Note: In my previous post, I wrote about the now well known, recently debuted Budweiser television ad which took some shots at craft beer and its drinkers. I’m sure you’ve seen the ad by now, and likely remember those three very serious looking men sitting around a table contemplating their craft beer in a very studious fashion. In my opinion, their actions make them look more like beer judges than anyone I’ve ever shared a beer with, craft or otherwise. Nevertheless, the idea was to paint with a broad stroke, depicting craft beer folks as too serious for their own good, and certainly not as fun to hang with as the average ‘Bud’. Of course, craft folks are not all like that, not even close. But there are a few among us who take things a bit too seriously at times, so at the risk of eliciting some blowback from craft beer fans themselves, I’ll just say it – that shot in the Bud ad? A few of us – few, mind you – just might have had it coming. Read on if you’d like.
The New Yorker Magazine’s October ’14 issue was looked upon by some as a truly notable moment in the overall growth of craft beer. Part of the issue was dedicated to the growth of craft beer in New York City, as apparently some of the Big Apple’s trendiest of restaurants were beginning to embrace craft either on its own or in regularly featured food pairings on their menus. Yes, craft beer was finally getting some overdue recognition among the food and beverage elite. But before any reader would be able to truly dig into to the meat of the coverage within the magazine’s pages, there was that cover. It depicted a waiter at a busy New York eatery delivering a bottle of craft beer to a seated patron, wine bottle presentation style. A towel is draped over the waiter’s forearm as he awaits tableside for the patron’s acceptance of the beer, who is busy swishing a first sip around in his mouth, head tilted to one side and nose in the air in intense contemplation. The classic references to the stereotypical image of a boorish, aloof wine connoisseur and his behavior are impossible to miss. Sure, it’s important to note that the artist behind the drawing is well known for his satirical style, as many who design the magazine’s covers are – again, it’s the New Yorker. But as the magazine clearly states at the end of the artwork’s description of the artwork: “It’s an unprecedentedly excellent time to drink beer in Brooklyn, as the cover suggests”, but then concludes, “Just don’t become a snob about it.”
Such a suggestion might seem only cautionary for those who are still easing into craft beer. But for those of us who have been following craft beer for a bit longer, we know that for many who troll in the craft beer world, it is already too late. All one needs to do is to spend a few minutes occasionally perusing discussion boards on otherwise informative beer websites such as BeerAdvocate.com to see a fair share of verbal beat downs, born out of one person disagreeing with another over the quality of a particular beer, brewery, or even beer producing region of the country. It’s a discussion that often devolves quickly into childish, “Are you kidding me? I wouldn’t wash my car with that beer” sorts of statements.
In their most wobbly of defenses, some might say that the most elitist of craft beer fans have a right to such opinions. After all, tasting beer is a subjective endeavor. We’re not solving math equations. As each of us moves from one IPA to another, one milk stout to another, and from one Pappy Van Winkle barrel aged Vietnamese coffee infused imperial stout to another, favorites will develop. One (or two or three) will stand out over the others. Our opinions are going to be ever changing, and this is all a very natural experience – for everyone. But while some choose to champion a personal favorite and intelligently and respectfully debate it with others, for others, the idea of the personal tasting experience is forgotten. Their opinions on certain beers seem to become absolute facts, points to be argued across the virtual craft beer world as well as across the bar, and here is where the problem begins. Though there are those beers (and breweries) which the great majority of us seem to agree on, the idea that any beer should be accepted by all is, by nature, impossible. Never encountered such negative discussions? Here were just a couple titles of BeerAdvocate.com discussion boards that were occurring when the New Yorker issue was released: “Most Overrated Brewery” and “What Beer Are You Drain Pouring Now?”.
So what’s the danger in such behavior? Just look the other way, right? At the very least, such behavior can cast one heck of a black cloud over everyone’s otherwise positive enjoyment of craft beer. But at its worst, such elitist behavior can be exclusionary. It can divide people who might otherwise have leaned on each other for information at the least, or at the worst, just might have shared a beer together one day. Need any evidence of how dangerous an aloof beer drinker, or even just the image of one, can be? Just take another look at that Bud commercial again. Those craft beer guys in the Budweiser commercial are not far off from the seated patron on the New Yorker Magazine cover. The ad is banking on keeping its loyal customer from straying too far and becoming too curious about craft beer. I mean, who would want to hang out with those guys anyway…right?
And while it’s important to note that those “types” are just a small percentage of the craft community, unfortunately, they often seem to be the most vocal. Or perhaps they stick out because they are more than willing to do what the rest of us are at least respectful enough not to, even if we do harbor similarly unwavering opinions – keep them to ourselves. I suppose the same internal struggle that causes one to form such wholly negative opinions about typically beloved beers and breweries is the same problem that would cause one to want to blast it all over the internet. Nevertheless, while it’s difficult to imagine someone thinking that breweries such as Bells, Founders, and Cigar City are overrated – in the end, to each his or her own – unfortunately, it’s all too easy to find those opinions in the most common of craft beer forums.
Some may remember such a thread from early 2012, which gained notoriety after it received a terse online response from none other than Dogfish Head owner Sam Caligione. In his rebuttal, he noted how “pretty depressing it is to visit this site [referring to the discussion threads on BeerAdvocate.com] and see the most negative threads among the most popular”, referring partially to those who claim a particular brewery is overrated, but then go on to list several of that brewery’s beers which they care for. But towards the end of the response, he got even more to the point of calling out those who forget just how subjective tasting beer is, and then broadcast negativity to the craft beer scene through their opinions. Referring to two beers his brewery would be providing samples of at an upcoming event, he noted how different the two would be from each other. “Each of your palettes is unique, [so] you will probably prefer one over the other,” before appropriately adding, “that doesn’t mean the one you didn’t prefer sucked. Respect beer.” As many others noted at the time, I couldn’t have said it better, but if I may add – let’s respect each other too.