QUICK POST: Bourdain Isn’t a Beer Guy

Anthony Bourdain with Nigella Lawson.
SOURCE: CNN, via Eater.com.

Celebrity chef and food opiner Anthony Bourdain has given an interview to Thrillist in which he has harsh words to say about craft beer and its culture:

I would say that the angri­est cri­tiques I get from peo­ple about shows are when I’m drink­ing what­ev­er con­ve­nient cold beer is avail­able in a par­tic­u­lar place, and not drink­ing the best beer out there. You know, I haven’t made the effort to walk down the street 10 blocks to the micro­brew­ery where they’re mak­ing some fuck­ing Mum­ford and Sons IPA

Now, Thril­list is a fright­ful den of click­bait, and craft beer types are eas­i­ly bait­ed, but Mr. Bour­dain often has inter­est­ing thoughts and in this case, he makes some good points. For exam­ple, this…

[The] entire place was filled with peo­ple sit­ting there with five small glass­es in front of them, filled with dif­fer­ent beers, tak­ing notes. This is not a bar. This is fuck­ing Inva­sion of the Body Snatch­ers. This is wrong. This is not what a bar is about.

…is prob­a­bly fair com­ment if you accept that the ide­al bar or pub is a live­ly, even rau­cous place, which we do, on the whole. He prob­a­bly wouldn’t like us much – we do enjoy over-think­ing beer – but some places are too church-like and ster­ile even for us.

Hav­ing said that, the kind of bar he describes above hasn’t replaced, and isn’t in com­pe­ti­tion with, a live­ly dive bar full of char­ac­ters. If it didn’t exist, the clien­tele wouldn’t be toss­ing back shots and lager and danc­ing on the tables – they’d prob­a­bly be at a cafe, or at home watch­ing TV, or in the library. And, just as with the oth­er extreme – the rough pub – it’s per­fect­ly fine to walk in and walk straight out if you don’t like the vibe.

There is some­thing weird, too, about the idea that this kind of estab­lish­ment, and the kind of beer it sells, is some­how threat­en­ing ‘nor­mal’ beer: it’s still real­ly, real­ly, real­ly easy to get stan­dard lager the length and breadth of the UK, for exam­ple. A gen­er­al point: crit­ics of craft beer cul­ture need to make up their minds whether craft beer is a minor­i­ty diver­sion enjoyed only by a hand­ful of freaks, or an exis­ten­tial threat – it sure­ly can’t be both, can it?

His com­ments are prompt­ed by frus­tra­tion at nag­ging by craft beer drinkers and we can cer­tain­ly under­stand how annoy­ing that must be. When we saw that he’d been to the pub with Nigel­la Law­son the oth­er week we felt a moment’s irri­ta­tion that he drank Guin­ness – there’s so much great stuff in the UK, even before you get into the fan­cy-pants craft end of the mar­ket! – but didn’t feel moved to tell him off about it on social media. Oth­ers did. As they do every time he drinks any beer on any of his shows. And as they are doing now in response to this arti­cle in which he com­plains about being berat­ed on social media by beer geeks. We sense that lec­tur­ing him might be counter-pro­duc­tive – leave the bloke alone. In fact, leave every one alone: STOP TELLING PEOPLE THE BEER THEY ARE DRINKING IS THE WRONG BEER UNLESS THEY SPECIFICALLY ASK YOU FOR ADVICE!

Final­ly, this bit of nuts-and-bolts behind-the-scenes info helps explain why there isn’t more beer on TV:

Well, beer – visu­al­ly speak­ing, it’s why we gen­er­al­ly don’t do win­ery scenes or brew­ery scenes. Because no mat­ter how good it is – this might be one of only five remain­ing bot­tles left on Earth, Napoleon may have put it in the bot­tle – but visu­al­ly, it’s red stuff going into a glass.

This was a light-bulb moment for us, and gives anoth­er very good rea­son why that idea for the Great British Brew Off that gets dis­cussed end­less­ly in cycles won’t work: ‘Please bring your pint of bit­ter up to the top table for judg­ing.’ [Music swells. Con­tes­tant present four almost iden­ti­cal glass­es of brown liq­uid. Music ceas­es to swell.] Cakes have visu­al dra­ma, beer has… less. It’s a fact of life.

