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The wide, wide, wide world of beer drinkers

“I am special, I am special! Please, God, please, don’t let me be normal!”

— Louisa, from The Fantasticks

Beer drinkersWould you think me more special if I had tasted every particularly rare beer on the Rate Beer or Beer Advocate top howmanyever lists?

Is your palate better than mine because you appreciate the subtleties of low alcohol, lightly hopped beers and if I can’t taste a big-sized dose of Simcoe/Citra/Amarillo hops I’m bored silly?

Do you watch American Idol?

If you answered yes to any of the above I’m not quite sure why you are here. But, please, don’t leave. It’s little fun drinking alone; the point of drinking beer would be lost.

I’ve been considering this for almost two weeks, since Zak Avery posted his questioin about Elitism in Beer. To understand you should read that post and the comments, skip over to Alan’s follow up (again, the proof is in the comments), then back up to Tandleman’s Beer Blog, particularly this post (and, ahem, the comments).

Now indulge me by following one more link, this one to W. Blake Gray’s essay about “Why all wine lovers just don’t get along.”

He starts with a “study” from Constellation Brands a few years back that divided wine drinkers into six categories. The two he zeros in on are “Image Seekers” (he renames them “Quality Seekers”) and “Enthusiasts,” writing “The former spend the most money on wine; the latter expend the most verbiage on it. These are the only two who care enough about wine to read articles or blog posts about it.”

Hmmm. The others are: Overwhelmed (buy wine but don’t know anything about it); Satisfied Sippers (buy the same brand); Savvy Shoppers (look for discounts); and Traditionalists (like old wineries and are brand-loyal). I’m pretty sure that beer drinkers who would fit into similar categories can read, and I hope they do.

Anyway, I can’t resist this analogy: “And like a marriage entered into after one date, they are stuck together even though they’re incompatible, with verbal sparks flying all the time.”

To make the distinction clear he reduces it to one word (well, one word each, two in total).

Quality (or Image) Seekers want “great.”
Enthusiasts want “interesting.”

The beer-wine analogy is not perfect, but Gray says that Image Seekers (in this case I like the Constellation verbage) spend more and enthusiasts are reluctant to — in part because they understand how many great choices there are at more reasonable prices. “Quality Seekers would spend four times as much to get a wine that’s 10% better,” he writes.

Now to the nut.

What strikes me is how deaf both sides are to the other. The 100-point scale debate, for example: I’m always astounded that Enthusiasts want to take information away from Quality Seekers, and don’t even try to understand why they would want it.

Meanwhile, on the Quality Seekers side, they look at Enthusiasts the way people with jobs looked at tie-dyed student protesters. Yeah, yeah, you love the sound of your own voices. The louder you yell, the less I’m going to listen.

Go back and read the comments in the links above. You catch a bit of that sort of attitude, but you also get the sense that the participants understand (in part because they live in a relatively small country) they might some day continue their discussion in person rather than via a keyboard and computer screen.

Over a beer. So it will be civilized.

Which is what makes beer great.

5 Responses to The wide, wide, wide world of beer drinkers

  1. Barm January 21, 2011 at 4:19 am #

    Phil at Oh Good Ale also has a very good post on the subject of elitism:

  2. Stephen Beaumont January 21, 2011 at 7:50 am #

    I’ve not the time this morning to read everything you linked to, Stan, although I read much of it when Zak first posted his elitism observations. (And BTW, I’m glad you’re not a college professor, what with your propensity for assigning reading lists.)

    In my view, honest beer aficionados are half “elitist” because they are chuffed at the notion of being into something the majority of the population hasn’t cottoned on to yet, and half “evangelist” because they want desperately to bring the liquids they love to a greater audience. Neither word is quite satisfactory, but I think the general meaning is there.

    Regardless of whether the comestible in question is beer, whisky, wine, French food, Spanish tapas or gourmet burgers, there is no doubt in my mind that its advocates get a charge out of being “in the know.” Similarly, and I think equally, there’s an undeniable thrill in turning someone else on to great tastes.

    In the end, it’s about community and the duel compulsions to both cherish and expand it. Which is where that talking over a beer thing comes back into play.

  3. Steve January 23, 2011 at 2:50 pm #

    “…they might some day continue their discussion in person rather than via a keyboard and computer screen.”

    I was just discussing this with some friends the other day (after things got somewhat heated in a BA thread). We wondered how some of these people react in a bar room, or is it just the internet that sets off their hostility?

    A local morning news guy on the radio was discussing cyber-bullying last week and pretty much wondering the same thing, of course his conclusion was perfect, “takes long arms to throw a punch over FaceBook.”

    Here’s a glass tip to Stephen’s view, “…there’s an undeniable thrill in turning someone else on to great tastes.” It’s just too bad that so many only want to see things their own way, and see everyone else’s views as crap.

    And I love when I get labeled as the outsider when I stick up for those subtle beers, Stan. Seems no one can believe I can enjoy (read: appreciate) them and the likes of a Hopslam.

  4. Joe Stange January 24, 2011 at 3:04 pm #

    At least we can all agree on hedonism. Can’t we?

  5. Trevor February 4, 2011 at 9:09 am #

    Stan, I’m a bit late to the discussion (hopefully it hasn’t passed me by), but I wanted to share a couple observations.

    I’ve worked in coffee for a long time and have observed many of the same things the folks in this discussion have regarding elitism. The truth is, enjoying and supporting something that falls outside of the majority can usually be labeled elitist.

    At the same time, while everyone tosses ideas around about cost and language and Webster’s definitions, I think what matters the most regarding elitism is possibly the least tangible (and hardest to control) factor: motivation.

    I still work in coffee and regard myself as one very knowledgable and capable of passing along vast quantities of information. I’m relatively new to beer, but I’m a fast learner and fascinated by it. In both cases, I love obscure, rare drinks as much as I love easy-drinking, delicious drinks. However, my main goal is to share this with people.

    Elitism and/or snobbery happens in a bubble. I see it all the time, and not just in the beverage industry. I don’t consider myself elitist or snobby because my philosophy is that drinking and enjoying better coffee or better beer increases one’s quality of life. That’s it. I just want people to DRINK, THINK and TALK about the beverages they buy and consume.

    I’ve found that simply introducing someone to something and encouraging discussion eliminates much of the air of elitism. Admittedly, that does have to be coupled with an understanding that people simply like what they like. As many people have pointed out, I have friends that loved Bell’s Hopslam this year, but go home to Bud most nights.

    In the end, it’s about increasing the quality of people’s lives by putting better products in front of them to drink, think and talk about. That can’t be elitist OR snobby.

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