Beer and Pavement

Craft Beer’s Hipster Problem

Posted in Beer, Video by SM on January 23, 2014



I bristled at the idea of writing yet another post about hipsters, but I felt this had to be addressed.

First, let me say that I am decidedly pro-hipster at best or ambivalent toward them at worst. It’s a label placed on certain stereotypes that I don’t feel like getting into at this point. All you should know is that being a hipster is relative and that we’re all hipsters compared to someone.

When I say that craft beer has a “hipster problem”, what I am referring to is a perception of pretentiousness. Hipsters – right or wrong – are seen as pretentious. Whether it’s fashion, music, transportation, decor, or food, “hipster” is considered equivalent to “pretentious douchebag.” So, maybe it’s hipsters with the problem, but I digress.

Craft beer is neither exclusive to hipsters nor pretentious. However, as they say, perception is reality. And the perception is that craft beer is exclusive and loved by snobs. Exclusivity these days is blamed on hipsters for whatever reason.

The actual reality is that craft beer is decidedly not a hipster thing. The movement has been around for a while. The people I connect with craft beer are not very hipster-like. Just within my social circles, craft beer enthusiasts aren’t exactly the hippest lot. This is not a putdown. It’s just a reality. They are mainly white men aged 30-50. Yes, some of them own an Arcade Fire CD. Yes, some will wear ironic t-shirts. However, these are fairly benign practices these days. Ten years ago, they totally would have been hipsters. In 2014, not so much.

Now, a lot of hipsters are getting into craft beer. It’s artisinal. It’s really popular right now. It’s beard friendly. There’s a lot in the craft beer community for hipsters to like. However, when push comes to shove (and as the wallet empties), PBR and Hi-Life aren’t that bad.

Seriously. Craft beer is attractive to the North American Hipster because craft beer tastes good and gets us a little tipsy. That’s basically the same reason we all love it.

The more insidious part of craft beer’s perception problem is the pretentiousness with which the community has been unfairly labeled. Yes, it’s expensive. Yes, it features exotic flavors and production techniques. Yes, it’s better than what you normally drink. Yes, they have silly names. However, a preference for the finer things does not necessarily mean that one is pretentious.

If anything, craft beer enthusiasts and brewers are some of the least pretentious people I know. They willingly share. They participate in online forums such as this one. They share. They fucking drink beer with you. And they share.

I don’t know how craft beer can fix their “hipster problem.” I suggest we all continue to buy beers for our more skeptical friends and drink an industrial, rice-adjunct lager now and again just to show our more human side. The hipster perception is not a problem. Trust me. But the perception of beer snobbery is and we must do what we can to fix it.

(Maybe I should do the same for indie rock. Right, Taylor Swift?)

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10 Responses

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  1. jeffmenter said, on January 23, 2014 at 7:05 pm

    “drink an industrial, rice-adjunct lager now and again just to show our more human side”

    Um, no. Drinking what you know to be mass produced, homogenized, shitty beer doesn’t make you human, just stupid.

  2. Steve said, on January 24, 2014 at 3:42 am

    Interesting post. I think my issue with hipsters co-opting craft beer is around the sustainability of the market. Without getting too bogged down in definitions/semantics, I see craft beer hipsters as folk who are drinking the stuff because it is fashionable/is a way of defining themselves/is a stance or pose, while an enthusiast drinks craft beer because (s)he enjoys it.

    I’ve seen a lot more craft beer in bars, I suspect because of the hipster crowd, which is great now, but doesn’t bode well for when those same hipsters have moved on to something else.

    In the meantime, genuine beer enthusiasts are potentially more likely to distance themselves from the craft beer scene as it starts looking like a bit of a fad, and perhaps more importantly, its popularity in hipster circles means the prices have been hiked up accordingly.

