A Good Beer Blog

-------

Have you read The Unbearable Nonsense of Craft Beer - A Rant in Nine Acts by Alan and Max yet? It's out on Kindle as well as Lulu.

Maureen Ogle said this about the book: "... immensely readable, sometimes slightly surreal rumination on beer in general and craft beer in particular. Funny, witty, but most important: Smart. The beer geeks will likely get all cranky about it, but Alan and Max are the masters of cranky..."

Ron Pattinson said: "I'm in a rather odd situation. Because I appear in the book. A fictional version of me. It's a weird feeling."


Comments

Comments are locked. No additional comments may be posted.

Stephen Beaumont -

Oh, Alan, you're such a sensitive soul. Mr. Asimov doesn't want to tart up your watering hole, he -- and I, as I've written time and again -- just doesn't want to be served slop when he's out having a beer. As he says, there's nothing wrong with a burger, but "just as life is too short for bad beer or bad wine, so it is for bad burgers."

"Slop" is, for me, at least, the kind of utterly contemptible and frankly crap nachos I was served at a place with good beer in the Philadelphia airport -- I think it was called Chick and Somebody or other -- or a burger that is three minutes removed from having been frozen and then slapped in a Wonder Bread-style bun and topped with an individually wrapped single slice of "cheese." I like burgers and nachos, really I do, but I don't appreciate being served shit simply because I like good beer.

I'm extrapolating, but I do believe that was at the heart of what Eric was writing about. Simply, my taste buds -- and Eric's, if I may be so presumptuous as to speak for him -- don't stop working once the beer slides down my throat.

Knut Albert -

Sorry, Alan. But I'm with Eric. And Stephen. And if Jeff wasn't enjoying the delicacies of Bir & Fud in Italy, he could tell you about the menu in his pub, too.

Alan -

Well, and I think this is a real problem in how craft beer is promoting itself - you are marketing into a niche. I appreciate Stephen view and I agree that he and I do move in separate brackets as I do not care for either slop or the atelier. If craft beer wants to beat its head against that market and aim for the ten dollar glassful, it will hit the glass ceiling in very short order. There isn't enough market for the sort of cultural expansion that goes along with this discourse.

I distinguish this from snobbery completely. It is about the scale of the available market. As I said, beer bistro will get my trade 1.5 times a year. I will buy craft beer 52 times or more a year. I buy beer with thousands [Ed.: "of other buyers"] with similar expenses in the budget line item. That is the market to aim at.

Sure nice food is nice. I like nice food. Eat it and make it every day. You have no idea how I am drawn to fine cheeses. They haunt me. I don't think any of you have had an organic acre vegetable garden to service your own needs. I have and so I have no worries on that account.

But if you make nice food a requirement for craft beer, you are heading in the wrong direction. It is the same idea that craft beer is "extreme" or craft beer needs a ticking note book. All good and worthy niche markets. Not much of a real future.

Adrian -

On principle, I agree with Alan's sentiment. Beer shouldn’t *need* to be paired with fine food to be appreciated. Yet that’s the impression I get from all the beer hipsters these days and I think it’s a little too pretentious for my tastes. On the other hand, I do believe that there is a time and place for fancy vintage beer to go with fancy food. However, I don’t believe that place should be at a pub.

While I appreciate the *novelty* of fancy overpriced beer themed dinners, and love to cook good food at home, there seems to be a unwritten rule in the American (and Canadian?) craft brew world that you haven't made it as a brewing company unless you're featured in some fancy restaurant. I disagree.

If it’s bar/pub we’re talking about (and not a restaurant with a wide selection of beer; that’s a different argument I believe), then I think the food ought to be simple, approachable, but well made. Offer up burgers, nachos, fish & chips, salsa & chips, chicken wings, pulled pork sandwiches, and pot pie. Just cook them right and use good quality ingredients instead of resorting to exotic overpriced ingredients to improve the experience. In short, the quality of the food should match the quality of the beer regardless of the ingredients used.

Stephen Beaumont -

What's all this about "niche" and "the atelier," Alan. No one -- and I mean, literally, no one I am aware of -- is saying that all beer need be paired with food at every drinking establishment. Several of my favourites -- dba, Toronado -- don't even serve food. And I certainly do not need an haute cuisine meal with which to enjoy my beer, or wine, or spirits, or cocktails. The way I read Asimov, and the way I feel, is simply as Adrian put it: "the quality of the food should match the quality of the beer regardless of the ingredients used."

