. Both are equally pathetic but craft beer smells a LOT better.
Oddly, this presumption that we’ll all eventually come around to their narrow worldview is exactly the same thing that whiskey purists assumed about Bourbon and that oenophiles assumed about American wines: that, as our tastes matured, we’d all eventually wander back to Scotch and Bordeaux. Instead, Bourbon is now such a universal style that European distilleries make their versions and wine in the US is farther away than ever from the stingy, austere, muted model of much of France. And, in neither case – nor that of our craft brew community – is the pendulum ever likely to swing back.
I admit to being a HUGE, unapologetic beer snob. I was raised on Euro imports and many of my favorite beers are still from Belgium, Scotland, Germany, and Austria. My snobbery has to do with one thing and one ONLY: the continued existence of the watered-down, undistinguished, lowest-common-denominator crap that forms the rapidly-shrinking bulk of American beer sales, namely BudMillerCoorsPabst, etc., etc., etc. People who drink that garbage and then try to rationalize an industry built primarily by Adolphus Busch – who hated his own product so much that he refused to drink it at all and called it “that slop” – are, to me, as purely deluded as the Soviet Politburo, which tried to take credit for nearly every human invention by executive fiat, as though truth is merely a product of telling the same lies enough times, with enough conviction.
Here’s what I know and I’ve said it before, here, but it bears repeating: Listen to your own tastes. Every time. What constitutes “good”, for every individual, is what they enjoy. If you don’t like French wine, NEVER let anybody tell you that you’re somehow deficient or unenlightened. Taste around, sample wines from a particular region before summarily dismissing that region but DO NOT – ever, for any reason – drink a wine and think “It must be good. Robert Parker/James Suckling/Steven Tanzer/Steve Body says it is.” If you try it and you don’t like it, it’s not good. Period. The only person you have to please is you.
There is nothing wrong with you if you don’t like imported beer. There is nothing wrong with you if you don’t like IPAs. There’s nothing bad about declining to drink a Chateauneuf du Pape. What becomes bad is when someone makes the decision to make someone else think they’re wrong for liking what they like. And that is nothing more, in any sense, that what I said before:
DON’T reward it with your trust…or your wallet.