If you drink and pretend to enjoy any beverage – from tea to Kombucha to single-malt Scotch – just because somebody in your social circle or some online forum you frequent says you should, you’re wasting huge and valuable chunks of your limited time here on Earth AND behaving like a major chump, in the bargain.
This whole screed was prompted by two things I read today online, one about beer and breweries and one dealing with the pursuit of sought-after wines. A person who I admire greatly called a brewery they were sitting in “The best brewery on the world”. This is a brewery which enjoys a massive reputation and which many people really do feel is the best in the world.
It is not.
There is no such thing as “the best brewery in the world”. Because “best” is always a subjective judgment, naming something “best” is always going to be either the statement of one person’s tastes or a crowd-sourced (even if the “crowd” consists of so-called “experts”) tally arrived at, usually, by compiling the votes of a group of people whose knowledge of the subject they’re voting on is unverifiable. That’s the whole story with ratings for beers as shown on BeerAdvocate and RateBeer. They use the ratings assigned by random people who are sufficiently interested in the subject to click by and assign numbers, even if that person has no real working knowledge of the beer or style of beer they’re rating. That ridiculous “Beer Town USA” poll which ran in examiner.com was a classic example, too: a website whose readership is largely in non-urban areas of the US, allowing anyone who wants to vote, even if they’re far more moved by regional or local pride than beer erudition. Result? Asheville, North Carolina, a tiny mountain town which has a fair number of breweries in and about, winds up marshaling a legion of regional fans and wins the “title”. Now, drunk on this “success”, Asheville’s Chamber of Commerce makes all manner of wild claims about being the beer epicenter of America, having more breweries per capita than any other US city (they don’t; they’re actually barely in the top five) and that the idea they constantly promote that New Belgium and a couple of other breweries building satellite facilities in the surrounding areas is some sort of validation of their beer quality. Sigh. As a native North Carolinian and someone who dearly loves Asheville, this makes me almost ill…because that brewing scene, instead of being allowed to grow and learn and hone its craft, is expected to rise to world-class levels NOW…and hasn’t. If all the little mouths who are so rabid to make Asheville “Beer Town USA”, right freakin’ NOW, would just wait ten years, a reasonable case could probably be made…but not if Denver, Fort Collins, San Diego, Seattle, Portland, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Bend, Oregon, Poulsbo, Washington, and Hood River, Oregon, keep growing, too.
I have worlds of respect for my friend who made that claim about that brewery and I write it off to being in the place with friends, on a glorious day, laughing, enjoying great beers, and getting swept away by the Moment. Happens to everybody. But those words being floated out there, being read by people eager for yet another “fact” from the internet to latch onto, and lacking the sense or personal curiosity to actually do some research and find out if the words have any validity, will parrot that nonsense…and yet another beer myth takes root.
When you read a “Best Of…” list here, I want you to remember something while reading it: These are MY opinions and not a damned thing more. The only credibility they have is whatever you decide to grant them. I don’t feel at all hesitant about recording them here, for all and sundry to enjoy or take pot shots at, because I’ve spent, in terms of beer research, the entire 43 years since writing my first beer review in 1973 studying and tasting and – by far most importantly – selling beer to curious Americans who want to know more about what was, at first, imported beers, and is now a rapidly-expanding universe of US craft beers and the culture that’s arisen around them. I’ve seen, at the closest possible point of contact, what they like to drink and what they find questionable. And I can tell you this: in terms of wine and spirits, those real preferences have changed hardly at all in the past 25 years. In beer terms, they’ve changed radically but only because beer itself has changed; grown so much stylistically that it bears NO resemblance to what we all sought after in 1978.
The Pour Fool – as I’ve said a hundred times and will hundreds more – is NOT written for the hard-core beer geeks who fancy themselves as final authorities on All Things Beer and assume that whatever they and six or eight geeks in their posse think is Cool is all that matters. The Pour Fool is written to give average beer-loving people some things to look into, other ideas to think about, to pull back the curtain a little about three industries which tend to get obscured by adulation and false glamour when the simple reality of them is far more interesting and compelling: Real American craftspeople, working as hard as any plumber or carpenter or house-painter, and not only crafting their best examples of the things we already know and love but creating, reinventing their craft daily, sometimes with little or no template. All those new American artisan Whiskeys, the new wave of smart, no-nonsense winemakers, the people who conceive of that notorious Pumpkin Peach Ale and the Blueberry Brett ale and the Imperial Stout infused with oyster shells and the revivals of “lost” styles like Gose and Radler and Sours – these stories are complicated and engrossing enough without loading anyone down with the boat anchor of “Best Brewery In The World”.
The process of growing and constantly improving at any craft is not a smooth upward curve. People who literally reinvent their culture on a consistent basis have to be allowed the occasional dud, the clunker that simply doesn’t work because that is the price that the universe extracts for allowing achievement and greatness. I’ve named, recently, Reuben’s Brews as Washington’s Best Brewery because I believe that to be the case. I did it with little hesitation because I think Adam Robbings, Reuben’s owner/brewmaster, has his head on straight enough to take some praise from me in his stride. Writing that walks a knife-edge that is the constant battle between proper and well-deserved recognition – that thing which every craftsperson craves and needs to let their business survive – and idiotic, fan-boy hyperbole. “The Best Brewery In The World” is the latter. Should that have been said, by that person who wrote it? Absolutely, as long as that person is willing to own it and not regret it later.
Should you and I read it and take it to heart?