When beer worlds collide, or don’t

Beer menu at Gramophone in St. Louis

Really?

A bar manager at a gastropub begins a column in the Burlington Free Press with a story about sneaking in and out of a liquor store to buy a six-pack of Red Dog. I didn’t know that MillerCoors still made Red Dog, but then that’s not the point of “Remember when beer was fun?”

Instead Jeff Baker describes a place where I would have no interest in drinking.

There’s been a weird movement in the craft beer world that’s polarizing the beer scene: If you like craft beer then you must hate macro-beer. If you like macro-beer then you’re not one of us; you’re just a poser or at best an ignorant neophyte.

Is this really happening in Vermont? I don’t think Greg Noonan would approve. In fact, Baker doesn’t seem to be focusing on Vermont.

I see this blind us-against-them attitude expressed frequently online and mostly by the “fans” of craft beer. These Craft Beer Crusaders troll the forums of BeerAdvocate.com and Ratebeer.com, lambasting anything that isn’t craft, micro or nano.

The ramifications?

How did craft beer end up on this dead-end road to self-destruction? All this anger, all this negativity is going to destroy the movement and only serves to delegitimize the cause of brewing beer with flavor.

Again, really? This is not my beer world, although lord knows I am by almost any definition a beer geek. Saturday we paid $50 a ticket to attend the Midwest Belgian Beer Festival, one of the events that kicked off St. Louis Craft Beer Week. Granted, it costs about that much to park for two hours in New York City, but that price caused considerable discussion here in the Midwest. It turned out to be a deal.

More typical were the two evenings before. Friday we had dinner at 5 Star Burgers, which keeps about a half dozen beers from small St. Louis-area breweries on tap as well as selling wine and cocktails. The two young women (best guess later 20s or early 30s, although when you get to be as old as me guessing gets tougher) at the table next to us were both drinking beer.

Thursday we went to see Kermit Ruffins and the BBQ Swingers at the Gramophone. That’s part of the bottle beer list at the top of this post (draft list here). Waiting for Ruffins to go on Daria and I were both drinking 4 Hands Brewing’s Prussia when I noticed that the woman wearing a “Free Sean Payton” (did I mention Ruffins draws a NOLA friendly crowd?) was drinking Urban Chestnut Schnickelfritz from a bottle. The man she was with had a tall can of Busch, and the man they were talking to was holding a cocktail. Ruffins spent a good portion of the show with his trumpet in one had and a Bud Light bottle in the other.

Works for me. We can’t find beer we want to drink everywhere, but it’s dang close (you’d be surprised as the variety at Busch Stadium). So it seems fair to me that a Busch or a Red Dog drinker is entitled to the same.

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20 Responses to When beer worlds collide, or don’t

  1. Norman Benson (@Timberati) July 29, 2013 at 12:29 pm #

    Yay! Thanks, Stan, for standing up for choice.

    BTW, you’ll be missed at NCHF. Have a great time at the wedding.

  2. Jeff Alworth July 29, 2013 at 12:47 pm #

    I love a nice light lager on a hot day. My go-to tipple is Pacifico. I recently tasted my way through a ton of mass-market lagers and found the Pacifico didn’t especially stand out. Nevertheless, my hand was drawn to the sunny label on a half-rack recently as I prepared for a heat wave. I love that beer, icy cold. The beer geek in me may say, “why don’t you grab the Occidental Kolsch” (and I do sometimes), but the beer *drinker* in me says: “Ah, summer; it’s not complete without a bottle of Pacifico.”

  3. Gary Gillman July 29, 2013 at 1:15 pm #

    Stan, I agree with you as far as it goes, i.e., I think it is generational. You and I are of a certain age, we remember when creditable beer was made by domestic brewers. There were quite a few brands in fact for those prepared to seek them. Andeker, Ballantine XXX IPA, Michelob (not the same today IMO), Yuengling Porter, 1970′s-era Coors, Rainier’s Ale (aka the Green Death), etc. In Canada, Molson Export, Brador, Labatt Extra Stock, Labatt IPA, Champlain Porter. One developed a fondness for old-school brewing when it could produce very decent beers as these.

