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. Great stuff… But don’t you mean “unin­ter­est­ed” as opposed to “dis­in­ter­est­ed”?

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

  7. 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

  8. 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..

  9. 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.

  10. 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)

  11. 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… 😉

  12. 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.)

  13. 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.

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

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

  16. 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.

  17. 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? 😉

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. 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!

  21. 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?

  22. 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.

  23. 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.

  24. 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”.

  25. 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.

  26. 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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