To contextualize, let me draw your attention to Belgium, where they have considerable experience with beer. Walk into almost any place where a variety of beer is served and nine times out of ten you will also have the option to purchase well made and presented food. It may not be fancy -- I had a "dinner" one night at the Kulminator in Antwerp of good cheese, good bread and good mustard -- but it's usually going to involve fresh ingredients and reasonably good preparation. Hell, the Spaghetti Bolognese that you can find in many if not most Flemish cafes will blow away that served in half the Italian restaurants in Toronto.

Alan -

I appreciate your view Stephen and know we are not really in disagreement on the point as I think we are agreeing with fresh and local is a great accompaniment to fresh and local [summarized as ["beer may go with good food but good food need not go with beer"] but when I read...

"While aficionados yearn to have beer taken as seriously as wine, too often beer is presented in a context that diminishes the respect it deserves."

...I cannot but feel that the argument is that beer deserves a haute setting. Even using "aficionados" (neatly a bull fighting term) or "atelier" would turn off the largest market of the untapped market.

I actually think you and I agree more than you and Asimov do! ;-)

Stephen Beaumont -

Sorry, Alan, but I think not. When good beer is served alongside crap food, I believe that diminishes the respect good beer deserves. And aficionado is a perfectly good English word, one I use with some frequency in my own writing. It's certainly better than "beer lovers," which I think is either a sign of deeply misplaced priorities -- I love my wife and family, but I enjoy beer -- or something kind of kinky and gross.

The entire structure of the institution of the British pub is currently rebelling against the crap food that used to be the only kind you could get at the great majority of pubs. I see no reason why we should not do the same.

Alan -

Dang. I was hoping to co-opt you with a subtly very sneaky move there.

I think though you have made yourself clear. I was not advocating for "crap" food though you may be talking about it. I would refer you to the words "a decent and modestly priced dinner" if there is any question in your mind. So we are dealing with gradations between that and the "atelier", not crap.

But I am not sure Asimov is. Again, he uses the phrase "treat beer seriously" and refers to the quality of the staff or the food as a matching requirement. This is a message of exclusivity and, as Asimov admits, price increase. Both by definition exclude potential new beer fans from the discourse. Bad move for craft beer.

We may like good food but it is not a necessity and in no way required for good beer to be respected. I like good bagpipe music, too, when I drink craft beer. But I would not impose that on you... well, not every time.

Stephen Beaumont -

From Mr. Asimov:
"Good beer deserves better than fried mozzarella sticks, dried-out burgers, chicken fingers and greasy wings. American beer culture has progressed to the point where it offers wonderful, civilized beverages rather than the infantilizing mass-market brews, yet many beer bars offer grownups these reprehensible kids’ foods. I mean, chicken fingers?"

How, pray, is that a message of exclusivity, Alan. Seems to me a plea for something other than crap food, plain and simple.

Alan -

Well, Stephen, if you read the rest of the article it focuses on higher end food. Perhaps this is of the sort that you are used to and prefer and recommend in your business(es).

I also think you will admit that when you go out you are not looking for "a decent and modestly priced dinner" with three kids under ten. We may be speaking at different levels because we have different price points in the market. That may be reasonable. You may think my taste in food is crap and I may think your opinion of bagpipe music is crap.

The difference is, however, that my point notes that there are more of me than you. This may be harsh and it may be wrong but I do think it reasonable to suggest that focusing on the current general beer buying beer market (your phrase "crap food" and all) is a better opportunity for expansion in the overall craft market than attaching the hopes of the future for craft beer growth to teaching people both about craft beer as well as bars that are small jewels, more atelier than bar.

[Please note: next possible retort will be at about 9:00 pm due to kid's softball]

Alan -

A question struck me as I watch the ten year olds play - are Michigan's crap? Me, I want a hot dog and a fine craft brew. Heck, I have happily had a Fantome saison with the odd snappy griller.

Stephen Beaumont -

If by higher end food you mean "a good burger," then I guess you're right, Alan, because for the life of me I can't find a single reference to food other than that following the note about chicken fingers. In fact, Asimov goes out of his way to assert that he is not talking about fancy fare: "I’m not saying that the food has to be fancy or complicated. Simple is fine. But it must be well prepared, using good ingredients."

I've had great hotdogs and crap hotdogs, great burgers and crap burgers, great nachos and crap nachos. It's not the food, it's the quality, just as with the beer itself. I don't drink crap beer because it's beer, but because it's crap.

And I can listen to the pipes for hours on end.

