Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries

October 20, 2008

Beer Issues:

The Four Letter Word

Beer “snob” is such an ugly, dirty word. But we prefer the term “dork.”
by Eddie Glick

I like my beer like my women: pale, strong, full-bodied, and extremely bitter.
Contact Eddie»
I’ve been called, on more than one occasion, a beer snob. Some of those accusations came from people who thought Bud Light is the only beer on the planet, while others came from people (I won’t name names) who make ordinary beer snobs look like suds-chugging, get-hammered-at-any-cost college students.

Frankly, I don’t give a rat’s ass what people think of my beer opinions, but I have noticed that as craft beer has risen in popularity to approach (gasp!) “mainstream” status, so have concerns in the craft beer community about beer “snobbery.” A lot of these concerns, like those voiced by Andy Crouch at (a great site, but a little hard to read because of the layout—the lost art of the pull quote needs to be revived) worry that snobbery among beer drinkers will lead to jacked up prices on specialty brews and beer losing its status as the most egalitarian of alcoholic drinks. Both are legitimate worries, and I’ve fretted before about beers getting too over the top. And I agree we really don’t need an entire sub-population of beer dorks refusing to drink anything but double IPAs.

But the big force leading the charge against so-called snobbery has been BeerAdvocate, both from the web site and the magazine. And although this whole subject of beer snobbery has been bouncing around in my head for a few months now, it wasn’t until I read the Alström brothers’ Beer Smack column in the latest issue of BeerAdvocate that I decided to write this article.

The lost art of the pull quote needs to be revived.
To sum up the column, Todd and Jason Alström—the founders of BeerAdvocate, in case you didn’t know—present a little quiz for the reader to take to see if he or she is in actuality a beer advocate or beer snob. The questions basically ask if you have a knee-jerk, intensely negative reaction of an immature or egotistical nature against “macro” beer, namely anything produced by Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors. Their point, of course, is that beer lovers should like all beer regardless of its provenance, and any automatic response to a beer—good, bad, or otherwise—is patent snobbery.

And they’ve done a lot in both the magazine and their web site to try to stamp out the bashing of macro producers, especially Anheuser-Busch. Anyone starting a tirade against A-B in the forums usually gets shouted down pretty quickly by more “open minded” users, and sometimes by one (or both) of the Alström brothers themselves. And the current beer snob piece isn’t the first column or article that has chastised A-B and MillerCoors haters for being snobs. I for one find this fervent defense of these large beer producers a bit perplexing. Maybe it’s because a significant chunk of their magazine’s ad revenue—and sponsorship for at least one of their beer fests—comes from A-B and MillerCoors or a brewery affiliated with them. Then again, maybe not.

If you’ve spent any time on this site, you already know that we bash Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors on a regular basis. I suppose according to BeerAdvocate we’re beer geeks “with blinders on” and are almost certainly snobs. But in actuality our apparent snobbery is something else entirely.

It’s called principles.

We think the provenance of the beer—and the behavior of the brewer—is almost as important as the beer itself.
That means we think the provenance of the beer—and the behavior of the brewer—is almost as important as the beer itself. We could just mindlessly drink beer because it’s cheap or tastes good or the only thing available. But, to us, that is drinking with blinders on. We do our best to avoid giving our money and allegiance to large breweries that spend billions of advertising and lobbying dollars annually in an effort to destroy craft beer in this country.

Sure, A-B pays lip service to beer dorks by throwing out small batch (for them) releases like Winter’s Bourbon Cask Ale or Sun Dog Amber Wheat and sponsoring craft beer fests, but at the same time they run ads touting the “drinkability” of Bud Light and why Budweiser is superior to “dark” beers like an “import”; use big-beer leaning distribution laws to muscle out small craft producers of large markets; and engage in shady business practices to get tap handle space in high traffic bars and restaurants, among a whole fucking slew of other sins.

In their column, the Alström brothers refer to the shit brewed by A-B and MillerCoors as “the norm,” and that if you are a true beer advocate then you will eventually realize “that though you might not agree with the business side of beer the norm isn’t really ‘evil’—it’s just the norm.”