    Craft beer breweries seem to be springing up all over the place in London at the moment, but I can’t imagine that the market will be able to sustain this in a few years – leaving less choice, and less opportunities to try something different. Essentially, craft beer brewers can make a quick buck by producing a hipster-friendly product now, but the wiser brewer needs to play the longer game and appeal to a wider, less fickle audience.

    • Zac said, on January 24, 2014 at 9:26 am

      I totally disagree. I don’t think that hipsters are co-opting craft beer at all. Rather, there’s a perception that craft beer is their thing. However, those who have been into craft beer for a long time and helped build it into what it is today aren’t going anywhere. For me, there’s no worry that craft beer is a passing fad. Perceiving that only hipsters drink craft beer is.

      • Steve said, on January 24, 2014 at 9:58 am

        Hmm. Maybe. I just see a lot of brewers pandering to the hipster audience, and in doing so missing an opportunity to appeal to a far wider crowd.

        For instance, if I want to go out and drink craft beer, but at the moment I have to go to a ‘cool’ bar – these are the places that stock craft beer, and these are the places the brewers want to work with.

        I had a conversation with someone who wanted to get a particular craft beer stocked at their local store, but the brewer had a strict set of criteria before they would even entertain a conversation with somewhere that wanted to sell their goods – unless it was cool (or creditable, or non-working for The Man etc) enough, they weren’t interested. Meanwhile, there are people like me who would drink more craft beer if I could just get hold of the stuff without having to go the latest hip nightspot, terrible gastropub or out-of-the-way organic deli or whatever. Maybe this is protecting the brand. Maybe this is missing an opportunity.

        The craft beer stalwarts will remain, of course, but I don’t think that their patronage alone can sustain this growth in brewers when the hipsters lose interest. It will go back to being a niche interest, rather than something more.

      • Zac said, on January 24, 2014 at 11:16 am

        This is a totally different perspective than I was considering. I was mainly responding to the video above, but you bring up some interesting points. From what I can tell, being particular about where beer is sold is not happening as much here. Maybe it’s a UK thing. Of course, I don’t mind those hip bars and organic delis myself.

  3. Mike said, on January 24, 2014 at 10:04 am

    It’s a very, very busy morning at work, but I managed to squeeze in some time to research on WikiHow. It seems that the problem isn’t “Beer Hipsters” so much as “Beer Geeks.” A “hipster” according to WikiHow anyway, seems to be mostly defined by their sense of fashion and, to a lesser extent, their geographic location. They do have some interest in supporting local and being on the cutting edge. WikiHow cautions that there is some overlap between Geek and Hipster, and that it’s important to differentiate between the two. Geeks, meanwhile, are defined by their passion for a certain specific topic. (There’s less of an emphasis on fashion, and geeks tend to be more tech saavy.) Geeks are more likely to discuss their passion, and their discourse is less steeped in irony.

    None of this comes from Wikihow, but I’d argue that craft beer is more geeky than anything, because it can become a rabbit hole of sorts, leading to a passionate fanbase. And granted, there might be a “craft beer bubble” with lots of people hanging on til the next big thing comes along, but there will always be aficionados. Cigars and wine have gone through similar arcs, and their popularity has waned but they still have their loyal supporters.

    If beer geeks are interested in bringing more people into the fold, WikiHow has a wonderful article about how to make geeks and nerds fall in love with them. I can’t find the link but I seem to remember that it was pretty informative.

    • Zac said, on January 24, 2014 at 11:13 am

      However, not everyone researches WikiHow like you do, Mike.

  4. TB said, on September 20, 2014 at 5:31 pm

    It’s still called ‘Real Ale’ to me!

  5. Lei said, on November 10, 2014 at 10:36 am

    Give me a good old fashioned pint of ale from a 200 year + brewery.
    I’ve always loved real ale and am fascinated with the old brewery method and the history. Following on from that, I am so pleased to see Truman’s ale making a comeback…it was almost lost for good.

    I don’t think I can bring myself to adopt a craft beer…the history and mystery isn’t there for me.
    anyway they are silly expensive too.

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