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On Beer Snobbery, Part I

Several occurrences in the last month have made me think about beer snobbery, which is, ironically, impossible to write about without coming off like a snob. My apologies in advance for what follows below.

The first occurrence took place during DC Beer Week when someone involved in the distribution and/or production of craft beer (I won’t give you any more than that) put down Allagash White, a witbier that is ubiquitous in better beer bars though by no means mainstream. The second occurrence was the arrival of New Belgium, and Fat Tire in particular, to DC, MD, and VA markets. The third occurrence was the unexpected resurrection of a gose, an almost extinct style of wheat beer, by a local branch of a national chain of brewpubs.

As I see it, these three occurrences are related.

In the first, a person complained about the popularity and ubiquity of Allagash White. In my opinion, it’s an excellent beer, every bit the equal of a Belgian-produced witbier. And it’s not just me, Allagash beat out the Belgians at the 2001 World Beer Cup with this offering. So what’s the “problem”? Allagash tastes similar to, though better than, Blue Moon, a Coors (now MillerCoors) creation that is more popular and widely-distributed nationally. At ChurchKey, which has 50 taps, 5 cask lines, and another 500 bottles, Allagash White might be the most well-known beer served. It’s always on tap, and that’s not an accident. People unfamiliar with witbier or Allagash probably know Blue Moon. Allagash White is, for them, a gateway beer. It gets people into craft beer. Like Blue Moon? You’ll like Allagash White, too. Hopefully more than you liked Blue Moon. And from there, maybe you start exploring craft beer.

I’ve seen this happen with other beers as well. Kolsch, for another example. Bill Madden’s Kolsch has converted plenty of people, first at V-50 in Leesburg, and now at Mad Fox in Falls Church. Like Allagash White, ChurchKey almost always has a Kolsch on tap, usually Gaffel. The Big Hunt does as well. To hear someone involved with craft beer put down Allagash White concerns me. You’ve got nothing to be ashamed of if that’s your beer of choice, and no one should try to make you feel ashamed. The relative popularity of Allagash White is a good thing for all craft brewers, and it’s sad that there are people involved in craft beer who don’t recognize that.

The backlash I have seen towards New Belgium’s Fat Tire is far more widespread than one individual. Fat Tire is an amber ale that people have surprisingly strong feelings about; evidently people either love it or hate it. I’m pleased to feel neither of these emotions. I walked into a bar in San Francisco a few years ago, and a companion more or less freaked out over the presence of Fat Tire, which at the time was unavailable in the DMV. I nodded and promptly ordered a Trumer Pils. But, like Allagash White, Fat Tire is a gateway beer. For many people, that’s the one that got them into craft beer. Based on that alone, the beer has value.

In the instances of Allagash White and New Belgium Fat Tire, people who work with or support craft beer are behaving like snobs, alienating people who are potential customers and friends. Knock it off.

The third situation brings me to another reason why such judgments are best kept to one’s self. It’s not that I don’t think much of Gordon Biersch, I just plain don’t think about them. They’re a national chain with drinkable German-style beers, some of which you can buy at Trader Joe’s. Their prior claim to fame as far as I was concerned was that they sent a cease and desist letter to Oskar Blues, forcing the latter to change its imperial red ale, Gordon, to G’Knight, which seemed, and still seems, ridiculous. The brewer at each location of Gordon Biersch has some leeway. They must brew certain styles, but after that, anything is fair game as long as it’s German. Kevin Blodger, the brewer for the Rockville location, chose gose, an obscure wheat ale brewed with coriander and salt water and fermented with Lactobacillus bacteria. It’s sour, tart, and delicious, with flavors of green apple, lemon, and peach skins. And based on what I previously knew about Gordon Biersch, I would have written this off. I’m glad that I didn’t and gave it a chance.

So let’s knock off the snobbery. It’s fine if you don’t like the way Allagash White or Fat Tire tastes, but don’t dislike them solely because, in the small but growing world of craft beer, they’re popular. That sort of mindset will cause you to miss out on some amazing beers, like the growler of gose I have in my fridge.

Cheers,

Jake

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