Alan -

I still think we may be agreeing. Again, it is Asimov's use of language that is the issue not our respective taste, though that may still be on the table. Let's get back to basics and look how food is described:

1. Within the article, descriptions of bad food:

"The choice of vegetables consisted of French fries or tart, acidic sauerkraut."
"Weary of the numerous variations on the sausage.."
"...prefab burger, as flat and tasteless..."
"The roast beef sandwich was tough, the burger desiccated."
"the usual fare of fried mozzarella sticks and chicken fingers. "
"The menu is straightforward pub grub, with wings and the dreaded mozzarella sticks. At least Rattle ’n’ Hum knows how to serve a burger, juicy and cooked to order."

2. With the article descriptions of good food:

"... the oysters were pristine. The sausages — DBGB offers a selection of 13 — were superb. "
"...chicken tacos, a Vietnamese-style sandwich of pork and mango slaw, or a bacon, apple and cheddar sandwich..."
"charcuterie, cheese and simple cooked dishes. One night, succotash with bacon"
"went beautifully with the creamy succotash."
"serves a decent pulled pork sandwich or nachos made to order, as Safe Haven does..."
"...serve delectable schnitzels and stews..."

Do you see what I see? Ordinary joes do not eat oysters, creamy succotash, or even nachos made to order. They would not know a delectable schnitzel from a pedestrian one. Why would it behoove craft beer to fight the second battle of teaching the customer about such foods or even make an alliance with them? I agree from a personal taste point of view the latter list looks better to me. I like good food. But I can oyster you under the table. [I may not be able to do that in fact but you would have to prove it to a Nova Scotian like me.] Many cannot bear the sight of an oyster and couldn't tell a schnitzel from a dachshund.

My point remains that such an overall strategy is a poor one for craft beer. They need to confirm it is as good with better foods as with every day one. If not, it creates the appearance of exclusion, the idea that if you take no oysters down your throat you will not understand craft beer. That is micro niche thinking and bad macro-marketing.

Ed Carson -

"Ordinary joes do not eat oysters, creamy succotash, or even nachos made to order." Nor do they deserve to get tough roast beef, prefab dessicated burgers, or greasy cheese sticks. It is about commitment, I think. If you are going to go out of your way to serve beer that is out of the ordinary, you should, at least, make the attempt to serve food, if you are going to offer food, that is extra-ordinary.( go ahead, diagram that sentence, I dare you.)

Alan -

I am fine with that observation. But note that you say "beer that is out of the ordinary". I think craft beer should be ordinary in the sense of ordinarily available. I spend a week in Portland Maine and every bar seems to have at least a tap of that great Allagash white - even the dives favoured by friends.Dives where the food probably is crap. And also the finer eating spots too.

tedo -

I take a little bit of offense at the comment of "ordinary joe's don't eat oyster's". Come down to Texas and go to an Oyster Shack during Oyster Season and you'll see plenty of Ordinary Joe's eating copious amounts of oysters and washing it down with a Shiner or Saint Arnold's.
And as for other comments made I have to agree with Stephen. Its not about beer bars having fancy food, its about them having good good to go with great beer, I don't see what's wrong with that? Frozen food popped into a microwave I think does a disservice to what most people take a lot of care and effort to make. But that's just me.

Alan -

Offense? I would not want that. I had no idea that the oyster eaters of Texas were such a large constituency. Even in my old home of PEI not many ate them raw - even when you could buy the best malpeques for 20% or less off the same person who sent them to restaurants in New York, Paris and London to be placed on the platter. Me, I am happy to hork them down on my back lawn or at the cottage with a good chilled saison.

But you are right - bad food is bad. Yet good beer with popcorn like at Three Dollar Deweys is just fine, too.

ted -

Alan,
Oh there's a huge contingent of us gulf coast folk that love our raw oysters, and love a good beer to go with them. Agree that there is nothing wrong with some popcorn to go with that good beer. My point is if you're going to be a bar that serves some beer nuts, chips and popcorn, thats all well and good and frankly I think there is nothing wrong with that. But if you're going to attempt to serve food with you're beer, than you should do better than frozen tasteless hamburger paties and mozzarella sticks, but thats just me.

Stephen Beaumont -

Ah, now at least I see the root of some of our confusion, Alan. You've been commenting on the article that appeared in the Times, while I've been referencing Asimov's blog post. But still...

I do not for the life of me understand your offense. Are desiccated burgers and tough roast beef sandwiches foods of the people? If so, then they can have them! Nachos made to order? How else can they be made -- even the crap ones at the ballpark are made when ordered.

Let's pull this back to the basics. Beer goes with raw oysters, which have been and in some parts -- Texas and Louisiana, for example -- still are very much foods of the people. Beer also goes with burgers. And foie gras. But crap foie is as bad as a crap burger and crap oysters, and crap beer.

