Beer and Pavement

The Current State of Craft Beer in 2014

Posted in Beer, Intersections, Manifesto by SM 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.

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2 Responses

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  1. jeffmenter said, on October 29, 2014 at 7:48 pm

    I’m having trouble understanding why David Chang is even worth responding to?

    • Zac said, on October 30, 2014 at 10:39 am

      He’s a leading chef and a friend of Oliver’s. It’s just strange how a few years ago more snobbish chefs weren’t serving good, craft beer and now we have this supposed anti-snob chef who prefers cheap beer over craft beer. The tide has changed.


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