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.

  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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