    Today, there is little mass market beer to waive the flag for the best of the old-school. Even the plethora of interesting labels from regionals and large brewers which had taken over the latter – anyone for Piels Draft in a can, or Maximus Super? – have largely disappeared. So it’s hard to be bullish about a scene where Coors Light and Miller Lite and Bud Light, and I guess Corona, represent most of the action. You can’t really blame people for being turned off by the monochromatic scene that is mass-produced domestic beer today. Mass production brewing, Blue Moon apart and Shock Top I guess, has largely given up on traditional beer flavour in my opinion.

    Gary

    • Stan Hieronymus July 29, 2013 at 1:25 pm #

      Gary – The left side of that board doesn’t have any beer I’m interested in drinking, but if the guy you brought the woman in the “Free Sean” shirt wants to he should be able to.

      • Gary Gillman July 30, 2013 at 5:39 am #

        Of course. Taste rules, and one can’t gainsay a subjective preference. However, if the left side offered true taste diversity, as its equivalents would have 50 years ago in my opinion, craft brewing would be more tolerant of mass-marketed beer. And I say this again as one who remembers when some of it was very decent. Some still is, e.g. a fresh Labatt 50 or Molson Stock Ale draft in Toronto.

        Gary

  4. Chris Shepard July 29, 2013 at 3:08 pm #

    Interesting! I had a very different reaction to the quoted article here. Agree – the article may overstate the state of the craft beer world (I’m wary of making almost any overarching statement about “the craft beer world” these days) in that the author’s feeling of shame for picking up a light American lager is likely not shared by everybody. The ramifications are also almost certainly an exaggeration. But I don’t think we can deny the vehemence with which some craft beer fans speak out against those beers (almost-always digitally, virtually, or otherwise mediated – I’ve witnessed 0 bar fights on the subject). While I don’t share it, I understand the pressure the author feels to be ashamed at such a purchase, if he spends time reading those rants. But mostly, I wholeheartedly support his closing sentiment that beer drinkers should feel comfortable drinking whatever they enjoy.

    It seems to me though, that brewing companies have backed off some of the baiting here. That is, less of them seem to be outright insulting light American lager brands as well as just the idea of light American lagers. I’m fascinated by the connection, or lack thereof, between beer drinker sentiments, cultural shifts and marketing here. Who/what affects how beer drinkers feel about drinking beer and beer brand choices? Why? And how’s it changed/changing?

    Is this how folks end up thinking/writing about/working in beer their whole lives?

    • Stan Hieronymus July 29, 2013 at 3:22 pm #

      Thanks, Chris. Maybe I should start asking people who comment to leave their age ;>)

      In “The Audacity of Hops” Tom Acitelli uses the word movement on nearly 40 percent of the pages (that’s a rough count). I certainly agree that zeal has been a factor in the success of small breweries.

      Does that change going forward? I wouldn’t pretend to know. But where I drink inclusive seems to work well. Publicans have included what’s generally referred to as craft without excluding the BC (Before Cascade) beers.

  5. SteveH July 30, 2013 at 6:05 am #

    Um… 53? No, really. And while I don’t necessarily agree with Gary’s opinion on beers available in my youth, I do agree with Stan that there’s no reason people can’t drink what they want to drink.

    What I think back on is how this dynamic seems to have reversed. I can recall drinking Guinness Draught and Leinenkugel Red — even Hacker-Pschorr Weiß, when the proprietor at my local pub started making them available (say, 1994?) and getting the stink-eye look from all the Bud Light and MGD drinkers at the bar.

    I’ve often gone back and tried to revisit my youth (late 70s, early 80s) by trying an Old Style or Huber, but I’d be less than honest if I said I was surprised at how good they were.

    In those days I was already moving toward better imports (the Micro Boom® having not quite reached my neighborhood) and that has held over to today. If there’s no new micro I want to try, you can bet a 12 pack of Spaten Helles ends up in my cart.

    Of course, that brings out the other trolls too, because their palates just can’t seem to discern a good German Helles from an American Light lager.

