How soft are craft beer people? I actually thought about putting a disclaimer at the start of the post roughly equivalent to #NotAllMen, but then I realized 1. this is my personal blog, I can say whatever I want and 2. I don’t need any fedoras.
I love beer, especially what we call “craft beer,” and if you’re reading this blog you probably do, too (or you’re my mom). But I am developing a growing tumor on my brain thanks to “craft beer culture.”
For those of you who don’t know, I recently got the opportunity to write for Deadspin, an excellent sports site and member of the ubiquitous Gawker Network. My article on pumpkin beers got more traffic than anything else I’ve ever written by an exponential margin. It was an opportunity that I came upon thanks to my friend, Will, who writes the daily “Drunkspin” column on beer for Deadspin. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and would love the chance to do it again. The only very minor, and very small, dark cloud was the comment section (naturally). For the most part, the commenters were polite, or at least funny and some even offered great suggestions for new beers to try. This is, at its heart, why comment sections exist and why craft beer is so cool. It is a wonderful opportunity to share my thoughts and opinions with people I don’t know about a topic I’m passionate about and hear their’s in return. As I will go on to state later, I think thoughtful discourse and discussion is exceptionally important to the growth and maturation of craft beer as an industry and as a – shudder – culture.
…But then there’s fucking clowns like this guy:
That top paragraph/disclaimer was my attempt to address an inherent flaw in my ranking without making it too boring, and wrapping in a little joke at the end. All reviews are by their nature subjective. Those of us who enter into doing them, do so knowing that 1. people will disagree with you unconditionally, and 2. you need to bring objective criticisms to the table. The comment itself doesn’t bother me, nor to do I believe for a nanosecond that this kind of anonymous douchebaggery is limited to my article, craft beer, or anything else. A brief look at GamerGate can tell anyone with functioning brain cells as much (so, basically everyone outside of #GamerGate). The comment does, however, provide a nice jumping in point for the primary thrust of this post: craft beer people are soft as baby shit (and it’s an issue of culture).
In the example of “papaturf,” the mere exclusion of a beer that is not distributed anywhere within 500 miles of me renders my opinion immediately invalid. Ignore the fact that I’ve been passionately involved with craft beer since I was old enough to drink it (and financially sound enough to afford it); and ignore the fact that I am capable of making my own beer, have read numerous books on the topic, and have a functioning knowledge of both the art and science of zymurgy; and ignore the fact that I’ve refined my palate over literal thousands of beers – good, bad and meh; and ignore the fact that I took the time out of my life to drink (to completion, mind you) twenty-fucking-seven different pumpkin beers and then write nearly 3,000 words giving thoughtful analysis of them (with objective criticisms and attempts at humor to make the reading not dry-as-fuck). None of that matters, though, because Schlafly isn’t there (as an aside, I’ve had Schlafly Pumpkin Ale and it is very good, but I omitted it because I would be relying solely on my memory of the beer and that is a disservice to anyone reading a recap of it).
Additionally, the second most common comment revolved around my extremely low ranking of Pumking, what is widely regarded as the “best” pumpkin beer by “craft beer people.” My low ranking of this beer also eliminates any possible credibility I have. With good cause, too, considering how ruthlessly I lampooned this beer (emphasis added):
26. Southern Tier Pumking
Too bad. This is traditionally one of my favorites, and I’m willing to give Southern Tier, a fairly respectable outlet, the benefit of the doubt that I just got a bad bottle, but that bottle was undrinkable. The aroma is great—pie crust mixed with pumpkin puree and vanilla—but that’s where my praise stops. The heavy, overpowering vanilla mixed uneasily with a medicinal sweetness and a pungent, lingering bitterness; the whole thing felt artificial and gross, right down to the metallic aftertaste.
I don’t think I could’ve criticized Pumking any softer than that; I even made excuses for the beer/brewery and praised aspects of it.
And this is the crux of my argument: everyone is entitled their opinion, and I enjoy when people disagree with me and can make valid retorts to my comments, but people in-and-around craft beer (i.e. “craft beer people”) needs to grow a thicker layer of skin. Where this stops being about me (because the irony of me whining about comments that disagree with my opinion isn’t lost on me) and starts being about “craft beer culture” is when the discourse shifts away from any thoughtful analysis and cocoons itself in self-aggrandizing, bubble-building bullshit. Returning to my friend Will, he wrote an article today talking about Coronado’s Idiot IPA. This is a beer I reviewed here, and thought was just okay – a tinge better than mediocre. Will’s article essentially says the same thing; his writing style is a sort of framed stream-of-consciousness that moves from point A to point B, but takes a circuitous route. As such, his article takes an aside that criticizes some members of “Craft Beer Movement™” (a playful dig and including the craft beer pundits, like, you know, me and him) who pretend that beer without alcohol would be just as awesome. It wouldn’t. Will’s critique is tongue-in-cheek and done largely against a strawman, and he weaves into his criticism of Coronado, saying basically we don’t really need another 8.5% ABV basic DIPA.
