Beer Geek. Beer Snob. What’s the difference?
This is a topic I’ve wanted to write about since I started becoming more out-spoken in my love of all things beer. I guess the first and most obvious approach is to try to define the two terms in question: geek and snob. Here’s what I’ve got…
Geek – Wil Wheaton (of Stone Farking Wheaton W00tstout fame) explains it best: “You find the things that you love and you love them the most that you can.” Being a beer geek – to me – means exploring every possible new style and frontier of beer. It means homebrewing (even if you make mistakes); it means taking a $10 chance of a 22oz bomber; it means buying (and reading) books about something you used to drink out of plastic cups that someone threw a ping-pong ball into; and it means loving beer as much as you can.
Snob – A snob is an obsessive, someone who revels in minutiae. It is someone who uses words like “revels” and “minutiae.” A snob is, almost by definition, a judge; a self-defined barometer of quality. Snobs give a “thumbs up/thumbs down” to beers. Snobs will say things like “This beer sucks” instead of “I don’t like this beer.” They make excellent BJCP judges, but sometimes also rather poor company. Snobs think they can taste the contract in a contract-brewed beer.
So which am I? (And which are you?)
My biggest beer snob moment – that I can remember – came at a bar in Hartford, CT. This is a bar that serves a lot of craft beer, but isn’t a “craft beer bar” (a distinction that itself is snobby). But that’s a topic for another time. Anyway, one of my co-workers was asking me why they used water rinsers on the glasses before they served them and I explained that it was to both chill the glass and the remove any residual detergents that could affect head retention. At some point in my self-indulgent spiel I mentioned that beer isn’t meant to be served “ice cold” but rather that beer is generally best around 40*F. Overhearing this, the bartender served my beer, waited for me to take a sip and asked:
Is that right at 40 degrees for you?
Being a quasi-normal, sometimes-decent human being I took the joke in stride and remarked that it tasted closer to 41, but I had that internal monologue that shouted “Holy shit, you sound like an ASSHOLE.”
After a bit of reflection I realized nothing I said was especially wrong (every beer has its best serving temperature, glassware, et cetera), and it was done in response to a question that was specifically asked of me, but there’s a perpetual nagging voice in the back of my head that comes from going to a high school that has ‘Latin’ in the name:
The wisest man is he who knows that he knows nothing.
– Aristotle (translated/paraphrased)
My response was snobbier in tone than it needed to be; and that moment and subsequent realization was a turning point for me. I realized that I never wanted to be a Beer Snob; I don’t want all the negative baggage that comes with being a “snob.” I want to be able to discuss all the finer points of beer and brewing and be able to train my palate to pick out the minutiae, but I never want to be the guy that says “I can taste the contract.” Mostly I want to love beer (figuratively), and love it as much as I can.
I have two friends who have VERY STRONG OPINIONS about beer. I consider them Beer Snobs. I love these guys and I love drinking with them and discussing beers with them, but I’m often taken aback by how strong their opinions are on just about every single beer they try. I also have a friend who basically gets dragged along to all the craft beer tastings I like to go to, and his responses are more along the lines of “EVERYTHING IS DELICIOUS.” He enjoys good beer. I wouldn’t call him a Beer Geek, because he rarely does much exploration of his own, but he enjoys having good beer, and he enjoys talking about good beer.
That’s the attitude I have and want to maintain. I love beer. I like some beers more than others, but I don’t have a definitive favorite beer or even a favorite style. My friend Matt is Sours and Belgians over all. My other friend Matt just wants as much hops as you can shoehorn into a beer. He’d probably suck the lupulin right out of the cone if he could. I find that the more and more beer people I interact with, most of them have beers they absolutely won’t drink. Good beers, too. This is my list of beers I will not drink:
- Heineken Light
That’s it. Coors Original? I love it. It quite literally smells like piss, but I use to drink it by the case in college. Milwaukee’s Best? The Beast? Sure, why not? I’ve extolled the virtues of the oft-overlooked Sam Adams Boston Lager (and not just because I’m bros with Billionaire Jim). There are people who love Budweiser, not because they’re ignorant or they don’t know better, but because they like the way it tastes. And there is nothing wrong with that. For me there’s a difference between being a craft beer evangelist and being the guy that goes door-to-door (barstool-to-barstool) and asking everyone ” have you found Lagunitas today?” I try to avoid saying things like “You should try…” or “Don’t get that…”
My point is that being a Beer Geek is about enjoyment of beer – any beer – because beer is great. Maybe this DIPA is 11% ABV, and therefore technically too boozy by BJCP standards… but so what? If I like it, I like it. Beer knowledge is awesome, but not when it gets in the way of beer enjoyment. That’s where I think the line falls. And I’m also talking about PERSONAL enjoyment. Not everyone is going to want to have Pliny the Elder or a Dark Lord. For some people 5pm is Miller Time. And that should not bother you. If it does, then the problem isn’t their beer choice: it’s you.
You’re a snob. Knock it off.
So what do you guys think? Are you a geek, a snob, somewhere in between, something totally different? Do you have different definitions than me? Let me know.