Hipster School of Thought, No?

When BrewDog’s Sarah Warman asked the question above in relation to hype, it got us thinking, because the hipster school of thought (insofar as it really exists) is a slippery beast.

The term ‘hip­ster’ was invent­ed in the 1940s but has real­ly gained pop­u­lar­i­ty in the last decade as it has come to encap­su­late a cer­tain atti­tude to cul­ture and fash­ion, as expressed in this exam­ple of the ‘hip­ster barista’ inter­net meme:

Hipsters to change a lightbulb barista meme.

A hip­ster, in this con­text, is some­one who point­ed­ly refus­es to con­sume any­thing main­stream. If there’s some­thing you like, they liked it first, and now don’t like it, large­ly because you like it. They might also enjoy things ‘iron­i­cal­ly’ – ‘This obscure char­i­ty shop easy lis­ten­ing album is so bad its good.’

Where it gets con­fus­ing is that there are lay­ers of hip­s­ter­dom:

  1. Clas­sic Hip­ster reviles Band1 because they’re main­stream.
  2. But with­in hip­s­ter­dom, that makes Band1 non-main­stream.
  3. So the even-cool­er Super Hip­ster is inclined to like Band1.

"Likes Mainstream because hating mainstream is non-mainstream" hipster meme.

Let’s relate this to beer.

John Smith’s Smooth is main­stream so the Clas­sic Hip­ster despis­es it and drinks beer from a brew­ery you’ve prob­a­bly nev­er heard of, i.e. an obscure craft beer. But, as craft beer becomes increas­ing­ly main­stream, the Clas­sic Hip­ster begins to feel a creep­ing dis­gust until, sud­den­ly, CLASSIC HIPSTER HATES CRAFT BEER. But Clas­sic Hip­ster can’t drink John Smith’s, because that is also main­stream, so Clas­sic Hip­ster turns to… what? Turk­ish Whisky? Oxy­gen can­is­ters? If we knew the answer to this, we’d be cool.

Mean­while, Super Hip­ster uses irony to bypass all of that effort by just lik­ing, or claim­ing to like, John Smith’s. But how do you tell a hip­ster iron­i­cal­ly lik­ing John Smith’s from a per­son who actu­al­ly just likes John Smith’s? Because Super Hip­ster is com­pelled to broad­cast their love of John Smith’s, as part of their care­ful­ly curat­ed per­son­al brand.

So, to have anoth­er crack at answer­ing Sarah’s ques­tion, the beer hip­ster (if such a thing real­ly exists) wouldn’t get as far as being dis­ap­point­ed by a beer – they’d have a fixed view long before actu­al­ly tast­ing it based on its image and how that fits with their image.

For more con­sid­ered thoughts on ‘hip­ster’ and it use as a pejo­ra­tive in beer cul­ture, read this #Beery­Lon­gReads post by Chris Hall from ear­li­er in the year.

UPDATE 13/12/2014 08:30

We’re not sure we expressed our­selves very clear­ly here. The point we were try­ing to make is that the ‘hip­ster school of thought’, i.e. a wil­ful­ly con­trary stance in rela­tion to cul­ture, is prob­a­bly real, if hard to unrav­el; but that evi­dence of it rarely comes from the peo­ple so often lazi­ly labelled as hip­sters, i.e. young peo­ple wear­ing hats or with tat­toos.

26 thoughts on “Hipster School of Thought, No?”

  1. Doesn’t all one need to know is that some con­sid­er their per­son­al pref­er­ences “curat­ed”? It is the pre­sump­tion of con­trol of an exclu­sive supe­ri­or body of knowl­edge. It is a fake and a van­i­ty as well as, often, a cash grab.

  2. So, where does PBR fit into this? I had always tak­en it that its sta­tus as the icon­ic hip­ster beer was more down to it not being Bud than it not being Sier­ra Neva­da.

    That would mean the UK cousin is less like­ly to pro­fess a fond­ness for John Smith’s over Thorn­bridge, than punc­til­ious­ly insist on, say, Mann’s Orig­i­nal or Gold Label over John Smith’s or Car­ling.

    1. We had a para on PBR but delet­ed it because it was a bit tan­gen­tial. It’s some­how both obscure and main­stream, and we can’t think of many beers in the UK that occu­py that ter­ri­to­ry. When we were at uni­ver­si­ty, a lot of what would now be called hip­sters drank New­cas­tle Brown from the bot­tle, or Red Stripe, or (hard to imag­ine it hav­ing that sta­tus now) Guin­ness.

      We’re total­ly con­fused by all of this, per­haps because we’re out­side look­ing in, and from the wrong side of 35.

