Beware snobbery but not afraid of change

There’s a fine line between enthusing about better beer and being a snob.

It’s something that’s been on Tandleman’s mind lately. Pivni Filosof, Velky Al and numerous others over the years have posted variations on the point that, for many of us, beer’s appeal is, in large part, that it’s not pretentious, expensive or exclusive.

Even some posts for Session #58, including our own, reflected the same anxiety.

And it’s certainly something that’s worth being vigilant about. “Am I being a dick about this?” is probably a good question to ask yourself from time to time.

Having said that, we mustn’t let this thoughtfulness lead us to the false conclusion that, to be true to the roots of beer, we need to embrace shite pubs and crappy products. After all, eating greasy, grey meat pies might be ‘traditionally working class’, but they just don’t taste nice, and surely it’s a good thing that lots of ordinary people are now enjoying more interesting, tastier food and that the good stuff isn’t just reserved for the nobs? (In fact, is this the opposite of snobbery…?)

The “craft beer revolution” is real — you only have to look at London to know it — but, even if your town isn’t directly touched by it (Bridgwater is probably never going to have a stripped pine and chrome, forty tap craft beer bar, for example) the very fact that the idea that the idea of good beer is being talked about (in newspapers, on TV) will eventually reach every corner of the market, even if only in a modest way.

Six degrees of beer appreciation

1. Snobbery. Making a big deal about buying beer because it is expensive or exclusive. No friends.

2. Fussy. Offending people and/or causing social awkwardness in the pursuit of good beer.

3. Discerning. Drinking the best beer available for the occasion. (A fine line between this and the above.)

4. Interested. Being aware of the idea that there is good and bad beer and trying to choose the former. Can lead to accidental snobbery.

5. Disinterested Uninterested. Not interested in beer at all. Missing out.

6. Oblivious. What do you mean “good beer”? All beer is good! Wa-hey! Happiness.

7. Inverse snobbery. Drinking bad beer because to do otherwise would be pretentious. Misery.

 

Note: if you’ve posted on this subject — lots of people have — let us know and we’ll add a link.

Zac at Pavement and Beer for Peace

Sean Liquorish wants bland mainstream lagers to be tastier.

Pivni Filosof has touched on this subject here, here and here.

The Pub Curmudgeon reckons the ‘craft beer revolution’ is an exclusive bubble disconnected from most people’s experience of beer.

36 thoughts on “Beware snobbery but not afraid of change”

  1. Absolutely spot on!

    I must admit that when I started discovering better beer I was very much in the 2nd category you listed but as I have (hopefully) grown up a bit I find myself more and more in the 3rd category.

    One thing that I find constantly irritating with the more vocal beer snobs, especially on certain websites, is the arrogance they display in trying to tell breweries and pubs the kinds of beers they should brew/serve in order to cater to their particular sub-group of the beer world. Usually it involves ripping up said brewery/pub’s business plan and selling super hoppy pale ales or super hoppy black ales. If they are that ardent in their pursuit of hoppy ales perhaps putting their money where their mouth are is the answer?

    Rant over.

  2. You know what seems to never get mentioned? That beer is a drug that tends to make one introspective. The more complex the taste experience – or the social one for that matter – at the time the drug of introspection is consumed, the more elaborate the subjective experience. Booze entrenches and it also entrenches itself. It is both insidious and core to the beer drinking experience. The booze experience. When we start to express about that, it can make little sense to someone who is not in the same space or who has never had the temporary transformation, never dipped their toe into McLuhan’s warm bath.

  3. Great post and excellent hyperlinks within.

    I somewhat unsuccessfully attempted this topic here and considered the alternative as “gentleman dabbler” here. The Beer and Whiskey Bros. have some excellent infographic here on the topic of beer snobbery.

  4. Great post!

    What you describe is a bit of a natural thing, and it happens not only with beer. Everyone at some point or another, after discovering something “better” tend to feel smarter than the rest. There are a few, unfortunately, that will never leave that stage and will end up becoming snobs. The inverse snobs are perhaps even worse.

  5. Isn’t it snobbish, though, to sneer at the working class for liking greasy grey pies? Or John Smith’s Extra Smooth?

  6. I got told by a well known beer writer with several books to his name to “get over myself” last when I wrote this week, criticizing carling on producing such bland beers. http://www.seanliquorish.co.uk/blog/?p=664. Personally I’d put myself as a social discerning as a beer drinker, I prefer a nice distinctive beer, but will happily drink a peroni, heinekin, or other good premium lager if the situation dictates it

    1. Sean, I was rude to you, for which I apologise, but the point I was trying to make was that if some people like Stella, it’s wrong to sneer. That’s their right. Although I was in a bar last night in Hong Kong that has an excellent range of beers, from Gale’s Prize Old Ale to Orval, and an Englishman in his early 30s walked in and ordered a pint of Stella, and I confess that inwardly I sneered mightly (albeit I felt slightly guilty about it.)