    • Bill July 30, 2013 at 8:39 am #

      Umm… 46. I guess I’m surprised by Stan’s surprise that the dynamic described by the Farmhouse manager exists. I think Chris Shepard has it right in his description of the digital beer world. Yes, the extent is exaggerated by the author of the article, and I doubt said attitude is predominant in the wider world… but if you get to drinking establishments that tend to have folks from a narrow range of backgrounds, interests, age, you very well might hear/see/feel that attitude expressed. If the place is more of a neighborhood place, you won’t.

      SteveH, I’ve long suspected that many “vocal” craft beer trolls don’t actually like most lagers regardless of whether they’re good or bad: that the flavor profiles that strike their “this is great!” chords (be they stouts, sours, highly hopped ales, yeasty Belgian brews) aren’t those found in lager styles. But rather than recognizing the way lagers are supposed to taste, they just assume the beer isn’t any good, because it doesn’t taste like what they’ve come to learn is great. My formative beer-drinking years were all spent drinking regional and imported lagers (outside of the early imports from Merchants du Vin), and I identify with what Gary and you said. Lots of good stuff, completely unrecognized or dismissed by a vocal segment of craft beer fans.

      • Stan Hieronymus July 30, 2013 at 8:54 am #

        Bill – A fair point. It’s not that boorish behavior exists, but that somebody person – particularly a beer manager – would be so intimidated.

      • SteveH July 31, 2013 at 5:48 am #

        Bill — Completely agree on that “vocal majority” (at least, majority on most sites).

  6. Mike Kallenberger July 30, 2013 at 12:04 pm #

    It’s easy to over-estimate the size of groups that talk really loud, and that’s part of what’s happening. Most craft beer lovers aren’t snobs, but most craft lovers don’t post on forums, etc. On the other hand, I’ve actually experienced more of what might be called reverse-snobbery — some people seem to assume that the craft beer in my hand means I’m looking down on them (sort of the same way some people respond to a BMW driver). I know these people aren’t reading beer blogs or anything like that, so either (A) they’ve been dissed in the past by a beer snob, maybe even only one time, or (B) they make that assumption about any higher-priced product’s user. But because of this I bend over backwards not to talk about beer at all when I’m around people who aren’t into it — for fear of reinforcing any nugget of suspicion they may have.

    • Gary Gillman July 31, 2013 at 5:34 am #

      I didn’t state my age, it’s 63, and my reference for the mass market was early 1970′s. At that time, the beer was on average much better than today’s mass market IMO. The beer renaissance was still necessary, even more by the mid-80′s when the light, dry and ice things were getting going. I think the very existence of a vibrant craft movement is due in part to the feisty attitude towards the mass standard of beer as it became. You wouldn’t have the confidence to see beer in a different way if you didn’t share that feeling to a certain point. I agree too though that one can exaggerate the feeling, generally beer fans are tolerant and see more than ever that all beer is part of the same tradition, it took a generation so that people could develop perspective on it. But there are some holdouts, yes.

      Gary

      • SteveH July 31, 2013 at 5:45 am #

        Gary — You have 10 years on me, so I can only comment to the late 10s when I started drinking beer. Even then I recognized there was good, bad, and imports; which were exotic, if nothing else — different, but I can’t honestly say that I may have thought they were better tasting. Just that image of an “import.”

        But I can tell you that my first tries of regionals that carried more character and flavor than the mass market beers opened my eyes and the advent of micros opened them even more — it was then that I understood what I’d been drinking in late high school and college was pretty lackluster.

        • SteveH July 31, 2013 at 5:46 am #

          Uh… that would be late 70s. (and the 1 and 7 keys are nowhere close… :/)

  7. Jeff Baker July 31, 2013 at 10:44 pm #

    Hi all -

    I wanted to thank all of you for reading my column and taking the time to comment on it. I think it’s a popular subject at this moment in the beer scene, at least out East, and I’m glad it has some resonance with you all.

    As a few of you have pointed out, I’ve somewhat over-stated the detracting Beer Crusaders. I do believe that they are in the minority of craft beer fans/drinkers, but they do seem to have a very loud voice both while sitting at my bar and while at their keyboards.