33 thoughts on “QUICK POST: Bourdain Isn’t a Beer Guy”

  1. Well put! I think Bour­dain gets too much of a bad rap on his dis­dain for craft beer fans, espe­cial­ly con­sid­er­ing through­out his career he’s repeat­ed­ly stat­ed that he has no inter­est in the brew­ing process, only drink­ing it. Beer geeks also seem to for­get that Bour­dain was a source in reveal­ing that big beer threat­ened to pull ads from Dis­cov­ery if they did­nt stop show­ing Dog­fish Heads show. So it’s not as if he’s opposed to craft beer (he has on var­i­ous occa­sions been seen to drink the stuff).

    I think you could make the case that the Food­ie scene tends to brush over beer for wine, though (which Bour­dain is prob­a­bly guilty of).

  2. I entire­ly agree he shouldn’t be nagged, but it hard­ly reflects well on him. It’s fine to know noth­ing, and care noth­ing, about beer but why, as a chef, would you make a big thing about it? It’s still flavour, still gas­tron­o­my. Imag­ine if he said “Seafood? Nah, bol­locks… Just get what­ev­er con­ve­nient fish fin­gers you can lay your hands on”. Wouldn’t inspire much con­fi­dence in his abil­i­ty.

    Plus, if he’s doesn’t think it’s worth­while to make an effort to find good beer, why does he think peo­ple should make the much greater effort to find his food?

      1. He is less deserv­ing of this crit­i­cism than some oth­ers because he con­sis­tent­ly cham­pi­ons ‘ordi­nary’ street food, i.e. the kind of stuff those oth­ers chefs would actu­al­ly turn up their noses at. His love of junk food noo­dles is com­plete­ly con­sis­tent with his affec­tion for basic lager.

        1. Just get what­ev­er con­ve­nient fish fin­gers you can lay your hands on”

          Reminds me of the time James Mar­tin had to cook Fred­die Flintoff his “Food Heav­en” of fish fin­gers, chips & beans on Sat­ur­day Kitchen, very enter­tain­ing!

    1. I agree with you.

      Bour­dain has made great con­tri­bu­tions to food cul­ture, no ques­tion of that. That first book is a land­mark, an against-the-odds hit that der­served every sale. His tv shows are excel­lent (gen­er­al­ly). But I guess he can‘t do it all, few of us can.

      I think he sim­ply nev­er had the time to look at beer close­ly, and per­haps it‘s true of wine too. But if he had, he would have seen the rich­ness of beer‘s palate, his­to­ry, tech­nol­o­gy. And there is noth­ing wrong with peo­ple study­ing small amounts of beer, they‘re drilling down. Peo­ple do it over a thou­sand and one inter­ests in life. Can it be right for cheese and not for beer…

      Once again I cut Bour­dain some slack, but if he‘s read­ing, he might take the time to look at beer close­ly and would see it‘s no dif­fer­ent than some of the food tra­di­tions he‘s explored on his trips, where peo­ple cher­ish a par­tic­u­lar tradition(s), argue about it, wor­ry about whose is best, and so forth.

      Gary

  3. I can see AB’s point on a num­ber of lev­els. In addi­tion to the oth­er points that have been made, cold macro lager is actu­al­ly a pret­ty reli­able accom­pa­ni­ment for a lot of food – it’s a nice clean palette cleanser, and you don’t have to wor­ry about whether it’s going to clash with bold flavours or over­pow­er sub­tle ones like you would with a more inter­est­ing beer.

    On the oth­er hand, I can’t help think­ing that hav­ing a pop at fan­cy beer is at least part­ly an easy way for food peo­ple to assert their straight-talk­ing man-of-the-peo­ple cre­den­tials despite being in an indus­try that thinks noth­ing of charg­ing din­ers £100 per head plus drinks…

    1. Agree with all this. Though Bour­dain is self-aware of his priv­i­lege and does from time to time take the piss out of him­self for it.

      I do think that it can be intim­i­dat­ing as an unlearned ama­teur to try and enter the world for craft beer events (or CAMRA events as well). Real­is­ing that peo­ple stand­ing on the periph­ery may be doing so because they don’t know what they like, and fig­ur­ing out ways to bring them in gen­tly would go a long way to help­ing build out the pro­file of beer cul­ture.

    2. cold macro lager is actu­al­ly a pret­ty reli­able accom­pa­ni­ment for a lot of food”

      This is a good point – there are pos­i­tive rea­sons for choos­ing ‘cold beer’ and this pref­er­ence doesn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly rep­re­sent a fail­ure of Mr. B’s palate or sense of dis­cern­ment.