      1. Martyn

        We all have our opinions, and you have your right to comment on my work as does anybody. Apology accepted, although not needed. My piece for this week (I always publish on a thursday as that is print day for the magazine, thus the embargo) is a response to feedback and other issues raised in the comments here.

        I’ve clarifed what I meant in that piece as well as citing example of big breweries moving outside their core range and how if big breweries are willing to take a risk, then they have the resources to make it work mass market.

        Sean

  7. Zac — will add some links. Thanks.

    Ant — yes, it seems we do! Post amended…

    After posting this, we were talking about examples of snobbery in real life and remembered a former colleague of mine who considered himself a ‘wine expert’. He’d been on courses, tasting weekends, etc.., but his expertise only ever manifested itself in ordering “the most expensive wine you have” and sneering at other people’s wine. Fun guy.

    Alan — the one thing we can convey, though, is how exciting finding a good beer can be. The exact flavours, probably not, but the sense that a particular beer has lots of them and that they made us smile, yes. It doesn’t hurt that our beer tasting, by the time it gets reported here, is usually already moderated by the fact that we’ve had to agree between us on what we tasted. Not objective, but not entirely subjective either.

    PF — I know you’ve written about this — point us to a post and we’ll link to it!

    Al — I was thinking about how one of the least beer-snobbish nights out we’ve ever had was with you, PF and Evan Rail in Prague. We were drinking great beer, but I seem to recall that the conversation was mostly: “Wow! That’s good!” (lipsmacking) “Let’s get some cheese!” Not much talk of “notes of lychee” etc. etc..

  8. Fluegas — hello. No sneering here! People should eat and drink what they want if they enjoy it, but it seems unfair for people to be stuck with the stuff that’s cheapest to make, from the cheapest ingredients, because they’ve not tried anything else, while the middle and upper classes get the good stuff.

  9. Sean — interesting, and rather blunt language from Martyn! Will add a link to that post. I guess I know what he means, though — there’s no point in trying to force other people to drink a beer they don’t want to. As we point out above, not being that bothered about or sensitive to how beer tastes is probably a lot more fun than being a beer geek, in many ways.

    1. I agree with you, next weeks column will be partly a repost to the comment and I will make a similar point regarding the beer geek comment.

      My point was to call for the majors to promote more interesting beers to the millions of existing customers, there are a percentage of people who would drink anything from a certain brewery, so if you can get those then you have got the “foot in the door”.

      It doesn’t just happen in beer, but also food, I can’t understand why people don’t like onions in food, they add so much flavour, but my wife cannot stand them and never will, even in premade foods such as pies. (my food tastes may not be totally normal though, as I add chilli sauce to anything that it’ll work with, so my taste buds aren’t exactly normal)

  10. I imagine all beer drinkers have been at different points of your six degrees as they’ve gone along, often in a different order. It’s a moving target. I think beervangelism has a place, but these days I wouldn’t be that bloke at the bar making suggestions. But I have been.

    It’s a bit of a colour-supplement proposition, that what we eat and drink is reflective of ‘lifestyle’, some aspirational self-image bolstered by our ‘labels’. Of course, I’m ‘ordinary people’, so I would say that… 😉

  11. Sid — that’s just it, though — if you’re eating and drinking it because it’s part of a lifestyle you aspire to, it’s connected with snobbery. If, on the other hand, you eat or drink it because it makes your knees go wobbly and gets you all excited, it’s an honest reaction, and nothing to be ashamed of.

    (BTW, although I’m a middle class twat now, I wasn’t as a nipper — “ordinary people” is my prefered term for, you know, the people that make up the massive bulk of the population… it’s the middle and upper classes who are the odd-ones-out.)

  12. I’ve somehow spoken about this topic here and have also dealt with, though idirectly, in this post and this post. Both are about the idea of “beer culture”. Some people in Spain, for example, believe that the cañita with a tapa at the bar isn’t beer culture because the beer happens to be crap and people don’t know the first thing about how it’s made, about styles, etc. Which is a bit snobbish, if you think of it.

  13. Fluegas — oh, and if we are sneering, it’s at the pies and the Extra Smooth, not the people that eat and drink them!

  14. Not sure it would hold up to scrutiny from anyone with a philosophy degree but it makes sense to us…

  15. After all these years of finding and writing about beer I am not sure where I sit. I have a tendency to only write about beer I enjoy, or at least be honest without being brutal – spare a thought for all that work put into the brewing. In the end it is all about taste, and enjoying what you have without bei an arse.

  16. It is interesting that Mudgie, me, Al, Pivni and now you are worrying about this snobbery thing. Do you think there might be something in it? 😉

  17. I’m always in search of the next new exciting beer, although when I say new I may well be referring to something that has been around for years that I just haven’t tried yet. That said, it’s sad to say that on occasion the fridge is full of beers that I am reluctant to drink now (always later).