    I get a ton of awesome and interesting people who sit down at my bar that are genuinely interested in learning about and enjoying craft beer. These people make my day every time. They’re excited and enthused to taste the new beer from this or that brewery. But not a week goes by that I don’t get a couple guys (usually) who proceed to pontificate about how this beer sucks because it’s a lager not a double IPA or how that brewery used to be good but is now garbage. They name drop, chew on buzz words and stare at their cell phone while typing out ratings on some beer app. It’s these miserable dudes that are giving the scene a bad name.

    And it’s these dudes that like to “catch” people like me drinking something that’s “beneath” me. I was at a bar a while back enjoying an American adjunct lager pint after a long hot day at work (previous job) and some guy came up to me and said, “Hey! Aren’t you that beer buyer guy from the beer shop? What the hell are you doing drinking THAT crap?!”

    Most craft beer drinkers are chill and like to just have a good time, but a lot seem to have a feeling that macro beers are beneath them. “I used to drink X in college and can’t stand the taste anymore!” That’s all fine and good, because it refers to their personal taste. But it’s a really fine line before you start judging the guy sitting next to you at the bar who’s drinking a Bud from the bottle.

    Someone also touched on the reverse-snobism as well. But I’ll take it a step further. I’ve encountered my fair share of BMC drinkers who lambast others for drinking craft beer. “It’s too heavy!” “It’s all too hoppy.” Not to mention, “Eight dollars for a pint of beer?!”

    These two opposing groups can slowly poison the water and it’s easy to see how we start to end up with a segment of craft beer drinkers who staunchly and stubbornly defend their nano-brews. Defending the economic argument, an ethical argument or something along those lines warrants a sense of zeal and gusto, but when you’re defending what is essentially your opinion on taste, people need to just relax a bit. At the end of the day, it’s just beer, right? It’s supposed to be fun and uniting.

    • Stan Hieronymus August 1, 2013 at 8:05 am #

      Thanks for bringing the conversation full circle, Jeff.

      In one sense it was unfair of me to use the Gramophone as an example. It was not an evening for conversation, and far too loud to eavesdrop on whatever ones were taking place. But when people were talking I suspect it wasn’t about the beer. Lot easier to avoid disagreements when it’s not part of the conversation.

      I should also have pointed out that 4 Hands Brewing was a concert sponsor. Usually they’ll have 2 beers on tap, but for the concert they had 4. That particularly pleased us because that’s probably why Prussia was on.

    • Bill August 1, 2013 at 8:26 am #

      Thanks for chiming in, and much praise to you for the Farmhouse. My folks live in Burlington, and I make sure to have a meal and a glass or two every time I visit them. It’s a wonderful, relaxed, friendly place.

  8. Jolly Rodger August 4, 2013 at 7:58 pm #

    I’m in my late 20′s, on the West Coast, and say it’s a sizeable amount of people who of my generation and younger that behave in this fashion. Especially among the already anti-corporation crowds…. Hell, bars like the Toronado will apparently serve you a glass of water if you ask for a Bud.

    • Jeff Baker August 6, 2013 at 8:59 am #

      Jolly Rodger,

      The sort of industry snobbism that you’re describing is what is perpetuating the issue. If Toronado really has this policy, it’s shameful. Other high-end beer bars on the East coast have similar stunts that beer geeks can get a snicker at. But all they are doing is alienating any new-comers. It’s similar to bullying – everyone laughs except the victim. As beer industry folks, we need to be responsible and educate consumers, not alienate them.

      I think this attitude comes out of the misconception that these beer bars have no shortage of customers. I suppose, at this point in the arc of the beer culture, they probably don’t. But it won’t always be that way.

      And I don’t know about you, but I generally don’t like to associate with people who look down on me for my personal flavor choices. Can you imagine a pizza place that gave you a piece of cardboard covered in sauce and cheese if you asked for thin crust? It’s just that ridiculous.

      And I think you’re right in saying that it’s mostly the younger crowd. (I’m in my late 20s myself.)