I can only view your comments as playing the class card -- ordinary joes vs. people who like oysters and succotash -- and I have a big honking problem with that. Beer has always been the great democratizer, as I have written time and again, the drink of kings and ditch diggers, and I object to the notion that the ditch digger muchst be talked down to before he can appreciate craft beer, just as I have a problem with telling the king he only really understands craft beer if he sucks it up alongside a previously frozen burger on a Wonder bun.

Alan -

For me "made to order" is ordering food that is not on the menu. Maybe I am wrong about that but ditch diggers do not tell the kitchen what to make regardless if it is on the menu or not.

I entirely agree with your position on good burgers as I have indicated I think we agree in large part. But the Times article most heavily characterized "good" food with foods of, yes, one's betters. I am not playing the class card but I am suggesting that Asimov did, though likely inadvertently.

I entirely agree that beer is democratic and also egalitarian. But also we have to admit that the food of kings and his majesty's restaurants are not available or affordable to the ditch digger. So if the only way we can respect beer is to partake at the spot which is "small jewel, more atelier than bar" the article is by definition saying that those who would not be comfortable there or be able to afford it can't truly respect beer.

It is, in fact, the implicit looking down upon the ditch digger that I object to in the article. And the resulting likelihood that it is not good marketing to tie craft beer too closely to exclusionary swanky food. Good beer and real beer like real cheese, bread and other things ought to be seeking to be as widely available and affordable as possible.

Stephen Beaumont -

I just went back and reread Asimov's article and still don't follow you, Alan. I detect no looking down upon anyone in suggesting that a burger shouldn't be dry and dessicated or sausages should have flavour. It doesn't even cost that much more, if any more at all, to offer a decently cooked burger or moist sausage. And if a pulled pork sandwich is the food of kings, then there sure are a lot of kings scattered across the American south.

There will always be shithole bars where you can get screamed at and drink beer with stale peanuts as your only food, and sports bars serving up frozen chicken fingers and mozerella sticks, and you are most welcome to them, my friend. Me, I'll stick to a place like Philly's Standard Tap, Brussels' Poechenellekelder, Regina's Bushwakker and London's White Horse, where I can happily indulge in a pretense-free atmosphere, good beer, staff who actually know the difference between a lager and an ale, and food that doesn't make me instantly regret ordering it.

Last word, dude. I have work to do...

Alan -

Well, we can agree that we are reading the article differently. I have been very clear on how the article implicitly looks down and you don't see it. As I said, we agree in large part so I have no real idea what it is you aren't following.

Alan -

By the way, my reference to and understanding of "aficionado" is informed by the opening of Hemingway's Death in the Afternoon in which indicated the "affect" that is experienced by the aficionado includes the losses that accompany pleasure. Just as we know that we each suffer as well as enjoy our obsessions, so too must we understand the implicit effects of those obsessions on others. Consider this bit from page 9 to 10 of the text as it appears on line:

"The aficionado, or lover of the bullfight, may be said, broadly, then, to be one who has this sense of the tragedy and ritual of the fight so that the minor aspects are not important except as they relate to the whole. Either you have this or you have not, just as, without implying any comparison, you have or have not an ear for music. Without an ear for music the principle impression of an auditor at a symphony concert might be of the motions of the players of the double bass, just as the spectator at the bullfight might remember only the obvious grotesqueness of a picador...

The comparison with wine drinking is not so far-fetched as it might seem. Wine is one of the most civilized things in the world and one of the natural things of the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection, and it offers a greater range for enjoyment and appreciation than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing which may be purchased. One can learn about wines and pursue the education of one's palate with great enjoyment all of a lifetime, the palate becoming more educated and capable of appreciation and you having constantly increasing enjoyment and appreciation of wine even though the kidneys may weaken, the big toe become painful, the finger joints stiffen, until finally, just when you love it the most you are finally forbidden wine entirely. Just as the eye which is only a good healthy instrument to start with becomes, even though it is no longer so strong and is weakened and worn by excesses, capable of transmitting constantly greater enjoyment to the brain because of the knowledge or ability to see that it has acquired. Our bodies all wear out in some way and we die, and I would rather have a palate that will give me the pleasure of enjoying completely a Chateaux Margaux or a Haut Brion, even though excesses indulged in in the acquiring of it has brought a liver that will not allow me to drink Richebourg, Gorton, or Chambertin, than to have the corrugated iron internals of my boyhood when all red wines were bitter except port and drinking was the process of getting down enough of anything to make you feel reckless."

matt -

Well yeah, all pubs should serve good food, regardless of their beer selection. Of course they should.

But if you're trying to introduce craft beer to new people, it ought to pair as well with whatever they're used to eating, as that which they're currently drinking, crap or not.

Why change the menu on them too? One step at a time.