For some reason "The Session" has not triggered that much continuing heated debate over the 38 months it's been going on. The Session, if you don't know, is the name for the once monthly universal beer blogging topic. It ebbs and flows as far as participation goes and recently has been on a bit of an upsurge. This last month's topic was "what beer(s) would you stand in line for hours to taste?" In my submission, I wrote that I am not that impressed with cult beers but Mr Beer Nut of Ireland (the globe's most credible author using the name "beer nut") went further. He set out the following diatribe against rare beer under the title "Why Beer Doesn't Matter":
Leave it alone in the stash; tell your friends that you have it, you got it, it's yours. If you're feeling particularly gloaty, you could invite a select group of them over and portion it out in thimbles. You're the man now: that's 20ml of liquid respect right there. Then beer itself starts to develop a reputation as something exclusive, expensive, élite. Priced for the discerning connoisseur. Cultish. Not classy -- no, it's still only beer after all -- but with all the worst characteristics that wine, wine snobs and wine bores have accrued over the years. With the breweries already on the make, the middlemen can get in on the action: secure the rare beer cheaply then jack up the price knowing that some collector with more money than sense will pay it. Who loses? People who like to drink beer, that's who.
[My precious. My... preciousssss...]
Frankly, I am much more with the man from Ireland in this case. Pandering to a few snobs costs us all money. Yet not every one agrees - he got 36 comments and the debate continues. Then Mark "Bulldog" Dredge in England took on Mr. O'Nut in his "Blockbuster Beers" post and now he is now up to another 18 comments. Why so much heat about beers that are only sipped by 1% of the 1% of geek beer nerds who are 1% of beer drinkers? Why does anyone care so much one way or another for a class of product that so few experience?
- First, we like to be in the know. We like to be in the know even when there isn't much to know about. Wanting to be in the know is not a good measure of whether something is worth knowing.
- Next, producers like compensation. Nothing fills the heart of the extremely skilled so very much as a great whopping pay packet in return for a day's labour. In this sense, they are exactly like the moderately skilled and the poorly skilled. As a result, price can be a very poor indicator of quality - especially in a market place with temporarily available consumables found in a limited geographical area.
- Further, combine the desire to be in the know with temporarily available consumables found in a limited geographical area and you have a perfect opportunity to raise prices at reduced risk of consumer backlash. Add to that the further cost and commitment to even have a chance at accessing the temporarily available consumables and that chance of consumer backlash fades even more. In a sense, the consumer is also an investor and investors are often the last to know.
- Finally, co-opt phrases like "rock star" and "pairing" and "celebrity" and other faux claims to fame and it becomes clear what is really going on behind the investment, the limited access and the opportunity to know the unknown: it's all about feeding the nerd at the nerd's expense.
The care and feeding of nerds is the same whether it is about a rare bluegrass 45 rpm record or a rare '45 sports car. The nerd wants the temporarily available consumables because then the nerd will be like or (worse) just near that which the nerd is not but want to be. It is exclusivity, antithetical to the to common good. It is a corruption of value. It makes mere information about it is rare and its expression exclusive in the eyes of some. The wet dream of the consultant, it's the ride you are about to be taken on. It's being the mark, being jerked around. It is coveting. It's a sin.
Yet I do it to a degree. I have a stash that is full of big corky bottles. I have paid twenty-five bucks for a beer. I travel long distances to find untasted beer once in a while. For me, it's an innocent enough moderately inexpensive hobby that one I define for myself according to my own limits. It's all about that personal limit. Because, whether it's a brewer or a politician or an athlete or an artist or even a monk, as soon as they are more than they are, as soon as they get labeled "star", well, less becomes more, value becomes devalued, imagined characteristics trump actual characteristics and all of a sudden you are waiting in a line with strangers waiting to meet a self-appointed celebrity and paying a premium for the honour to do so. In the rain. In Nebraska.