  4. I obvi­ous­ly don’t move in the right cir­cles, because until I read your post I’d nev­er heard of Antho­ny Bour­dain, or Thril­list.

    I shan’t lose any sleep over it though!

    1. He’s a world famous best-sell­ing author, Paul – the only rar­efied cir­cles you’d have to move in are the Food Net­work and W.H. Smith!

      1. I’d nev­er heard of him either despite being an occa­sion­al view­er of Sat­ur­day Kitchen.

        1. He’s worth read­ing / lis­ten­ing to in my expe­ri­ence – he’s hon­est and per­cep­tive about food and the restau­rant trade, and gen­er­al­ly as inter­est­ed in a real­ly good street cor­ner noo­dle stall as he is in the fan­cy fine-din­ing places. Although peo­ple will have dif­fer­ent tol­er­ances to his shouty, opin­ion­at­ed, speak­er-of-truth-to-pow­er per­sona, I guess.

          The Thril­list arti­cle is actu­al­ly a pret­ty good read – the craft beer bait­ing is fair­ly inci­den­tal – and Kitchen Con­fi­den­tial is worth look­ing out for.

  5. I guess as soon as you cre­ate a sub-cul­ture you are defin­ing your­self against the norm, so any sort of labelling, be it “real ale” or “craft beer” or what­ev­er else is as much a descrip­tion of what it isn’t as a descrip­tion of what it is.

    And when­ev­er you do that, you’re like­ly to wind peo­ple up and put peo­ple off (and at the same time attract a par­tic­u­lar sub­set of drinkers who want to be dif­fer­ent). You can see how the likes of Brew­dog have iden­ti­fied that and absolute­ly played on it. I sup­pose craft beer is at a big of a cross­roads now – should it con­tin­ue to be an alter­na­tive or sub-cul­ture, or should it just be “beer”.

  6. I wouldn’t expect a big TV series just about beer. And not real­ly one just about wine either. But to see beer get the same sort of air­time & respect as wine on food shows would be nice. Both drinks suf­fer the same pre­sen­ta­tion prob­lems for TV. (As we know there has been some progress in this direc­tion with the likes of Sarah War­man on some­thing.)

    But in real­i­ty equal­i­ty between wine & beer in this regard will come in no hur­ry, if at all. Our present food cul­ture is deeply steeped in wine. Ele­vat­ing beer to the same role in a food venue is still very niche. (Albeit most chefs’ drink of choice seems to be lager. My dad was a Coro­na drinker 🙂

    This Bour­dain thing is just some suc­cess­ful click bait. Celebri­ty chef gets grumpy about some­thing… boohoo. News?

    1. To be fair he’s pro­mot­ing a show and gave a fair­ly wide-rang­ing inter­view; ‘Bour­dain slams craft beer’ is just the angle that’s been pulled out in cov­er­age by oth­er papers. I don’t think we can dis­miss any strong­ly-expressed view as ‘click-bait’ or else every­one ends up as bor­ing as us…

      1. Oh, I’m not blam­ing Bour­dain for the click­bait, that ball’s entire­ly in Thrillist’s court. They chose to focus on this and present it this way. But this is their M.O. right?

        1. Yes, although we’ve been think­ing that the def­i­n­i­tion of click-bait is too broad at the moment: we think of it as a piece of essen­tial­ly con­tent­less con­tent (e.g., celebri­ty eats cake) that lures you in with a mis-rep­re­sen­ta­tive head­line (YOU WON’T BELIEVE THE DISGUSTING THING THIS CELEBRITY ATE!). This is an actu­al inter­view, with actu­al con­tent, from an actu­al­ly inter­est­ing bloke.

          1. Ah… I see what I’ve got wrong here… so, I didn’t look at the Thril­list arti­cle now I realise.… I saw some­thing dif­fer­ent via Twit­ter: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/food-and-drink/anthony-bourdain-says-craft-beer-fans-have-gone-too-far-a7388996.html

            Which is pos­si­bly more in-between the two clas­si­fi­ca­tions you men­tion. Sure, not entire­ly con­tent­less… but it is just a chur­nal­ist hack lift from what seems to be a more wor­thy arti­cle.