      1. Ah yes, Newkie Brown and Guin­ness def­i­nite­ly had the right air of periph­er­al retro-edgi­ness. Red Stripe I would have thought was a bit main­stream. Didn’t the Men Behav­ing Bad­ly alter­nate between Stel­la and Red Stripe?

        1. Red Stripe’s Jamaican ori­gins made it seem a bit hip­per than Stel­la, I think, and maybe it wasn’t adver­tised as heav­i­ly? Or only adver­tised in The Face or Vox or some­thing like that?

          Cer­tain­ly the case that no-one who was reck­oned to be even slight­ly cool want­ed to be seen with­in a quar­ter of a mile of a pint of cask ale – that was strict­ly for the Mon­ty Python and Pro­gres­sive Rock soci­eties…

  3. To be hon­est, I find that com­plaints about hip­sters often say a lot more about the per­son mak­ing the com­plaint than the peo­ple being com­plained about. It often seems to be a way of ratio­nal­iz­ing either the fact that some peo­ple enjoy things that you don’t or that some peo­ple you dis­ap­prove of enjoy things that you do – in either case by deem­ing their enjoy­ment to be inau­then­tic.

  4. Red Stripe still seems to be the dom­i­nant cool/hipster beer in SE Lon­don at least – cer­tain­ly was in the 2000s. Part of the rea­son is that the design looks great!

    And part of the rea­son PBR got big was because it was cheap – around $1 in many bars. God knows how the bars made any mon­ey.

    Remem­ber that there’s anoth­er dichoto­my between the proac­tive and reac­tive hip­ster – the for­mer always engag­ing in cre­ative destruc­tion and mov­ing on to the next thing (and thus risk­ing looking/being ridicu­lous), the lat­ter seem­ing­ly set­tled into a rea­son­ably sta­ble, safer lifestyle check­list of Time Out / Guardian small-batch, organ­ic, facial hair etc etc. Craft beer has pret­ty much end­ed up on that check­list, so it’s only a mat­ter of time before a back­lash kicks in from proac­tive hip­sters.

    Relat­ed­ly, I think there is a medi­um-sized oppor­tu­ni­ty for a crap­py Main­land Chi­nese lager e.g. Pearl Riv­er Delta, King­way to break into the art stu­dent mar­ket in the UK, not posi­tioned as pre­mi­um “exot­ic” brands but as super-every­day anony­mous work­ing stiff beers (with a hint of exot­ic).

  5. Hip­sters are often mid­dle­class peo­ple who are “in the know” about, or more appo­site­ly “hip to”, work­ing class or eth­nic-minor­i­ty cut­ting edge sub­cul­tures, and co-opt them. This was the nature of ear­ly c20 “beat­nik” hip­sters to who were among the first to have the term applied to them. Today’s hip­sters are much the same, but hero­in and jazz are out; cheap beer (PBR), tat­toos, truck­er caps (cer­tain­ly some years ago), the “wilder­ness look” (beards) and oth­er white work­ing class totems are in along with a heavy­dose of post­mod­ern irony.

    Hip­sters are just young, fash­ion­able peo­ple. As has been said, they have always been with us, always will be and will always attract deri­sion from oth­ers who think 1. actu­al­ly they know bet­ter and 2. sub­con­sciouly fear that the hip­ster is younger, more knowl­edge­able, cul­tured, bet­ter dressed, bet­ter look­ing, hav­ing a bet­ter time etc than them. Hence the seething resent­ment and relent­less cam­paign to under­mine and ridicule.

    What I have nev­er under­stood why they are asso­ci­at­ed with both PBR and craft beer. I think the link with craft beer is over­stat­ed.

  6. Any­one who holds their glass at eye lev­el, or sticks their nose in it or says ‘curat­ed’ is a #0!n@ and prob­a­bly doesn’t even like beer. By next year they’ll be fer­ment­ing beer with dried yak turds.

  7. Sirham­mer is pret­ty close to it, except the true Beat fig­ures and acolytes (broad­ly the equiv­a­lent of the “kitchen sink” writ­ers who emerged in the 50’s/60’s in Eng­land) had more of a spir­i­tu­al impe­tus, or spir­i­tu­al-lit­er­ary. They tend­ed to despise con­sumerism of any kind. What hap­pened was a fash­ion for the “beat­nik” took hold in the coun­try, and these were the hip­sters, some­times called beats and lat­er hip­pies. These peo­ple were not pri­mar­i­ly artists or questers but has sim­ply adopt­ed as a pose and lifestyle some of the exter­nal fea­tures of the Beat wave­length such as berets, black cloth­ing, jeans, beards (that part has nev­er gone away). So today’s hip­sters are firm­ly in the lat­ter mould and that’s fine.

  8. Well I’ve just read the blog and all the com­ments and realised for the first time I’ve final­ly found some­thing that makes me feel grate­ful for being a sad old git.

