An interesting if small hullabaloo of sorts has arisen in the beer world, or at least the US web-based part of it.
It all began yesterday when the Pittsburg Tribune-Review published a column by Mike Seate entitled "Beer snobs forget the true meaning of beer" in which he makes various complaints about beer nerds and the craft beer movement including a perception that there has been a related increase in prices and, in relation to the places where beer geeks gather,
...these places are usually dense with bearded guys in tattered wool sweaters who can rattle off the complex brewing methods of odd brands the way Star Trek enthusiasts can speak fluent Klingon.Todd Alström in his blog post¹ "Beer snobs forget the true meaning of beer?! Or ..." after a bit of slag, wonders if the noting of craft beer at all is a good thing while noting that issue relating to price. And then a whack of comment makers then pick up the slagging. The column and the post by Todd A' are then picked up by the Brookston Beer Bulletin¹¹ and its post "The True Meaning of Beer?" which picks up on the slag but to be fair suggests "there are probably many millions of people who are afraid of better beer just the way Mike Seate is". Then, the Internet being what it is, further links and slag and posts ensue...like this one.
What makes me join in is that idea of meaning...not to mention that question of price and the label of "beer snob". I was recently asked about my relation to beer as an interest and wrote the following in response as part of a larger private communication:
For me brewing is at its heart transactional and any relationship for any member is based on the consumer and the marketplace. So a relationship with the brewer is key for any consumer or a consumer group. It is also about hospitality and conviviality, ancillary aspects to the transaction. The greater the distance between the brewer and the consumer, the less likely the exchange is going to work for both...In Ontario, we have a huge distance. We suffer from a lack of local support such as you would see in a Syracuse or Portland Maine and we also lack a broader consumer awareness like you see in the UK in large part due to CAMRA. For me, the US scene is better as it sees the entire marketplace as its opportunity - not the CAMRA-like achievement of rare understanding or for that matter the...US Drinking team sort of thing. This requires feeding information (not to mention money) back to the brewer and that will best occur in a hospitable convivial relationship...When I think of what I have written above, I am aware that it shows I am as concerned with the sweatered (or, worse, the bejewelled) snob as much as the swilling oaf. Just to be clear, the day my favorite rarer craft beers go up in price due to snobbery's reach is the day I am a sadder beer nerd. And in addition to the price issues related to snobbery, there are the sorts of off-putting "closed club" aspects of the hobby. Pete Brown in Three Sheets to the Wind does note the off-putting nature of the "sweaters and beards" some associate (fairly or unfairly) with some CAMRA members as well as the related defensiveness he also discussed in his interview with us here last September including this:
...it is much more like a fan relationship for me now that I think of it. I am exceedingly fond of honest committed brewers. And part of the underlying thing for me is that the consumer and the brewer jointly face the problems of government regulation and corporate monopolistic trade standards imposing themselves on what is actually a basic form of creation and consumption. That is the stuff that I was referring to, the good stuff - not in cardboard boxes.
The biggest problem is that CAMRA hardliners interpret any criticism of CAMRA as a criticism of cask ale, which is not only wrong, it's breathtakingly arrogant, and kind of stops any really useful constructive debate from emerging.So, given the concerns, is there something to the column Mike Seate wrote? Is it perhaps the case that we do not like as beer nerds to look at ourselves as beer nerds but some sort of evangelists surrounded by fools or at least the unheeding doomed? If so, what does that mean for our understanding of the meaning of what we beer nerds are doing?
Update: Stan has added to the conga line.
¹ which is not of course a blog post as Beer Smack is not a blog.
¹¹ which is also not a blog but rather a bulletin despite also being reverse chronological, accepting of comments and all HTML linky all over the place.