  7. read the bit when he makes a guest appear­ance in Evan Rail’s excel­lent The Brew­ery in the Bohemi­an For­est and you might get an insight into the man behind the pub­lic mask, ie a bit me me — love his books and I can empathise with his com­ments to some degree, hav­ing expe­ri­enced the odd sci­en­tol­o­gist of zythol­o­gy butting in my bar space in my time, but it’s just click bait with the aim of get­ting the craft beer hounds to chase the hare. Where can I get a Mum­ford IPA btw?

  8. What a sad & bor­ing crit­ic, cre­ation is an art form whether it be with­in food or beer or oth­ers alike. To enjoy in dif­fer­ent ways is some­thing that’s great for those that enjoy it. If he’s not one of those peo­ple then it’s a shame he chose to get into food and drink and get famous from it :/ . A good restau­rant is only as good as its food, ser­vice, vibe, and it’s the same for any good bar no? Drink, ser­vice, vibe. Antho­ny Bour­dain – Best Before NOV 2016

  9. The biggest annoy­ance with any activ­i­ty that becomes even slight­ly spe­cialised is the dis­dain that it’s adher­ents show towards peo­ple not in the club. It seems espe­cial­ly so with craft beer, maybe because beer is pret­ty acces­si­ble com­pared to oth­er sim­i­lar pur­suits. (e.g. I like cof­fee and was think­ing of doing my own espres­so but then tot­ted up what it would cost for the kit I’d want and it was about 2k, and that’s before you look at where you need to source your beans and so on). And of course, one of the main ways of peo­ple show­ing that they’re ‘in the club’, par­tic­u­lar­ly if they’re maybe not all that con­fi­dent of their posi­tion, is to knock oth­er people’s choic­es. Recent exam­ple in my mind being on a face­book group where they all start­ed tak­ing the piss out of some­one in a super­mar­ket who was talk­ing about how much they liked stel­la.

  10. I’d be care­ful trans­pos­ing the UK and US pub here. Bourdain’s com­ment is some­thing I bet a large minor­i­ty of Amer­i­cans would recognize–including a lot of good-beer fans. We nev­er had the kinds of great pubs you find in the UK, and when craft beer came along, we replaced dive bars (NOTHING like UK pubs) with a range of dif­fer­ent kinds of places. What he says about SF could very well be true. The pro­lif­er­a­tion of hyper-hip­ster, twee pubs in places like SF is real and wor­thy of crit­i­cism.

    1. Thanks, Jeff. Use­ful insight and, yes, you’re right, we don’t know the US and made a big assump­tion there.

      (Relat­ed: we did once spend an hour or so in the pub scrib­bling out a key to how dif­fer­ent types of bar/pub equate – the French Bar Tabac seems to equate to a cer­tain type of rough-and-ready ‘wet led’ cor­ner pub in the UK, for exam­ple. Maybe we should try again with input from oth­ers around the world.)

      1. The US has a fas­ci­nat­ing pub his­to­ry, one that was, fifty years after pro­hi­bi­tion, still guid­ed by Puri­tan norms. I am always shocked when I trav­el to Europe and find typ­i­cal­ly Amer­i­can “crafty” pubs, which to my eye were the unfor­tu­nate result of our coun­try nev­er hav­ing had decent pubs to ref­er­ence when craft beer came call­ing.

      2. Some large cities in Amer­i­ca always had notable drink­ing places, even in the dark days of beer. New York had a num­ber, New Orleans, Chica­go, Louisville, San Fran­cis­co. Wash­ing­ton D.C. had the famous Brick­seller. With the pub of Eng­land and cafe so to speak of France, Bel­gium, Ger­many, these formed the tem­plate for the mod­ern bar or pub here. While they all dif­fer, and it depends too on local reg­u­la­tions and cul­tur­al prac­tices, most in my expe­ri­ence reflect this diverse his­to­ry. Prob­a­bly many still have an ele­ment of dive in them, e.g. the dim light still favoured in so many estab­lish­ment and icon­ic tv set in the cor­ner or now the flat-screen on the walls.

        Gary

  11. I love craft beer and recent­ly (today, actu­al­ly) joined CAMRA Alber­ta. I typ­i­cal­ly avoid macro beers because most of them (in Cana­da & U.S.) are pret­ty awful. That said, if you’re drink­ing it and lik­ing it, it’s the right beer to be drink­ing.

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