Mostly Imaginary Beer Nemeses #1: The Sneering Bitter Hater

A lion-headed man who hates bitter, for some reason.

There are no doubt beer enthusiasts out there who hate bitter on a point of principle but surely not so many that they’re worth worrying about.

Now, there are lots of peo­ple (like us) who like to drink things oth­er than bit­ter, in between pints of bit­ter, which they also enjoy very much.

There are also those (again, like us) who think a pub that serves three beers all with­in a hair’s-breadth of the same tech­ni­cal spec­i­fi­ca­tions is miss­ing a trick. But that does­n’t just apply to bit­ter, and it does­n’t mean they think bit­ter, in itself, is fun­da­men­tal­ly ‘bor­ing’.

There are def­i­nite­ly peo­ple who dis­like cer­tain spe­cif­ic brands of bit­ter, hav­ing tast­ed them and made a more or less informed judge­ment.

Detail from an old beer mat: BITTER!

There are even peo­ple who rarely choose to drink bit­ter if there is some­thing else on offer because they pre­fer lager (most of the UK pop­u­la­tion) or, for exam­ple, Amer­i­can-style IPAs. But they prob­a­bly don’t care what you drink; nor do they want bit­ter to dis­ap­pear from the face of the earth.

And there are peo­ple who’ve just nev­er got the taste for bit­ter because it’s, er, too bit­ter. But they’re often also scep­ti­cal about beer in gen­er­al – they’re not snooty hip­ster beer geeks look­ing down on this one style in par­tic­u­lar.

Per­haps you’ll be able to point to a few tagged spec­i­mens in the wild – a blog post here, a Tweet there – but, real­ly, isn’t The Sneer­ing Bit­ter Hater just a rhetor­i­cal device? A com­fort blan­ket for the odd­ly self-loathing bit­ter lover?

Next time on Most­ly Imag­i­nary Beer Neme­ses: Peo­ple Who Think Only Murky Beer Tastes Good and/or is ‘Craft’.

35 thoughts on “Mostly Imaginary Beer Nemeses #1: The Sneering Bitter Hater”

  1. For some rea­son I dis­like GK beers (all of them) on cask so much that I have to vocalise my dis­dain. That’s either a remark to who­ev­er I’m with or an audi­ble groan. I’ve had far worse beer and I’m not sug­gest­ing there’s any­thing amiss with GK but there’s this hor­ri­ble twang off it that offends me but does­n’t seem to both­er my mates. Why can’t I resist the urge to do it? Why just GK?

    1. For bet­ter or worse, Greene King’s house yeast gives all their beers its dis­tinc­tive flavour. In prin­ci­ple, I am very much in favour of brew­eries hav­ing their own dis­tinc­tive house yeast. In prac­tice, I am not very keen on Greene King’s although they are a fine exam­ple of the phe­nom­e­non.

  2. If you don’t think that such an ani­mal exists, try the unof­fi­cial CAMRA Face­book group – more than a few there who won’t accept the worth of any­thing but the most crafty of new beers, and decry tra­di­tion­al bit­ters in very dis­parag­ing terms.

    Am I an odd­ly self-loathing bit­ter lover for think­ing that, then? It’s not a cat­e­go­ry I would recog­nise for myself, but nor do I real­ly think it’s a fair con­clu­sion to draw.

  3. I wish you would­n’t do this “aren’t some peo­ple fun­ny, the way they make those com­ments about that sort of thing” rou­tine. I guess you’re going for the Richard Boston/Paul Jen­nings style of Humor­ous Vignette, but it just comes across as sneery and pas­sive-aggres­sive, as if you’re try­ing to pick a fight with some­one but you don’t want to actu­al­ly call them out. #1 of 1, please.

    1. This seems a weird­ly strong reac­tion to a 300 word blog post which, as you right­ly iden­ti­fy, isn’t meant to be 100 per cent seri­ous in tone.

      If we were intend­ing to ‘call out’ any­one in par­tic­u­lar, we would – we’ve done that in the past and there aren’t many peo­ple we engage with who’d take it the wrong way if we did.

      It’s just about a thing in the air, that’s been in the air for a few years, that strikes us as odd.

      Oh well. Win some, lose some.

