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Has beer lost its democratic edge?

Inspired, at least in part, by BrewDog’s Equity for Punks, Adrian-Tierney Jones has a half dozen questions for us this morning (a.m. in the U.S., that is):

I am talking about the sly sense of exclusiveness that is seeping through the world of craft beer. Do you want to be in my gang? Is it a good thing, has beer lost its democratic edge? Was its democratic edge just another manifestation of mindless rabble-rousing, the guy in the corner, drunk on god knows what, taking potshots at easy targets — drink Bud, Blue Ribbon, Stella, whatever?

“Is this what the craft brewing revolution has come to, a freemasonry of various lodges looking uneasily at each other, or will love of good beer overcome any drift towards tribalism? The love of elitism. And what of the wider world? Will commentators in the media (whatever branch) be overwhelmed by this sense of singularity in a world which is usually represented in their pages or on the screen by closing pubs, ‘oh look women drink beer’ featurettes, the very odd shrug on the rising star of cask beer and predictable points scored on the horrendous fashion sense of CAMRA members.

As beer becomes more exclusive, but more knowing, more distanced from its ur-source of a refreshing but uncomplicated drink, then it becomes more valuable, changes its character, at least in the minds of many of us — however, as this drive to exclusivity continues, I wonder if it might hinder its growth and its clubbiness put off people who like a beer but don’t consider it their life and deliver them into the arms of whatever drink offers them a alternative and less threatening sense of belonging (maybe beers that are the equivalent of those ads for ‘exclusive’ figurines of Native American warriors looking narky or kittens wearing high heels). A two-tier system of beer appreciation waits perhaps?

I didn’t plan to quote quite the much, but so many nice phrases. “. . . more exclusive, but more knowing.”


6 Responses to Has beer lost its democratic edge?

  1. J T. Ramsay October 21, 2009 at 10:08 am #

    I think the beer media may be overstating their own significance here. Plenty of people unabashedly drink macro-brews, and it’s not like self-professed beer geeks are spitting on them as they enter choice gastropubs and ask for whatever tastes most like Miller Lite.

    Plenty of people are being initiated into the craft beer trend and there’s room for everyone!

  2. Beantown Brews October 21, 2009 at 10:45 am #

    So more beer-variety in the market place is somehow causing it to be undemocratic? Also, how is an informed consumer-population less democratic than a passive, dare I say, ignorant consumer base? How does that work?

    The craft beer industry represents exactly that – educated choices, with choice really being paramount. I have no problem with a bud light in your hand, so long as it is the beer that you wanted there and not the only option you have in the market place.

    I’ll never judge a man for making a sandwich with Kraft-singles, so long as I can still make mine with Gouda.

  3. Alan October 21, 2009 at 11:21 am #

    That is the point I have been making over “pairing” – otherwise known as eating and drinking. If good beer is to advance it need to do so broadly. Special interest beer and high priced beer (leading people to suggest the alarming idea of “under priced“) is ultimately a dead end.

  4. Pivní Filosof October 21, 2009 at 12:21 pm #

    It hasn’t. There is, though, a very loud minority of snobs that feel better people because the only think they drink is Triple Oak Aged Double Imperial Whatever and there are not few brewers who want to keep them happy so their brews will climb to the top of the ratings.

    The press, of course, simply picks up the story without bothering to do much research on the subject.

  5. Ralph October 21, 2009 at 12:25 pm #

    I try to avoid the beer gangs whenever possible. I’ve had plans with friends to go to a decent beer bar only to find out some special beer event is happening there that evening. The beer gang takes over the bar and has big long speeches where I am told to “be quiet” when I’m there with my friends enjoying a fine beer. I’m hoping they put on their biker jackets and go away.

    I’m an avid homebrewer as well and I’ve decided not to renew my AHA membership. The attempts to herd people who appreciate good beer has turned me off to such organizations. Mostly due to the efforts of the Small Brewers Caucus. I didn’t get involved with homebrewing and the AHA to be a political force, but to share some of the joys of the craft which seems to be giving way more and more to a closed group.

    Thanks for reposting.

  6. Jeff Alworth October 21, 2009 at 4:40 pm #

    This is not an uncommon charge, but a misplaced one, in my view. When you take any population, you can find cliques within it. As a journalistic trope, it’s easy to try to make a larger ethnographic point by highlighting a clique–and the yuppie gangs sipping IPAs make an easy target.

    But don’t macros also cater to the rich and elite? Go into the finest restaurants in any American city and you may or may not find a micro. You will certainly find a macro, though. If macros are so blue-collar, how does one describe this? (You don’t find jug wines in those same restaurants, after all.) Similarly, at least in the micro-rich cities on the west coast, if you cruise into most brewpubs, you’ll see almost exclusively people in the middle class band (lower- to upper-). You may see some elites in there, but it’s unliikely. Cultural elites haven’t abandoned their wines; economic elites don’t hang out in brewpubs.

    It’s true that you can get snobby if you start to get into good beer. But the only continuum that snobbery runs is along beer lines. I don’t think you can generalize beyond that. And of course, that kind of snobbery exists in everything–chocolate, baseball fandom, cars, etc. It’s human nature.

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