    When pub drinking I like to try anything and everything, I love a changing guest ale selection and generally gravitate to those beers first. I was brought down to earth a little recently when drinking a long established breweries beers that I’d often bypassed in recent months, in realising that hey, this stuff is really nice beer, I drank it all night.
    As Bailey’s comment above states, definitely something to keep an eye on.

  18. It’s maybe not so much the element of snobbery that concerns me as the deliberate self-exclusion of “beer enthusiasts” from the mainstream.

    One of the great things about the original “real ale revolution” was that CAMRA was saying “here are superb, artisanal beers, bursting with character, that are drunk by ordinary people in down-to-earth pubs and if anything cost less than the mass-market brews”.

    If the beer enthusiasts increasingly retreat into dedicated “gourmet” pubs then that has been lost. And, for every person who confines himself to the craft beer bar, that’s one less reason for the other pubs to expand their beer range beyond the ordinary.

  19. Curmudgeon — ah, I understand your concern a bit better now. I don’t think that’s going to happen, though, anymore than the existence of upmarket restaurants has put the fish and chip shop out of business. As I said in a comment at your place, the craft beer bar is at one extreme with a whole lot of good stuff inbetween there and the grottiest pubs. We do most of our drinking in what I think are normal pubs, although we do tend to aim for those which we know have at least *one* decent beer.

    I’m not sure many people can afford to restrict themselves solely to craft beer bars — they are very expensive! They are certainly an occasional treat for us.

    Hopefully, their positive effect on the whole market is to set a higher bar for the quality/variety of beer overall, even if that only manifests in more ordinary pubs getting a couple of more interesting bottled beers in the fridge.

    As you reported with Robinson’s (?) the other week, and as we’ve seen with St Austell down here and Fuller’s in London, the competition is driving experimentation and a bit more bravery on the part of big regional brewers, too.

    On balance — and there might be a post in this at some point — I think the beginning of the current “craft beer revolution” probably was the founding of CAMRA!

  20. “On balance — and there might be a post in this at some point — I think the beginning of the current “craft beer revolution” probably was the founding of CAMRA!”

    I have long thought that without CAMRA there would be no “craft” is what I wrote in this post here

    Most of what CAMRA supports is “craft” by its implied UK “definition”. No idea either why we think the Yankee version is one to be followed. 6 million barrels? It rises so that the amount of “craft” beer rises as so many “craft” brewers are now huge. (Sierra, Anchor etc.)

    If it didn’t the amount of “craft” beer sold in the US would be in decline. Muddy waters indeed.

    PS Have you no preview option for comments?

  21. Tandleman — last time we tried to improve our comments box, it brought the site down. Will have another go now things have stabilised. (No subscribe function either, which is a bit crap.)

    We tend to think of CAMRA as the first step in a process of recovery from two world wars and the attendant decline in the quality of food and drink that they caused. (Massive oversimplification alert.) All we’re seeing, really, is a return to a kind of normality where there are lots of breweries, or different sizes, making wider ranges of beer of better quality. The more comments I read, the more I realise that some of the prickliness about ‘craft beer’ comes from the idea that is is different/opposed to ‘real ale’. In our minds, it’s definitely not — they’re parts of the same beast.

  22. Definitely not buying that idea of No Craft Without CAMRA. The exact consolidation and subsequent downgrading of the beer market that CAMRA set out to prevent in the UK actually happened here, and we now have a rapidly growing craft beer movement.

    The UK beer scene would certainly be different, and I don’t doubt worse. But consisting entirely of crap lager, smooth bitter and Guinness? Nonsense.

  23. Most of the early microbreweries in the UK were just aiming to produce their own take on the standard British beer styles. Often, though not always, they made better beers than the big-volume ones, but their main point of differentiation was “small is beautiful”. It’s only really in the last ten years that there has been the conscious experimentation with styles, flavours and ingredients that is what, in this country at least, tends to be associated with the term “craft beer”.

  24. Curmudgeon — when we say “making wider ranges of beer”, we’ve got in mind mild, stout, porter, etc.., not just the Cranberry Pale Sour Stout type stuff. You only have to look at Ron Pattinson’s tables to see the huge range of beers many breweries were producing pre-WWI, even if many of them were just variations on the same themes.

  25. The pre-WW1 era was so different from today that any comparisons are of limited value. And, at least until the 1970s, many brewers did continue to produce a surprisingly wide range of beers. Look in the GBGs of that era and you will see than plenty made two or even three milds, plus a seasonal old ale, alongside their standard one or two bitters. Plus they may have produced beers such as sweet stout and barley wine that only went into bottle.

    Even the 1950s was really “another country”. While there were far more small family brewers, many of them were poorly run and made inconsistent beer that was prone to yeast infections and other quality faults. Also, as I understand it, in those days the standard of cellarmanship was often very poor and temperature control, except where there was a naturally cool cellar, non-existent. Hence the huge rise in bottled beer sales in that era. All too often the small brewers of the day were glad to have Eddie Taylor or Colonel Whitbread buy them out because they no longer had the motivation to run the business.

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