      1. I think you must have hit a nerve, which may not have been your inten­tion, but kind of proves your point.

        All keg is shit” CAMRA dinosaurs don’t like it when peo­ple point out the com­po­si­tion of their straw­men.

        More of this kind of thing please.

        1. Cheers, py, nice to see you here again.

          On fur­ther reflec­tion (“thanks, Phil, please do reflect on this dashed-off blog post fur­ther and at greater length!”) I guess it’s the “odd­ly self-loathing bit­ter-lover” that rat­tled my cage. Some bit­ter-lovers secret­ly hate their choice of drink, and them­selves for cling­ing to it, & project their self-hatred onto imag­i­nary sneer­ing crafties as a defence mech­a­nism? (Many bit­ter-lovers? Most? All?) What’s that about?

          1. I guess that’s about peo­ple who like Thing X but can’t relax and enjoy it because they think they’re being judged by peo­ple hip­per than them. They’re not con­fi­dent in their own tastes and pref­er­ences. Instead of just lik­ing and cham­pi­oning Thing X they tend to do so with com­pul­sive ref­er­ence to the kind of idiots who are too obsessed with fash­ion – curse their beau­ti­ful faces and styl­ish clothes! – to appre­ci­ate Thing X.

            This does­n’t just hap­pen with bit­ter, obvi­ous­ly, but that’s one area we’ve noticed it.

          2. Your reac­tion was over-the-top and unnec­es­sar­i­ly antag­o­nis­tic.

      2. It’s a rea­son­able thing to post imho. I’ve got sim­i­lar rants about a num­ber of daft myths about craft beer (the hushed, rev­er­en­tial sip­ping, the dis­like of tra­di­tion­al pubs, the unavail­abil­i­ty of plain malt-and-hops beers due to all the nov­el­ty ingre­di­ents, the preva­lence of car­toon skulls on the cans, the cen­tral­i­ty of cor­po­rate-bash­ing) and I often do call peo­ple out on them in com­ments and on Twit­ter, but that always feels a bit of a foot­note and it’s rea­son­able to want to give it cen­ter-stage via a blog post.

        That said, I’m not actu­al­ly con­vinced that the sneer­ing bit­ter-hater is that much of a straw­man – peo­ple who are arro­gant­ly dis­mis­sive of trad bit­ter and the peo­ple who drink it cer­tain­ly exist, although I think that in my frame of ref­er­ence they’re prob­a­bly out­done both in num­bers and in obnox­ious­ness by peo­ple who are arro­gant­ly dis­mis­sive of any­thing that smacks of “fad­dy” crafti­ness.

  4. Do you see the term “Bor­ing Brown Bit­ter” as refer­ring to spe­cif­ic brands, rather than bit­ter in gen­er­al then?

    1. That par­tic­u­lar phrase is an inter­est­ing one.

      If you look search Twit­ter for that term you’ll see it used by far the most often by peo­ple who like bit­ter either (a) attribut­ing to straw man craft beer wankers; or (b) using it affectionately/ironically.

      Brew­ers seem to use it a lot too, in some vari­a­tion on ‘Who says brown bit­ter’s bor­ing!?’ (Hard­ly any­one – see the post above!)

      There is the odd casu­al use by oth­ers but, again, as per the post, it’s not often a cal­cu­lat­ed cuss against the whole style – it’s a care­less short­cut for ‘all the bit­ters they had were bor­ing’, or ‘it was bor­ing of this pub to have so many bit­ters’, or ‘I’m a bit bored of bit­ter’. And those peo­ple often end up say­ing some­thing pos­i­tive about a par­tic­u­lar bit­ter they do like on anoth­er occa­sion.

      We reck­on there was a point (maybe up to about about sev­en or eight years ago?) when ‘bor­ing brown bit­ter’ was a more fre­quent lazy diss of the whole style (includ­ing maybe by us, but I don’t think so). But when that was right­ly chal­lenged, most peo­ple stopped doing it and, indeed, these days even the Well Craftest cut­ting edge blog­gers seem to make a point of prais­ing bit­ter when they get the chance.

      But maybe we’re hang­ing out in the wrong (right) places, as per Nick­’s sug­ges­tion above.

  5. Being accused of being pas­sive aggres­sive is a bit of a tricky one. You real­ly can’t win if called such a thing. If it hap­pens to me I instant­ly feel active aggres­sive.

    As for the sub­stance I think Dave S has the right of it.

