Much has been made over the past few years about the “wine-ification” of beer, including the now common statement, “Beer is the new wine.” Perhaps this is true. Beer, at least of the craft variety, has certainly become more popular. It is being paired with food more than ever, and even starting to show up in white tablecloth restaurants. There are even full-fledged beer geeks to go along with it. Sadly, some of the snobbery that wine has long been famous for has also pervaded the craft beer world.
In a recent discourse on a Facebook page supposedly dedicated to lovers of craft beer the statement was made that, “I don’t need to tell anyone that (insert macro lager here) is disgusting…” The writer goes on to talk about how a certain beer rating web site gives it a “D” and then goes on to say that the fact that it won an award at a recent judged event is “mind bottling” further showing how cool he is by using a variation on the phrase “mind boggling.” I think we can agree that this individual is clearly showing snobbish behavior. Of course, his response to anybody taking issue with this statement was to attack them to show that he had a superior grasp of the situation.
What causes this type of behavior, what makes a person who should be an enthusiast, a supporter for great beer, turn in to a snob who prefers to bash other beers, and by extension their drinkers, in the name of promoting his interests? There are a variety of reasons of course. The two biggest influencers are probably insecurity and a lack of general knowledge about beer. Because he doesn’t understand or know enough to make a cogent argument in favor of craft beer, he attacks the competition, first putting down the other product and then attacking anybody who dares to point out he might be mistaken. The insecurity part is clear…he knows that he doesn’t know as much as others and takes bold stands hoping to discourage any further conversation.
The wine world has learned that snobbery is not conducive to growing the brand, or in this case, the category. More and more the wine snobs have distanced themselves from snobbish attitude and, aside from occasional derogatory comments about people who put ice in their red wine, keep themselves pretty much on the geek side. It became a learned response to years of being put down for the way they treated what they considered inferior products and other drinkers. They learned that every wine has its place in the grand scheme of life and each and every drinker ultimately adds to the overall growth of wine as a business. Without that growth, the availability of rare or unusual wines may dry up, leaving the connoisseur with fewer choices.
So it may go with beer. Right now we are enjoying a bull market in beer. Brewers are making more and more great beers, and many of these are special releases. The market in limited release beer is so good right now, that people like the person in the second paragraph are putting down bars that open with multiple craft beer handles (like 40 or so craft handles) because their offerings aren’t exciting enough. These are people that don’t get it and probably never will. The craft beer world needs all types, they need the light beer drinker, they need the bars that support entry level craft beer, they need to be supportive of people who drink beers they consider lesser in quality to what they drink. And they need to do it all without being condescending or arrogant about it. The great beer served at a variety of outstanding bars in this country is dependent on all of the above. Every bar cannot, nor should it, open with 30 rotating tap handles specializing only in one-off beers that are brewed in such small quantities they are fully allocated before even getting on a truck for the ride from the brewery to wherever they are going.
No brewery (or winery) can survive exclusively with the snobs. Perhaps one or two brands within the family are great for the snobs, but if all they do is sell their limited release beer, then they won’t be in business very long. It is the flagship beers that make a brewery successful. Because people drink a lot of Dale’s Pale Ale, Oskar Blues can produce Ten FIDY every year; because people drink plenty of Bell’s Amber, we get the gift of Hopslam every January; and because Great Divide sells plenty of Denver Pale Ale and Titan, they are able to make Chocolate Oak Aged Yeti Imperial Stout…in fact they can make a whole lineup of Yeti beers.
So, next time you think you are promoting craft beer, take a minute and ask yourself if you are truly advocating what you drink, or are you putting somebody else down for their choice of what you perceive to be bad beer. The secret to the continued growth of craft beer is doing our best to eliminate the snobbery and put the focus on the positive. Being a beer geek is great for the industry, being a beer snob hurts it.
Cave Creek, AZ