The best craft brewers began with a love for great beer and built their businesses around that fact.
Take note of that qualification about the business side of beer. In my opinion, the very fact that you are consuming the products of and giving money to brewers that perpetuate the unpalatable nature of the business side is tantamount to agreeing with it. In fact, it’s agreeing with it very strongly, since all A-B and MillerCoors care about is money. Their CEOs and decision makers couldn’t give fuck-all about the actual beer. Hell, I, living in my parents’ basement and home brewing once a month, probably know more about the history of beer and the brewing process than the CEO of MillerCoors. (The current CEO cut his teeth as a marketing manager for Coca-Cola—selling fizzy water in a can.) But these people aren’t getting paid a seven- or eight-figure salary to know anything about beer; they’re getting paid to make their companies money. Period.

Obviously, craft brewers are also in the business to make money, but the vast majority—and the best—began with a love for great beer and built their businesses around that fact. The macro producers lost sight of that a century ago.

Back in the late 1700s when America was struggling for independence, George Washington swore off his beloved British porter and vowed to drink only American-made beer. In other words, he didn’t drink the beer that simply tasted good or was readily available. He had principles that guided what beer he would drink and support. If you agree with BeerAdvocate’s argument, you could call George Washington America’s first beer snob.

And I guess that makes us beer snobs, too. Fine. If having principles about what I drink makes me a beer snob, then I’m a beer snob. But I’d prefer to be called a Beer Dork.

This helpful tip provided by All Barstools: Make sure your drink and bar stools match. Don’t give off the generic beer vibe with generic furniture.

The only real difference between a macro beer drinker and a beer snob is indifference, ignorance and intolerance. Those that are happy drinking just the beer they see on TV blissfully indifferent as to what choices there are out there. They see a higher price tag on craft beers and either can't afford it or are hesitant to try something new. Beer snobs tend to be a bit more intolerant of indifference and ignorance and might be seen as a bit arrogant to the macro beer drinkers. So what can help? Share what you know and encourage communication and tastings whenever possible.
posted by Chipper Dave | October 21, 2008, 1:57 PM
I agree with much of your sentiments.
While Advocate's position is also one of "making money" - they don't want to piss off their deep-pocketed macro friends/advertisers. The same was true of the instructors in my Siebel brewing classes.
While, in the brewing world, we understand that macro-beer is difficult to brew, maintains near perfect QC, etc. the fact that these companies are driven by their marketing departments and continue to misrepresent their products to the public (Miller Lite: true pilser/Bud: beechwood aging/Coors: frost brewed, etc.) and continue to bash the little guy through their distribution networks and lobbying influence in many states.
These factors alone are more than reason enough to maintain one's "snobbery." There's plenty more, too...take a look at A-B's battle against Czech Bud, for example.
I see no reason to "bash" the macros, but I also reject the premise that they're selling anything more than Kraft Mac 'n Cheez, Chef Boyardee or a McDonald's hamburger, nothing more. If that's what you like, then so bit it, but don't think for a minute that its the "premium" money can buy.
As for the price difference, its also a myth. If I go out with "norm" drinking friends, I'll drink 1-3 pints in an evening, while they are pounding 4-8 of their "cheaper" beers. It ends up being less expensive to drink quality and support your local brewer rather than your St. Louis marketing department.
posted by rings | October 21, 2008, 2:32 PM
Part of this article focuses on corporate greed. Let's keep this in mind while we consider the fact that Inbev is allegedly buying out an accused beer snob/dork heretic, A-B. In the business world, this is fatal. Sure, the trademark names will likely survive, but the entity itself will be dead. There is a common perception that the stock market is the leading indicator for the future, and guess what? There is no A-B in the future. In fact the only reason Inbev can make such an acquisation is because A-B has been losing market share over the years. This deal is not sealed however, as recent market turmoil has let Inbev even reconsider the deal they once considered a steal. A-B's stock (BUD) is trading nearly $10 below reported offering price but recent deflation of the markets and especially over leveraged stocks has stalled the deal. Inbev won't come out and say this, but A-B is actually worth a lot less than they originally thought. It is highly leveraged with a debt to capital ration of over 67%!!! That is the definition of corporate greed, and now it's time to pay the piper. The hope of Inbev's buy out is the only thing keeping this inflated pig of a stock afloat. In fact if it wasn't for this offer pending (which will only happen at a much cheaper price) A-B's stock would be fodder for short sellers and would probably be obliterated much quicker. The bottom line isn't about stock PEG ratio's, it's the fact that A-B is the past. The Beerdorks have claimed it, the stock market has confirmed it. Good companies have to make good products to survive, this is survival of the fitest and A-B isn't going to make it. Sorry if this seems off topic, but I see relevance here.
posted by Ryan | October 21, 2008, 10:41 PM
BeerAdvocate stresses that the beer itself should not be judged based on who makes it. Their purpose is to Advocate beer that tastes good... regardless of whether it was made by Peter Pan or Osama Bin Laden. It is a simplified viewpoint, and they are trying to provide an unbiased opinion of beer (based on taste alone). I understand and respect their point of view.

