After reading Jake’s recent post about Beer Snobbery, I kept turning over the idea of this unique breed of elitism in my head. Whenever I thought I spied, within myself, what could be pieces of this holier-than-thou attitude, I quickly forced myself to return to the moment when I realized beer was more than American Light Lager, more than something that came from a factory somewhere far away.
I had always tended to look down on the Busch Light drinker of my past, thinking that somehow I had arrived – in a world where most everyone was doing one thing, I was now doing another. I was cutting-edge, unique, and interesting. I was someone who was part of some secret club that not everyone could appreciate or understand; however, now when I go to craft beer events or head to stores to pick up unique and interesting beers, I see more and more people doing the same. When I call up stores to put myself on a list to get myself a coveted bottle of Founder’s Canadian Breakfast Stout, I find that I’m way down the list.
Of course, I wouldn’t be writing about craft beer on the Internet if I thought this kind of mass appreciation was a negative development. Quite the contrary actual – I think this is the beauty of the recent craft beer explosion.
When I look at my evolution from mass-market drinker to craft beer lover, I see one major development staring me in the face: opportunity.I had the chance to try all of these new beers and develop my taste for them, to understand the styles and methods and effort that comprises each glass. But what about someone who didn’t have that opportunity, either by choice, chance, or simple lack of awareness? What about disinterest? What about the fact that the selection of our current era is just plain overwhelming?
This is all, obviously, musing and conjecture to some extent, so allow me to get to the point. I had the chance to visit with a true celebrity this past weekend, kick up my heels and shoot the shit with someone special. I’m speaking, of course, of my father, Ted. He had the misfortune, at least in my eyes, of growing up during what you could call the dead period of American beer. When he turned 18 in 1959, the top 10 breweries in the country controlled half of the market. By the time he turned 35, that number had ballooned – the top 10 breweries now controlled over 80% of the market. The choice we enjoy today was just not available to him, despite the unconscious pining of his palette.
Is my father a wine connoisseur? A food critic? Absolutely not. Does he appreciate food and drink? Indeed. That made him the perfect candidate to answer my question: is craft beer appreciation about effort or opportunity? As I packed up my car to drive up and visit with him, I raided my fridge and packed up a few beers that I knew would be new to him (including Saison DuPont, Orval, Rochefort 8, Oskar Blues Gubna, Boon Kreik, Bell’s Two Hearted, and a home-brewed Belgian Strong Ale, among others). Was I going to engage in a scientific study? No. I was going to have a conversation
As we sat and drank some of the beers I brought for him, we talked about how beer was made, how it was best enjoyed, and what made it special. We spoke for over two hours about what hops were, what “mashing in” means, how maltsters prepare barley for brewing, how yeast works, the different between lagers and ales, and more. The questions kept coming and I had to dig deep into my cache of beer knowledge to answer them all. He remarked on the bitterness of the IPAs, the fleeting sourness of the Kreik and the alcohol heat of my hombrewed strong ale (which, I’ll admit, packs a bit heavier ABV than I intended).
Though we went through a few bottles, I still had to send him home with some (we did have to wake up at a reasonable time the following day). As we packed the bottles into his suitcase, he mentioned how he was excited to try the rest and would let me know what he thought of them. We agreed to speak about them as he had them so that I could give him some background on these unique brews and their respective stories.
For the first time, at least the first time in my presence, he was excited about craft beer in a real, tangible way.
My father had certainly had craft beer before last weekend. He had certainly enjoyed the experience to boot. Still, having someone there who could talk more about what made the beer special made the experience that much more meaningful. It’s not only about the opportunity to try, it seems, but the opportunity to understand.
The people in Jake’s post who are bashing Allagash White and Fat Tire are doing nothing to harm themselves (except for being obnoxious…and some people don’t seem to notice the harm in that). In their ignorance, however, they may be denying someone else the opportunity to experience something that most readers of this site know and love.
Great beer, no matter if it’s common or rare, is something to be shared, discussed, and enjoyed, not something to be held over the heads of those without the chance to get to know it. Maybe instead of deriding the availability of Allagash White, Fat Tire, Sierra Nevada or the like, buy a six pack for a friend and see if maybe you can send them down the rabbit hole through which craft beer lovers like me continue to endlessly tumble.