The world of beer is quirky - a fascinating blend of ancient history and high technology, of big business and grassroots craftsmanship, of alchemy and science, of eccentrics, drunks and everlasting friendships. In such a multilayered world, there is plenty of room for secrets, stories and myths. And amidst all of this are more than a few closeted skeletons - the great unspoken. One of the topics least likely to find its way into the beer press is the topic of beer snobbery. And it is this topic on which I would like to set the record straight.
Iím not speaking about beer geekdom. Thatís different, and many of us relish the label. After all, if being a geek about something means having great (and sometimes irrational) passion for a subject matter, then I would not wan to be anything else. Who wants to live life without passion? Is that what ícoolí people do? To me, that would be fate worse than death, to meander aimlessly through life with no purpose other than to while away the days in as painless and passionless means possible until the day that the lights shut off for good.
No, Iím talking about snobbery, and it is one of the dirty little secrets of the microbrewery revolution that has swept through the majority of the beer-drinking world. I have been accused of being a íbeer snobí. So has Michael Jackson. Stephen Beaumont. Roger Protz. Come to think of it, very few people who take their beer seriously have escaped the label altogether. But precisely what is it that makes for a beer snob?
Some people would have it defined as one who does not subscribe to the theory that all beer is good beer. There are those who drink the fanciest Belgian ales one day and Pabst Blue Ribbon the next. If I should call this into question, to some that would be snobbery. Why, precisely? You see, it depends on the rationale behind my opinion of their PBR drinking. If I look down on it because PBR is a blue-collar beer, then this would be snobbery. Yet, I love Milds, another blue-collar staple, albeit in a different part of the world. So it has nothing to do with the historical fan-base of a particular brew. No, it has to do with the fact that Blue Ribbon is a poorly-made product. Disdain for that which is cheaply-produced and of inferior quality is not snobbery. Nobody should be enthusiastic about inferior goods, and were the product in question a lifejacket, or fire extinguisher, nobody would dispute that statement. But somehow when youíre talking about beer, people jump at the chance to elevate themselves at othersí expense - after all, they are better because they are not snobs.
Furthermore, were the situation reversed, the question of snobbery would never be raised. There are no shortage of beer drinkers who hold all manner of negative opinions about characterful beers and those who drink them. Again, to themselves and their peers, the fact that they do not sniff at their beer, insist upon a glass, or pay ten dollars for a single bottle makes them superior individuals. And yet somehow they escape the term íbeer snobí completely. We are still talking about beer and we are still talking about people being judgmental of others based on broad and often unfounded generalizations - so whatís the difference?
Beer snobbery does occur, of course, in the commonly documented form. Many drinkers cannot appreciate beers of light colour, or beers of subtlety. Fruit beers are the object of significant scorn amongst many beer aficionados. Trappist ales are considered universally superior to their secular cousins. But by no means should all people who are passionate about their beer be painted with the ísnobí brush. I, for one, drink all manner of beers. International lager is a widely derided style, and indeed is usually worthy of its reputation. But I try all of them without prejudice, and am occasionally treated to a pleasant surprise. I have tasted many run-of-the-mill fruit beers, but I have unearthed a number that I would have again, even a couple of Raspberry Wheats. And while I, too, consider several Trappist ales to be at the highest form of the brewerís art, I have also been one of the longest-running champions of Abbaye des Rocs, a beer which still receives no love from the beer press, but which is a staple of the Top 50 on Ratebeer.com, alongside Rochefort 10 and Westvleteren 8 (the Westy 12, however, is in a class all its own at the top of the chart). I love simple, workaday styles like Mild and Dortmunder. I also love complex workaday beers like Gueuze and Rauchbier. Special occasion beers like Barley Wine, Imperial Stout and Doppelbock all score well in my books.
While there was a time in my life when I aspired to be a beer snob (a phase which, it should be said, many beer geeks go through in their first few years of beer appreciation), this is no longer the case. I disparage beers not for the size of the brewery that produces them, their target market, or the style in which they are brewed. I disparage them if they are flawed, or devoid of characteristics which would make them attractive. I adhere to no law that states that every beer geek must inherently despise a certain type of beer (beer snobbery), nor am I aware of any statute that decrees that I should find all beers to be great, by way of the fact that they are a beer (reverse snobbery). Every beer is equal until Iíve determined otherwise by means of tasting. Thatís not snobbery, folks. Thatís appreciation. And it is the hallmark of a lot of people who have heretofore been accused of being beer snobs.