BeerDorks takes a more holistic approach, and it is an approach that I think most beer lovers/dorks/snobs/advocates are aligned with. I have no problem with big companies making good beer; but I do have a problem when I feel some of these companies are insulting my intelligence, or when these companies are entirely profit driven and couldn't care less if they were selling beer, condoms or widgets.
posted by Mark | October 23, 2008, 1:05 PM
You successfully boiled down my article into two paragraphs, Mark. BA?s motto is ?respect beer,? but when you choose what to drink on taste alone, you are not respecting beer, you are only respecting taste.
posted by EddieGlick | October 23, 2008, 2:33 PM
Interesting take, Ryan, although I fail to see where the "greed" part comes in. Every business is in business to make $$, whether its Inbev or your local brewpub. That's not "greed," its the whole point of being in business.
Mark, it think, nails the point more concisely. There's nothing wrong with BA's view of judging beer by "taste," (in which case, most macros are going to lag a bit anyway), but its also naive and fatalistic for the "beer snob" (and true beer advocate) to ignore the behavior of the big companies in perpetuating the existence of good beer to judge (misinformation, distribution resistance, anti-competitive legislation, etc.).
If it were up to the mind-numbing big guys, as Mark points out, they'd sell you a cool commercials about their "cold-filtered club soda where the difference is drinkability."
posted by rings | October 24, 2008, 9:20 AM
My point is more in regards to Eddie's comments on CEO's and corporate greed than the beer snob controversary.
Greed is the difference between Enron and your local brewpub. With cash flows as great as AB's stock the company can borrow against it's cash flows (leverage) and make more money potentially that way than it can by selling beer. The focus then becomes more on this aspect than improving the real assets (beer). That is the point exactly. As Eddie said, the CEO's know little of making the company's real assets. They are highly paid accountants and you have to expect the fundamentals of the company's working will suffer, as it has with AB. The craft beer revolution started over 10 years ago and AB is just now putting lime in it's beer while it snubs 'dark beers' and 'imports'. While AB has done very well making money, it will not survive the craft beer revolution.
October 26, 2008, 9:38 AM
It will be interesting to see if InBev, in their notoriously brutal cost cutting, will kill all of A-B's faux crafts, since InBev has a whole slew of established imports that would compete against said beers. Hope no one got too attached to Winter?s Bourbon Cask Ale. Yet another reason to stick with smaller craft brewers...
posted by EddieGlick | October 28, 2008, 11:01 PM

Drinkin’ And Thinkin’

Beer Dorks News

Want to know how healthy the craft beer industry is? As always, look to Portland. Craft pioneer Bridgeport announces sudden closure, adding to a growing list of PDX casualties.
Did Anheuser-Busch Chicago offer their shit beer to Cody Parkey before his missed field goal? Because that may explain why he "accidentally" biffed it.
Chicago now has the most breweries of any city in the country. Other things Chicago has the most of: murders, mobsters, and Ditkas.
Trying to spin it positive, BA releases end of year graphic. Only 5% growth in the craft sector when nearly 1000 new breweries opened? That's a collapse waiting to happen.
R.I.P. Tallgrass... another casualty as the regional/national craft beer market continues to get squeezed.
Wait... Constellation Brands cut all of the Ballast Point and Funky Buddha sales staff? They merged it with their Corona/Modelo staff?? We're SHOCKED!!!
Pizza Beer founder crying about failure of company, blames everyone else. Reminder, the beer tasted like vomit. Try having better ideas or making better products so you're not a failure.
It's Bud Light so doesn't really matter, but we expect this beer to be sitting around for awhile.
Indiana brewery to open with controversial beer names to "get the conversation going". Translation: taking advantage of serious issues for free publicity.
Hundreds of amazing beers in Wisconsin and the Cubs took back the one everyone drinks just because it exists and people have heard of it. How fitting...