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.

We will never taste what you taste

There are some champions of cask ale (quite a few) who truly seem baffled by how people can be at all impressed by kegged or bottled beer. They are no doubt sincere in finding cask ale a superior tasting product in almost every instance.

To that group of people, hearing us and others say that, occasionally, we prefer the kegged or bottled version of a beer, and that we frequently enjoy kegged beers, must seem irritating in the extreme.

In fact, they must feel pretty much how we do when we hear people say they “just can’t taste skunking“.

There’s a fundamental lack of mutual understanding which, unfortunately, could probably only be solved by a temporary swapping of tastebuds.

Note: there are also a large number of cask ale fanatics who are just awkward sods with a fondness for rigid rules and correcting people. That’s not who we’re talking about.

It's not only beer

In this article, amongst many excellent points, Pete Brown suggests that the fuss over the Oxford Companion to Beer highlights a lack of perspective on the part of some beer geeks, bloggers and writers. He says that, sometimes, people’s attitudes make him want to say: “Guys, get a grip – it’s only beer.”

But is it only beer?

We’ve written on a related subject before, pointing out that, as hobbyists, we know it’s just beer, but that taking it seriously is all part of the fun.

Telling real historians and scholars like Martyn Cornell and Ron Pattinson, however, that it’s only beer is like telling an archaeologist that the subject of his study is ‘just a load of muddy rubble’ and that he should stop being so anal about it. Yes, most specialist scholars have lost perspective, and thank God for that.

It’s through the efforts of people who take apparently insignificant things seriously, and spend time doing the kinds of back-breaking research others can’t be bothered with, that we learn more about our world and our history.

Beer is worthy of serious study and we should applaud those who undertake it, however nuts their obsession might sometimes seem to the rest of us.

P.S. We really don’t like wine very much. No pretending here.

Ten signs of a craft brewery

Stained glass pub window reading "Stout"

We were pondering the hard-to-define, much-loathed term “craft beer” again this morning and decided that, rather than a firm definition, it makes much more sense to think about indicators or signs.

The following list, off the top of our head, is not exhaustive and, clearly, we’re not suggesting that any brewery needs to be able to tick all ten to be considered to be making craft beer. Equally, some of these apply to breweries that, instinctively, we wouldn’t consider craft brewers.

So, this is just more food for thought, really.

1. They use malts like Maris Otter or even Plumage Archer because they want a particular flavour in their beer, rather than higher-yielding, cheaper varieties. This fact is mentioned on the packaging or on the website.

2. They might well produce single-hop beers or beers which prominently feature specific hops. Their choice of hops is driven by something other than the market. It is possible/easy to find out which varieties are used.

3. It is easy to find out where the beer is made — ideally because it is mentioned on the packaging. It does not pretend to be from somewhere else. (I.e. Belgium, Denmark, Newcastle.)

4. The brewers have their names and/or faces on the website or packaging. There are identifiable individuals making the beer. They might even be contactable on Twitter or through their own blogs.

5. They lager or age beer for extended periods even though it’s expensive to do so.

6. Their beers have vintages and change from year to year: they are not entirely focused on consistency.

7. There are signs of innovation led by the brewers rather than marketers or management.

8. The brewers are the management.

9. They make beer that makes you say “wow”, not “meh”. (A beer can be 3.8% abv, brown and hopped with Goldings and still make you go “wow”, by the way.)

10. They make a dark beer: they haven’t ceded this ground to Guinness.

Any others?

Update on the Oxford Companion to Beer

Since we wrote this somewhat positive but reserved review, there’s been plenty going on.

In a stroke of genius, Alan at A Good Beer Blog has set up a wiki so that readers of the Companion can identify and record errors. What’s particularly helpful, we think, is that he’s asked people to focus on just the facts, ma’am, and not to make it personal. This needn’t be narky, sarky nitpicking — it could be something really constructive and useful.

In fact, hippies that we are, we were hoping this whole discussion would turn into a kind of beer commmunity collaborative love-in.

Unfortunately, what he’s read so far has made Martyn Cornell angry (a bit too angry, maybe). Garrett Oliver, who edited the companion, seems to have taken it personally (it wasn’t, but then the book is his baby) and has responded with sarcasm and a point-by-point rebuttal. And Martyn has come back to that in the comments here. Yeesh. This could run and run.

Meanwhile, all this discussion has been met with cries of “pedantry” and “spoil-sports!” on Twitter and forums.

And we continue to find both bloopers and entries which give us hope. Ron Pattinson might not have much time for Horst Dornbusch, but Herr Dornbusch and Mr Oliver’s article on porter in the Companion cites Ron’s mini-book on the subject and (based on a quick read) gets the basics right. Most importantly, it refers to the story of Ralph Harwood inventing porter as a substitute for three threads as a myth, in no uncertain terms.

We still think the book is a good read as long as you read critically and don’t do anything daft like base an academic paper on its contents; and we certainly still think it’s a big step forward in terms of ambition for books about beer.

But our view has hardened a bit: it’s not pedantry, nitpicking or spoil-sport behaviour to expect a book which costs quite a lot of money to get the history right. Yes, maybe some of those pointing out errors could be a bit more gracious and take less obvious glee in finding them but, really, no-one should publish a book with some claim to academic rigour and be surprised when academics and historians challenge it. It’s all in the game.