Beer and Pavement

The Current State of Craft Beer in 2014

Posted in Beer, Intersections, Manifesto by Zac on October 29, 2014

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Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewery and Momofuko’ David Chang had a spat. That’s a story, I guess. Or at least it’s GQ drumming up some page views with an internal disagreement from contributors, contributors who happen to be at the top of their respective fields.

Basically, David Chang hates snobbery in food and especially beer. That said, the dude runs with a crowd that hangs at restaurants you nor I will ever enjoy. (Although, my wife did eat lunch at Noma once. Whatever.) It seems that he draws the snobbery line at beer. Guy hates himself some beer geeks:

Beer snobs are the worst of the bunch. You know the old joke about cheap beer being like having sex in a canoe? I will take a beer that’s “fucking near water” every night of the week over combing out my neck beard while arguing about hop varieties.

Garret Oliver who is one of those epicurean snobs with which Chang eats and imbibes took issue with the jab. He calls Chang’s shit out:

It’s not the fancy beer you don’t like. You don’t like us, your people. You have a “tenuous relationship with the Epicurean snob set?” You are the epicurean snob set! I’ve seen you with champagne in one hand and a Noma lamb leg in the other, chatting up celebrities. Why you frontin’? You spent your first three paragraphs insulting people just like you…is the cash, fame and luxury not working out?

So, a maker of snobby things doesn’t like some other snobby things. In this case, it’s beer. Fine. Like your shitty beer. More good, craft beer for me. Except that his snobby beer friend points out the hypocrisy of such an opinion coming from said maker of snobby things.

I’ll come back to this.

In other signs of the craft beer apocalypse, The New Yorker just figured out that craft beer is suddenly fancy stuff. This realization is due to beer-centric restaurants getting respect in foodie circles, not because the beer is good (which it is). Beer is big in Brooklyn, so now we have to pay attention to it.

This third anecdote  is not necessarily about snobbery, but stick with me. Martha Stewart has a certified cicerone. Said in-house, beer expert/blogger did this little post selling the sour beer to soccer moms worldwide. Hops didn’t win wine drinkers over, but maybe open fermentation will. The sours in the post are presented as the sophisticated subset of craft beer, not like brutish IPA’s and imperial stouts.

And this is where beer is in 2014.

No longer do beer enthusiasts need to advocate for their favorite beverage. Craft beer has arrived, but is this what we wanted? Did we want beer to be unreachable? Did we want to turn beer snobs into just snobs? Did we need New York to discover craft beer?

What attracted me to craft beer was the accessibility. Here, in my glass, could be one of the best beers in the world. The best anything in the world usually demands a hefty price tag, but my beer didn’t cost me more than $5 at the bar or $10 for sixer.

Maybe this is what Chang is arguing. He would rather drink cheap, rice-adjunct, industrial swill than succumb to perils of beer snobbery. However, if you’re the kind who washes down your Noma lamb leg with champaign, what’s the point? Why not wash down that lamb with a barley wine or IPA made brewed by a local brewery? If you eat fine food, you should wash it down with a fine beer.

Still, the perception of beer has changed. Sure, there are still beer evangelists and those who think craft beer doesn’t get its due respect, but the need for craft beer promotion is dwindling. A craft pint in this town has gone from $3 to $5 with some beers demanding $7-10 a glass. Beer dinners and tastings are becoming as common as wine events, possibly even more. Beer has arrived, but is this what we wanted?

When I watch craft beer grow and evolve this way, it reminds me of the indie rock/alternative boom of the 90’s. Hardcore punk and indie rock of the 80’s was underground and of a certain accessible quality that mainstream rock could not replicate. Eventually, Nirvana happened and every band was signed. That or the audience grew for those still on indie labels, making it possible for a band like a Pavement to travel in tour busses as opposed to broken-down vans. The music was still as accessible as ever, but suddenly, it was held to a higher standard. The indie snob became a thing. It ushered in the age of Pitchfork where suddenly an organization primarily covering independent music was the trend setter and not MTV, FM radio, or major labels.

And then there’s the backlash. Pop music and less sophisticated forms of hip-hop became popular again. Ironically, this shift back to the superficial mainstream has meant a decline in profits for the industry as a whole. I don’t need to link to the endless number of Billboard articles to prove this point. Still, the indies that rose in the nineties are still going strong.

This brings me back to beer. Is Chang merely calling attention to craft beer’s inevitable backlash? Is this part of our collective beer evolution? It certainly seems to mirror the evolution of modern music. Even as some return to cheap American lagers, beer sales as a whole are down, except for the craft brewers who continue to succeed.

Craft beer and its fans should realize that we are getting what we wished for. We wanted beer served alongside the finest wines in the finest establishments. However, it comes at a cost – literally. The backlash is in full swing and it was inevitable. Still, craft beer should weather the storm the way indie rock has.

Just quit your prosthelytizing and snobbery and enjoy another beer.

Why We Hate Geeks, Nerds, and Snobs

Posted in Beer, Intersections, Life, Uncategorized by Zac on July 15, 2011

That’s right. I’m in-favor of the Oxford comma and I’m back from the dead.

I could have easily added connoisseur to the title, but that’s been covered already. Regardless, we hate them all, even if we are geeks, nerds, or snobs ourselves about beer, indie rock, or whatever. There are things we…er….they do and say that cause us to reject their ideas of beer and music. Although they are extremely knowledgeable in whatever special interest, we tune them out as to listen to them sucks all the fun out of something that should be enjoyed by all. Some acknowledge their own snobbery and are more accepting of others. However, most of us don’t like being told how to enjoy a good beer or an album.

Below are the ten things geeks, nerds, snobs, and connoisseurs do that makes it hard to take their advice and opinions on beer and indie rock seriously.