  9. Hey there! Tried com­ment­ing yes­ter­day but was on mobile and it kept skip­ping off the page. Tech­nol­o­gy woes!

    So! When you tweet­ed me back say­ing you’d be expand­ing into a blog post, I was real­ly intrigued to find out what it would say as I assumed you would be address­ing your orig­i­nal tweet, which mine was in response to.

    That tweet being:
    “Some­times seems there are pret­ty much two cat­e­gories of beer: those that don’t live up to the hype, and those which are nicer than expect­ed.”

    The point of my tweet was that your view in yours is rather dan­ger­ous giv­en sug­gest­ing that some­thing IS the case could lead to a pre­sump­tion that it WILL be the case.

    I used the hip­ster anal­o­gy as it’s gen­er­al­ly pret­ty under­stood as being “anti-cool”. Which is what I believed the opin­ion con­veyed in your tweet could lead to,

    It’s the poten­tial pre­dis­po­si­tion to believ­ing a beer with a lot of “hype”, to use your term, would be bor­ing and a beer with not much inter­est would be ace that I dis­agree with.

    The gen­er­al acknowl­edge­ment that it might be the case is accept­able, but I felt that where that could lead is not wise or to be encour­aged.

    My tweet was not ABOUT hip­sters, real or imag­i­nary, it was about hav­ing your own opin­ion and not let­ting any­thing effect a judge­ment on a beer before you’ve tried it.

    Now. Who wants to vis­it the Cere­al Cafe?

      1. Ah! Well I must admit, I total­ly missed that one! Apolo­gies. I think in con­text and read stand-alone, my above com­ment still stands, but we’re prob­a­bly agree­ing on the whole as I was also rather under­whelmed by Rule of Thirds. Which was dis­ap­point­ing.

  10. Men­tion­ing PBR brings up my ear­li­est rec­ol­lec­tions of hip­sters hav­ing been men­tioned in the media, in the late 90’s. That was in my Port­land, Ore­gon years, where “craft” beer had already been the big thing for a decade or so. And since such beer was the main­stream, Port­land hip­sters drank PBR and Hamm’s (and oth­ers of that ilk) instead. So, not that it was “not-Bud”, but it was “not-‘craft’ ”. But that was Ore­gon.

    Ger­many seems *rel­a­tive­ly* hip­ster-free in any case, though it’s chang­ing, as trends blow in from the west. Saw a young chap with a too-big wool cap, beard, and fun­ny shoes push­ing a pram down the street just this morn­ing, in fact.

    So much fun get­ting old.

    1. Thanks for the clar­i­fi­ca­tion Nick. It’s prob­a­bly safe to assume that the PBR-drink­ing hip­ster was export­ed from Ore­gon, just like all those hop­py craft beers.

  11. That’s a help­ful clar­i­fi­ca­tion from Sarah and a more fruit­ful line of argu­ment per­haps than using the “hip­ster” as a lens for under­stand­ing how peo­ple appre­ci­ate beer.

    I’d argue that sim­ply hav­ing your own opin­ion and not let­ting any­thing affect your judge­ment on a beer before you’ve tried it is near impos­si­ble in prac­tice and – cru­cial­ly – not even nec­es­sar­i­ly desir­able.

    Maybe a con­struc­tive way of fram­ing the ques­tion is – “Cer­tain notions and ideas in my head will affect the way I find, approach, expe­ri­ence and eval­u­ate new beers. Which notions and ideas are use­ful and pro­duc­tive in this process (and should thus be cul­ti­vat­ed), and which are mis­lead­ing or destruc­tive (and thus should be weed­ed out)?”

  12. A hip­ster is just some­one who cares more about the image an action projects rather than the enjoy­ment of the action itself.

    Hipsters/real ale bores, they’re all as bad as each oth­er. All that should mat­ter is what it tastes like.

  13. Many years ago I read a his­to­ry of punk type book and the author made a con­clu­sion that the only true punk was Poly Styrene of X Ray Spex because she real­ly was anti-estab­lish­ment, anti-con­sumer and vehe­ment­ly polit­i­cal­ly cor­rect. She was punk. Punk became a con­sumer brand, punks bought man­u­fac­tured punk band sounds and punk died about the same time that Elvis did not leave the toi­let. This open­ing has lit­tle to do with hip­sters but a com­pa­ny aim­ing for the alter­na­tive con­sumer mar­ket is offer­ing Equi­ty for Punks.
    Punks or hip­sters, it’s all mar­ket­ing strat­e­gy and all your pound are belong to us. As for flavour and skill and being on a mis­sion, how come Hop craft sel­dom get a men­tion. Per­haps the new wave punk scoop­ers and hop evan­ge­lists are too old. Or …

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