    I drink bit­ter almost exclu­sive­ly. But then I like beer.

  6. But isn’t the Odd­ly Self-Loathing Bit­ter Lover just as much of a straw­man as any oth­er car­i­ca­ture? 😉

    I do know peo­ple who say things that might put them in one or oth­er of these myth­i­cal car­i­ca­tures, but the real­i­ty is get them down the pub and they will drink what­ev­er there is that suits them best, even if it’s some­thing they might decry pub­licly. Most drinkers in the end are more fussed about if they enjoy some­thing or not rather than the label. Well, most drinkers I would want to drink with, any­way. I’ve been drink­ing craft beer – beer labelled as such – since I first came across it in the US 20 years ago next month, and I’ve nev­er been fussed about that par­tic­u­lar label either way. I’m much more inter­est­ed in beer style, but not in the sense that I use it as a restric­tion on my drink­ing, pure­ly as anoth­er way of inves­ti­gat­ing beer. And I believe most peo­ple will drink what­ev­er they enjoy, what­ev­er the descrip­tion, what­ev­er they say.

  7. Pas­sive aggres­sive” to me means “hav­ing a good old go at some­one with­out nam­ing them or using any emo­tive lan­guage, in the hope that that some­one will get the mes­sage and feel suit­ably got-at”. I pre­fer active aggres­sion, even direct­ed at me – at least it means you know what’s going on.

    As for this post, I can’t recall hear­ing any­one slag­ging off bit­ter in gen­er­al, or hear­ing any­one com­plain­ing about peo­ple who slag off bit­ter in gen­er­al for that mat­ter. So my reac­tion to the post was that I did­n’t know what was going on, but it seemed like some­body was being got at.

    As for ‘bor­ing brown bit­ter’, I tend to use it to refer to bit­ter that’s both brown and bor­ing (have you tried Spit­fire recent­ly?).

    (Top Tip: anoth­er time, just quote some­body actu­al­ly say­ing some­thing…)

    1. I gen­er­al­ly agree with you on the pas­sive-aggres­sive “not nam­ing names” rou­tine. Peo­ple often seem to use it to give them a get-out for tak­ing shots that they prob­a­bly would­n’t risk if they actu­al­ly had to spell out who or what they were talk­ing about, while at the same time mak­ing a spu­ri­ous claim to the moral high ground by pre­tend­ing that they’re being “diplo­mat­ic”. I think it’s incred­i­bly bad for con­struc­tive dis­cus­sion, and I try to call it out when I see it.

      OTOH, some­times you want to say some­thing that isn’t par­tic­u­lar­ly point­ed, and that you’d be hap­py to say direct­ly to some­one, but you just can’t be both­ered to sift through old tweets and blog com­ments to dig out spe­cif­ic exam­ples to respond to. At that point a non-direct­ed com­ment like this post is fair play, IMO.

  8. I think this stems from the nev­er-end­ing “craft fan­boys vs CAMRA diehards” debate.

    The craft advo­cates think they are argu­ing for the valid­i­ty of keg as a means to dis­pense cer­tain beers in cer­tain cir­cum­stances, so to them, the argu­ment is “cask alone is worthy/desirable” vs “a bal­anced mix­ture of cask and keg is opti­mal”, but the dis­cus­sion is often clum­si­ly reframed or mis­rep­re­sent­ed by the CAMRA hard­core side as a sim­plis­tic “cask vs keg”, despite there being vir­tu­al­ly no-one who active­ly claims that keg is won­der­ful and that all cask beer is shit. (At least if such peo­ple do exist, I’ve nev­er come across them).

    It IS bor­ing when a pub offers only three brown bit­ters, because it effec­tive­ly removes your choice. It would be equal­ly bor­ing to go to a pub with three near-iden­ti­cal DIPAs or three stouts, but that’s not some­thing you see. Three brown bit­ters on the bar, on the oth­er hand, is still sur­pris­ing­ly com­mon­place.

    1. Is it just in the UK? In the USA (where craft orig­i­nat­ed as a response to lack of choice and bland­ness ) cask ale is respect­ed as very craft indeed.

