It was a cool, chill day and with the weather not as humid as it normally is here in Florida I decided to hop on my bike and take a ride to the bar. Walking into the bar I spotted a group of individuals gathered at a table in the corner with multiple bottles popped and spread out. They were snapping pics and drinking small pours while laughing and enjoying themselves. I grab a seat at the bar and glance over the menu, happy when I spotted a Witbier, a perfect day to have a refreshing and effervescent drink full of flavor. I ordered the beer, breathed in the aroma and took my first sip, “ahh, just what I needed.” This beer was what the doctor called for at that moment.
As I continued to enjoy my beer, anticipating what I wanted next one of the individuals from the table I noticed while coming in came up to grab a beer, “let me get your chocolate, hazelnut bourbon barrel stout.” He said to the bartender while taking a seat next to me. “What ya drinking?” He asked, “a witbier” I replied, hoping that that would be the end of discussion because I really just wanted to enjoy my beer in peace. “Ah man, I use to drink witbiers before, it’s been a decade since I’ve had one and now I hate them. They aren’t good beers.” The look on my face should have said it all but I replied, “heard you” as I took another sip. He grabbed his beer and walked back to the table and I felt relieved and like I was in the clear, boy was I wrong.
He came back with two bottles from his table and sat down again, at this point I’m getting aggravated, I’ve been here before. “This beer right here” he said while proudly holding the bottle up so that I could see it “is the best beer in the country! It sold out in 30 minutes when it was released and its very limited. I got two bottles and decided to share one but the other I’m going to sell it and make a few hundred off of it!” Not having a care for what he was talking about but not wanting to be rude I kept sipping my beer. “Now, this one” he says as he grabs the other bottle, “is very rare, I scored it through a beer raffle and was so surprised when I won it because I’ve been looking for this beer for years!” Bored and frustrated I coldly repeated “heard you.” “These are the beers you should try to get your hands on” He continued, “they’re full of flavor, you can taste everything that it says on the bottle and they’re not shelf turds! These are great beers!”
Having my fill of the one-sided conversation I asked him, “what makes a great beer?” As confident as a lion pouncing on their prey he replied, “rarity and only brewing a small amount, because everyone knows when a brewery makes a lot of a beer the quality goes down the drain. It also has to have a lot of flavor, this one has vanilla and chocolate and coffee with bourbon in it, too!” Cutting him off I asked, “so if a beer is rare or limited that makes it good and if it isn’t that means it’s not?” “Well”, he responded “You may be able to find some good shelf turds but we don’t buy those.” Having enough I told him, “thanks for the information my man, I have to make a phone call.” Happy that he left I finished my beer and dipped out kind of bummed because I really wanted another.
Riding home I thought about the interaction and the mentality that I had just encountered, I just wanted to stop in and enjoy a couple of pints in peace, instead I was proselytized by a beer snob. The Cicerone in me wanted to give him a reality check but the realist who was just enjoying his chill day didn’t want to go back and forth with this guy, I’ve done that one too many times to know that when their minds are made up, they’re made up until they’re ready to change them but now I’m thinking, how did this mentality in beer come to be and why does a segment of people look down upon beers that are chalked full of genuine flavor and technically perfect? Is it because they aren’t popular? Rare? Edgy? Is it because they are simple? Remind them too much of mainstream products? Is it because they have no resell value? Is it because we encouraged this behavior?
I remember having a conversation with the brother of a brewery owner about a year ago, he was telling me how his brother put out one of the most sought-after stouts in the country in its heyday. Still popular to this day but not as hot as it once was he told me, “You have to create a perception of rarity. Whether we have 5,000 bottles or 500 we create a perception of rarity, people love what they can’t get and they love having what others can’t get their hands on.” “This is genius” I said to myself, “you’re finessing people and gaining a revered, cult like status.” We’ve seen this done in fashion with brands like Supreme, we’ve seen it done in other industries as well and we see the money and stans all come flowing in and the limited product all go flowing out. Could this play a part in the perception of a beer being good or nah?
Another thing that I have noticed in the beer industry is that more times than not, if a person has hit at least 500 check ins on untapped they consider themselves “experts.” They know what a beer should or shouldn’t taste like, they know how it should be brewed, yet they judge everything subjectively instead of objectively. This is an industry where the consumer knows more than the actual industry professionals. They know that if scale goes up, quality automatically suffers. Brewers don’t work to dial in recipes when brewing larger batches even though they know that their stans will notice. Is this why the brewer that we spoke on earlier beer clout dropped once they “increased” limits? I’ll leave that to you to answer yourself. These experts are at every brewery function and lord, if they have a little online fame they can get in cool with some professionals and now they really know their shit because their homeboy who is a homebrewer turned pro only releases flavored beers that reminds them of childhood sweets.
Part of this is our fault, we created these mentalities and have to deal with them now. Creating a sense of rarity adds a value to something, so whether these exclusively limited beers are technical masterpieces or mistakes that the brewer just added extract too to cover up the flaws and not lose money it really doesn’t matter to the consumer. Also, “craft vs crap” is another way that this mentality has been set in stone, people, especially new craft drinkers take this and run with it automatically considering anything that isn’t “craft” as a bad beer- they have no clue that all of these “awful” beers are technically perfect in design and execution, they just may not suit their subjective palate. We’ve trained the beer snob and encouraged their behavior, we’ve taught them that beer has to have in your face flavors whether that’s through your hopping rates or added ingredients to the point that any delicate beer is bad. Limited or unlimited production doesn’t mean a beer will be bad or good. Rarity is a genius business move but that also doesn’t equate technical quality. It’s fine not liking a beer or even thinking that a beer (or style) is nasty, as long as one recognizes that they are speaking subjectively and realizes that they are not the authority on what or why something isn’t good. Popularity doesn’t always equal a good product and neither does selling out in an hour- all that means is that the business did a great job at creating a buzz and giving their product an emotional and mental value.
I always like to speak on the different qualities of different beers and what makes them great or not so great (stylistically or technically) but sometimes I find myself on the other side of this, in times past I’ve challenged these stances on what dictates a good or bad beer and almost every time it stems from someone telling me that what I’m drinking isn’t good. My natural reaction is to crap on extract ridden, unbalanced or gimmicky beers- the only things they drink, not because all of those are bad but to take a stance against loud and boastful know it all’s who will sham you for peacefully enjoying a witbier. Sadly, I don’t think this mentality exhibited by beer snobs is going to go anywhere any time soon but I do think that the more we showcase and speak on what quality actually means and what it doesn’t that we can give the ones with ears that are willing to hear a better understanding and an overall more enjoyable drinking experience.
Dom is the Co-Founder of Beer Kulture which focuses on exposing new demographics to good beer. He is a Certified Cicerone® and BJCP Recognized Beer judge with experience working in two of the three tiers of the beer industry. He’s passionate about beer but even more so about inviting new markets in.
The Beer I Can’t Stop Thinking About: Früh Kölsch