10. It was always better way-back-when.
Pavement was so much better on their Slanted and Enchanted tour than their reunion tour last summer. OR The ’08 120 Minute IPA was far superior to this year’s batch…For those who have discovered a band or beer just recently, there’s no way we can know what it was like to experience either when in their prime. It’s an unfair detail to mention in conversation. Age does not mean one has experienced all that is worth experiencing, particularly if you’re still in-search of white whales.

9. “Yeah, that’s nice, but have you experienced…”
It doesn’t matter what cool story you can bring to the table, the “expert” will always have one to top yours. I loved the Yo La Tengo show last month, but there are lots of people who thought the variation they saw on the spinning wheel was superior. Maybe. Why can’t both experiences be great? Why is a beer on tap automatically a better tasting experience than from the bottle?

8. No dialogue, just references.
This one is an epidemic for my generation. We don’t have conversations these days. We make pop culture references as way to make some meaning or connection in our lives. This practice is particularly bad when beer nerds and indie geeks “discuss” their tastes. Sea and Cake. Joan of Arc. Coctails. Rachels… La Folie. Russian River Supplication. Pliny. Dreadnaught.

7. Name-dropping when you’re not on a first name basis with anyone of note.
I love the guys who refer to their heroes on a first-name basis because they spoke to a guy at the merch booth or told a brewer how much you loved his beer. I met Brian Strumke of Stillwater Artisanal Ales at a bar in D.C. earlier this week. We chatted for while, we friended each other Facebook, but I don’t know that I’ll talk about “Brian” as if we’re close. He was a cool guy and I couldn’t resist mentioning him in this post, but our conversation doesn’t give me any more insight into craft beer than you may have.

6. Although that was great, I know how it could have been better, epic even.
You’re out, enjoying one of your favorite bands when your connoisseur buddy turns and says something like “This would have been waaaay better had they just played ‘South Carolina.'” Maybe, but they didn’t. Why ruin a good time by focusing on what didn’t happen?

5. “What do you think? I hate it.”
Ever been asked by a friend or acquaintance whether you liked a beer or were digging a band on stage and when you say you do like it, your partner proceeds to explain why this beer is infected or the band is completely off. Instead of offering his opinion first, he tests you to see whether you’re worthy or not and then details how wrong and ignorant you are.

4. “Have I told you this before?”
Snobs love to hear themselves talk and a big part of that talk is the one story he tells you over and over like it’s so amazing that you grow more impressed with every new telling. I don’t care that you saw Elliott Smith during his Either/Or days. Wow, great. You’ve been to Russian River and tried every beer on the sampler tray. It gets so bad that you start to think that this is the only thing your snobby friend has ever done and does that really qualify him as a snob?

3. Picking apart every last detail until enjoyment is impossible.
You’re sitting there, sipping on this excellent IPA, and watching the hottest band on Pitchfork. In one ear, you have your buddy explaining why the hop profile is out of balance with the malt bill. In the other ear, another friend is pointing out how the bassist is so drunk, he’s missing every cue. Who gives a fuck? Just enjoy the beers and show.

2. Once you come around, let’s throw out something shocking.
OK. So, you’ve figured out your discussion mate. He loves the sourest beers. He only listens to vinyl. Then, he drops the bombshell just to prove that he thinks about these things on a different level than you can comprehend or that he just knows more about everything… He loves the hop presence in a Miller Lite more than Pliny the Elder and still listens to his cassette tape of Hall & Oates’ Big Bam Boom, possibly the best album of the 80’s or so he claims. Really? Aren’t you just being ironic? Bad taste is bad taste, especially when one should know better.

1. The lecture.
Much of what’s been described above could be part of the snob’s lecture. The lecture is when your friend insists on dominating the conversation, constantly steering it to the one or two areas in which he assumes he is the most knowledgeable.  There’s no listening on his part, just talking. And talking. And talking. Sure, he knows his shit, but there are other perspectives and opinions to consider in a discussion. Your opinion isn’t the only one that counts!

Of course, I resemble every one of these characteristics. I’ve done them all, but I feel I’ve been subjected to my fair share of each. Either way, I think it’s important we recognize these characteristics in anything in which we are knowledgeable experts and/or pathetic obsessives. And once we recognize the signs, we should try to avoid them and listen to others. When we see it in others, we should recognize that there’s good knowledge in arrogance and pretension.

Still, the backlash directed at beer nerds and indie geeks seems to resemble anti-intellectualism or anti-elitism that runs rampant through our political climate at the moment. These experts are valuable parts of our communities. They can connect dots and provide insight when it’s lacking. The trick is to not let that abundance of knowledge overwhelm or drown out enjoyment.

Update: Due to some developments elsewhere, I am adding an eleventh point. Since I didn’t rank the ones above, it doesn’t really matter where I stick this addendum. Once again, it should be acknowledged that I have committed many if not all of the above offenses. #11 is no different. In fact, if you follow the link at the beginning of this update, you’d see what I mean. 

11. When someone doesn’t know when to stop…A new rule of thumb will be to limit myself to three comments in proving a point. In f2f situations, this could be a rule to make three points, then agree to disagree. The hated beer nerd/indie geek will not let something go. He has to have the last word, picking your argument apart, often diverting from the original statement. Normally, when I find myself in such a situation, I try to make a joke and move on. However, I recently engaged in an argument over the points made in this very post at another blog. I should have let it go, but I didn’t. In the end, I look like the ass. Of course, maybe it’s some strange consolation that my antagonist also comes off as an ass. Either way, two beer nerds arguing on a comment thread is a perfect way for said nerds to be ignored from here on out.

Special thanks goes out to Stan of Appellation Beer for linking back to this post and demonstrating an immense amount of patience and understanding. For a good read on beer and beer culture, I suggest you check out his blog immediately.

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