      1. It is, but it’s almost ven­er­at­ed as a reli­gious myth rather than pro­duced and admired. We are unique in the UK in hav­ing cask as still such a major form of dis­tri­b­u­tion, it hav­ing large­ly sur­vived because of (a) CAMRA and (b) and awful lot of BBBs…

    1. Turn­ing a blind eye to bul­lies only encour­ages them to go and bul­ly some­one else.

      1. Well, we don’t think Phil’s a bul­ly, or even that he’s said any­thing inap­pro­pri­ate. All with­in the bounds of frank debate.

        1. and in the same vein, appar­ent­ly some women “like” being wolf-whis­tled.

          1. I must be miss­ing some­thing here. Phil expressed his dis­like of the post; we’re basi­cal­ly fine with that; but you think we should be more upset?

        2. And I thought your fol­lowup com­ment – unpack­ing the ‘self-loathing’ thing – was real­ly inter­est­ing; it does sound like a real type. (Not me, though – I’m quite capa­ble of being sure of my own pref­er­ences and hat­ing young peo­ple.) I actu­al­ly found py’s ini­tial com­ment help­ful, too, but per­haps I was­n’t meant to. Hey ho.

          Twig­gy’ takes me back to the 70s and ear­ly 80s, when the real­ly good stuff was (a) dark (b) strong © a bit tur­bid or ‘soupy’ and (d) most­ly myth­i­cal, or at least real­ly hard to find – a bit like the rep­u­ta­tion ‘scrumpy’ had before peo­ple out­side cider coun­try start­ed tak­ing notice of it. Maybe I’m think­ing of a dif­fer­ent sort of twigs.

  9. I think the cur­rent on-trend term for dis­miss­ing bit­ters is “twig­gy” rather than “bor­ing brown bit­ter”. You’ll see plen­ty of that on cer­tain Face­book groups.

    1. I remem­ber a lot of that a few years ago, most notably from Gaz­za Prescott, and thought it had gone away. Odd­ly, though, I saw an exam­ple on Twit­ter about an hour ago, so obvi­ous­ly not.

      I know it’s *meant* to be pejo­ra­tive but I actu­al­ly think twig­gy is quite a good tast­ing note and there are beers we like that you could quite rea­son­ably apply it to, e.g. But­combe Bit­ter.

      1. I think Gaz­za start­ed the trend but it’s cer­tain­ly still alive and kick­ing. I get the gen­er­al impres­sion that it’s often used by some peo­ple as a gen­er­al­ly dis­mis­sive term with­out think­ing what it actu­al­ly might mean.

        1. Does it not mean that it “tastes of twigs”.

          Many poor­ly-made bit­ters have the same unpleas­ant flavour lurk­ing in the back­ground that is hard to describe. Its not like that clean, dry hit of bit­ter­ness you get from a hop­py beer, its a low­er, mud­di­er, alto­geth­er less pleas­ant note. The best I can think of is like a mouth­ful of soil – but twig­gy is prob­a­bly quite accu­rate as well. If you’ve ever chewed on a twig, you would notice the sim­i­lar­i­ty.

          Of course, old men who have been drink­ing bit­ter for 30+ years have prob­a­bly got so used to the flavour that they don’t even notice it any­more.

          1. That sounds like overuse of fug­gles, they have a dis­tinct­ly earthy/dirt taste which is unpleas­ant if a del­i­cate hand is not used. When they are used to dry hop they will leave a resiny/sap flavour if left in too long.

          2. Must say I had­n’t thought of that as “twig­gy”, more like stale tobac­co crossed with wet dog, but fair enough, if that’s what is intend­ed. And as an “old man” who has been drink­ing bit­ter (along with oth­er things!) for more than 30 years, I cer­tain­ly notice it and dis­like it. GK IPA is a stan­dard bear­er for this par­tic­u­lar taste.

  10. Very inter­est­ing, I myself real­ly enjoy all GK beers, I’m find­ing as I get old­er my pal­let is chang­ing. It’s all a mat­ter of taste, some may find it “bor­ing” but the world would be a “bor­ing” place if we all liked the same, thanks for shar­ing.

  11. I like bit­ter. I like most styles of beer too but for every­day drink­ing it’s cook­ing bit­ter for me
    My local real ale shrine has 10 beers on hand pump. On occa­sion there’s no recog­nis­able bit­ter. Wnen I queried this I was accused of drink­ing “brown water”.
    Mild and bit­ter are the bedrock of Eng­lish drink­ing.

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