Jan 23, 2007

Beer Prejudice...or Some Other Kind?

Columnist Mike Seate is fed up. He's mad as as hell, and he's not gonna take it anymore. So disgusted is he with the beer snobs who geek out over their fancy Belgians and are charmed by a "back story that would make a great Orlando Bloom/Johnny Depp film," that he's just gonna pack up his sixer of macro and go home.

While ordinarily I might say good riddance (or at least, hey, man, why're you being selfish with your beer?), I find the crux of his argument actually pretty fair: the up-scaling of beer has resulted in jacked-up prices and the same kind of beer-snobbery usually found among the Sideways set. What I do find offensive in Mike's editorial, though, is the flippant attitude and careless stereotyping of the "workingman."

Now, Mike's already been taken to task for his ignorance of beer's history. For those of you who need reminding about some of the "exotic" styles Mike hates on:
  • Porter, it's often said, gets its name for the river porters—working men, all—of eighteenth century London.
  • Saison, a type of Belgian that Mike finds so eye-rollingly snobbish, was traditionally brewed for farmers to consume while working the fields all day.
But let's forgive him his ignorance for a moment—let's put aside the possibility that perhaps he takes Miller/Coors/Anheuser-Busch just a little too seriously, as well as his derisive generalizations of those of us who enjoy a little flavor in our cup—and instead focus on his insistence that to be a working man means accepting poor quality goods and drinking them out of "styrofoam cups."

Because no one can really argue that Bud is a better beer than, say, Chimay (and Mike doesn't try to). What we're left with, then, is a disdain based solely on the supposed color of a man's collar. Mike would have us believe that a real blue-collar "workingman" would not be interested in sipping a carefuly brewed craft beer. Too fussy, too fey. But Scott Smith, working man and devoted brewer at East End Brewing (just up the road from Mike), describes his love of beer thusly:
"I spent 14 hours on beer yesterday, and I didn't drink or even brew a damn drop! Unloading 2,000 lbs worth of grain sacks, washing kegs, scrubbing out the kettle, filling growlers, and teaching "Beer School" at the local community center last night...My back is killing me, my knees are shot, my hands are destroyed, and my voice is hoarse. Plus, I'm sleep deprived from a week of long brew days and 3 tasting events."
So I bristle when people like Mike Seate accuse those who seek out good beer as having "pretensions and airs."

Of course, I respect a man's choice to express his opinion with his wallet—I agree with Mike that a can of Boddington's ain't worth $4.25. The problem is, I head into any upscale restaurant and there's Bud on the menu for—you guessed it—$4.25. And that's why Mike's article is so ignorant: because it's not about the beer, it's about the market. So Mike, the next time you straddle that "140-horsepower racetrack refugee" motorcycle you ride, think about your disdain for those who choose to spend their money on good beer instead of good bikes. Hypocrisy is unbecoming.

Further Reading:
Mike's response to his readers' responses
Mike's earlier ironic complaint about stereotyping
Jack Robertiello's rather civilized reaction to much ado about nothing

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