Mr. B noted it the other day. We are indeed "seeing the maturing of the craft brewing industry and those who follow it." And by mature we mean critical. Problem is this - if we have been too nice, too obliging, too lacking of the critical eye - how do we go about being, you know, mature? Here is a great example of what might be the way forward:
Our dinners were wheeled out from the kitchen on a plastic service cart. The prime rib really needed help. It was a relatively thin, visibly overcooked piece of meat that didn’t have much flavor at all. It sat there on the plate bone-dry, not a speck of juice coming out of it. We were never asked for a doneness, so assumed what we got —well done — was how it was being served that night. Some au jus would have helped — even a can of Campbell’s beef broth warmed up would have worked. Green beans came with it, right out of a #10 can. I thought I was back in summer camp eating over a campfire. Except these beans weren’t even hot.
That is a passage from "Pulled in by prime rib at the Gouverneur Elks Lodge", a restaurant review by Walter Siebel from a recent edition of the Watertown Daily Times, the venerable newspaper published in neighbouring upstate New York. Walter does a few things in that article about a thoroughly horrible dining experience that I think are instructive. He implies things. The only people in the place when he arrives are drinking in the bar. He mentions only seeing teen wait staff. He also does not say how bad it was. He only describes it: "[i]t looked like a russet but had the taste of a Yukon gold"; "[a] wedge of lemon would have really come in handy"; "the cream curdled as soon as it hit the coffee." He is not unkind. There is no need to be. He only needs to recount particulars accurately and one can clearly see where the unkindness is to be found.
We do see bits of it in beer writing now. B+B's glee at finding "people behind the bar who talk to you like human beings whether you’re a regular or not." Simon's day in Sheffield. AJT's "six men stabbing away at a big platter of pork in the centre of their table". Little precious in any of that. Little that might be taken to supporting mongering calls for ultra-premium beer with an ultra price or prop up a names, whether a brand or a scribe, whose best is far past.
Beer drinkers observing and reporting on the experience before them. That's the stuff. The sort of stuff that allows me to trust if what lay before them was crap that they would tell me and not concern themselves otherwise. What with worrying about a future cold shoulder from a brewer or the loss of a chance of a printed column these things can bear upon other things. Like good honest writing. But when boosterism, fears and ambitions are ignored we get a result of perhaps even more value then when merely describing the good, the great and the wonderful.