Saturday, July 6, 2013

Beer Snobs And The People Who Hate Them

We can all agree, beer is a fun product, right?

That's the crux of its entire format; beer is the fun beverage. The patron booze of great times, beer is represented whenever people want to kick up their frivolities another notch with the help of something alcoholic - from frat parties to stadiums, beer is simply a reliable and approachable libation, comforting as an old friend. Upon inspection, it could be this very fact that has set beer's significance and presence as a significantly sophisticated beverage has been arguably stunted, but that, as so often, is a discussion for another time.

I don't likely have to sing its praises for you but I'll go ahead do it anyway: beer tastes good, it looks pretty, it gets you buzzed (or stupid silly wasted if your dad is paying, the beers are strong, and there's an important debate to have with friends regarding app development). It can have fun names, like Raging Bitch or Santa's Butt, gorgeous labels and elegant representation and supreme chuggability and unparalleled sophistication and everything in between and, oh, hey, I love beer.

But as much I adore beer and how it has ingrained itself into my life, I still recognize one significant fact:

It's only beer.

What do I mean by that? Well, beer has become, for a lot of people, a very snobby product. While the trend isn't necessarily new, it appears to be manifesting in a much more visible manner in the past few months, and the trend is, at best, pretty annoying, and at worst, potentially damaging to the craft beer industry.

"But Ben," you guys wonder, possibly aloud and to no one in particular, "aren't you a beer snob?" True, I have used that term to describe myself in the past, casually and playfully, abstracting to a point that I had intended to succinctly convey that "I'm a dude who knows his beer."

But upon some delightful interaction with some individuals who truly deserve the title, I've decided to retire it from my vernacular. Call me a beer aficionado. Or better yet, a ZythologistBut some would probably disagree: I am absolutely a beer snob.

Which is why I propose the "Ben's Super Official Hierarchy of Acceptable Levels of Beer Snobbery." Let's take this chart from FunnyOrDie as an example.

According to this, I'm some sort of hybrid between Snob, Egalitarian and Explorer, which I'm ok with, really. I suppose the snobby aspects that remain ingrained in me are the, dare I say it, disdain, I have for Big Beer. I die a bit inside every time I watch someone walk away with a Bud Light Platinum, which pulls me away from Egalitarian and into the snob territory. Super Bowl proved to be especially tortuous; after drinking the wonderful offerings from Abita, to be subjected to dramatically overpriced Bud Lite Lime on game day.

In the absence of good beer, I will drink "pondwater swill" (I was in a frat, after all), but it's not a good product, and for every instance where an InBev product would be appropriate, there's almost certainly a craft beer that will do it better, and, increasingly, for a similar price.

A bizarre local "cocktail" we had on a trip back home to MD. When in Rome, I guess. (It was surprisingly "not bad").  

"But I want something I can drink all day outside." Don't we all? How about Lagunitas Pils? or Scrimshaw? Krombauer? The point is, if occasionally scoffing at a lesser product puts me in the snob category, I guess I deserve it. But I'm far from the worst out there, which brings us back to the original point: Beer Snobs (the extreme ones) beer snob culture sucks.

It's especially apparent in Los Angeles. Allow me to offer a few bullet points that I have experienced with these lovely zealots:

  • A beer bar that considers itself so exceptionally wonderful that they won't let you alter anything on the menu 
  • Customers who say things like "I don't drink an IPA unless it's never been warm."
  • Breweries that would rather opt out of an entire beverage chain if they can't be promised fridge space 
  • People who hunt down special rarities with obnoxious fervor and will accept no substitutes

It's all a bit silly, really. I think the beer industry, by and large, does a very good job of maintaing a sense of self-awareness and the sense of fun that I so appreciate about beer. In the era of barrel-aging and dry hopping and champagne styles, there is still a sense of adventure that manages to stop short of being stuffy. Still, some beer snobs seem hellbent on taking beer into the direction of the stuck up wine tastings, where they conjure into their self-congratulatory circles discussions of flavor profiles they may or not be perceiving. 

The guy who told me, straight-faced, that he did not drink IPAs that were allowed to warm, struck a particularly hilarious chord to me. Hop Jocks (the bros who dismiss a beer if it's under IBUs) are annoying to begin with, but this guy was particularly if only because of the tremendous number of flaws in his logic:
  1. IPA...means India Pale Ale. Ale means the yeast require warmer temperatures. Meaning that the beer was warm at one point.
  2. Decent as the transport system is with beer distribution, there are bound to be some hiccups where the beer isn't going to be kept cold, especially where companies lack the space/resources to maintain cold storage (read: almost everywhere). 
  3. I appreciate where he was coming from: the fresher the hops are allowed to remain, the better the flavor, and refrigeration allows the flavor to maintain longer (this is the whole idea behind Stone's Enjoy By). But those are special releases - for the casual (but still excellent) IPAs, a bit of exposure to room temperatures (not hot temperatures) will not affect the flavor in any discernible way. 
Equally frustrating are the accept-no-compromises, devout beer soldiers, who call ahead and demand you set aside their barrel-aged, limited edition-what-have-you and get visibly angry when told it, despite your efforts to conjure their requests out of thin air, has not arrived yet. 

And don't get me started on Pliny the Elder...(yeah, I went there. It's really good. But damn people your Pliny the Elder boners are getting out of control, it's a great IPA not a damn miracle elixir). 

I suppose that my ranting at all about anything concerning beer would be construed as silly by most and automatically relegates me to "Snob" status, and I suppose I must accept it with some grace. I just hope that the industry is able to maintain its lighthearted and jovial nature while it takes the steps toward wider acceptance of its sophistication.

Just a thought.