This well-argued, if largely innocuous, critique drew the ire of the people at @craftbeer (a wonderful name to use as a microcosm of “craft beer people”):
They go on to call Will’s writing “sensationalist garbage about beer” and accuse him of “ripping craft beer a new one in every article” and of selling “controversy and call[ing] it journalism.” First of all, beer reviews aren’t fucking journalism. Journalism’s for war-correspondents and the guy who has to stand outside in the hurricane to tell us it’s raining. Beer reviews are just opinion-slinging. That, of course, doesn’t make this sheltered perspective any less idiotic or – to my point – toxic.
Criticism is necessary for craft beer to mature. There are over 3,000 breweries in the United States currently. People are questioning whether or not the market can sustain that number. I think it can, but I also think 50% of those breweries will be closed within 5-10 years. The reason being is that “craft beer culture” has become little more youth soccer, participation trophy, glad-handing bullshit. In fact, the only major, vocal critic of craft beer right now – who isn’t an industry insider – might be Will. And it is the close-minded “be nice to everybody, because we’re all a family, and everyone’s trying really hard and we’re all in this together” nonsense that will end up causing those breweries to close, because no one has the balls to tell them, “Hey, your beer sucks.” People just stop buying their beer and then that’s that. “Focusing on the positive,” to use @craftbeer’s terminology, is akin to turning a blind eye to the negative. It’s perfectly okay to pile on Bud-Miller-Coors, but to say all Lagunitas’ beers taste like IPAs is beating up on the little guy. The little guy… who just opened a second production facility in Chicago and whose owner is a douchebag.
Speaking of Tony Magee, owner of Lagunitas, he complained when Sam Adams released what they marketed as a West Coast IPA (Sam Adams’ Rebel IPA). Magee took to Twitter and accused Sam Adams of “targeting” tap handles (specifically, Lagunitas’ because no one actually gives a shit about this “craft beer movement/family” nonsense unless it affects their bottom-dollar). That’s not “targeting” someone’s tap handles, that’s called releasing a fucking beer in a fucking style that is fucking popular in order to make some fucking money. But, of course, since Sam Adams is bigger than Lagunitas it’s considered “bullying” in the craft beer culture. To the rest of world, it’s called business. But business is a dirty word in the “Craft Beer Movement™,” and that is exactly why I believe those breweries I mentioned above will go belly-up. Everyone wants to believe that craft beer is some kind of magical utopia where demand will always outpace supply, and there won’t be a need for competition and everyone can make money, and everyone can open a brewery after 2-3 decent homebrew batches, but back here on planet Earth that just isn’t the case.
The reason Sam Adams is bigger and more successful than Lagunitas is because Jim Koch is a businessman and Tony Magee is not. The reason craft beer crashed in 90s is because a bunch of people who weren’t businessmen (or who were businessmen but not brewers) thought what everyone in the “Craft Beer Movement™” seems to think now, and they opened up a bunch of shitty breweries that produced shitty beers and they lost their life’s savings. Whether you make missiles or artisinal libations, rule number one of running a business is know your fucking market. Passion and guts and camaraderie are great, and they can take you a long way, but money goes farther.
And to be clear, there are parts of craft beer culture – like I mentioned at the outset – that I absolutely love. I love meeting with local brewers and talking with brewery reps and bar managers and just other beer geeks about this awesome thing that we all enjoy… but it is time for Craft Beer – that’s fucking all of us – to start doing some self-examination. There are legitimate issues within craft beer. Dann Paquette’s tweets exposing “pay to play” in Boston bars immediately comes to mind. This is the kind of topic that should be covered by beer writers and pundits and not relegated to a series of drunken tweets.
If I may go back to GamerGate, the video game industry is in the midst of a very painful, very public identity crisis. In business world this would be called a paradigm shift or a change in the market. Video games have exploded beyond their niche market. And some of video game’s toughest (and smartest and most articulate) critics are the one’s coming under fire from the old guard who want to keep things the way they are. In no way am I saying @craftbeer’s small hashtag-tantrum is comparable to GamerGate (or the threats/violence therein) or that Will Gordon is craft beer’s Anita Sarkeesian. What I am saying is that there are lessons to be learned from the video game industry’s explosive growth-spurt, its increasing ubiquity, and the subsequent backlash of its former niche-core. There are parallels to be drawn in how the industry, and the side-industry that reports on and critiques it, grew together and became intertwined. There are issues of ethics in video game “journalism” (opinion-slinging), they just happen to having nothing to fucking do with GamerGate or its victims. Craft Beer as an industry would do well to not ostracize its outspoken critics or their sometimes-harsh opinions, because in doing so, they would lose a valuable voice in the discussion: that of the dissenting opinion.
To close with some cliches/platitudes: Those who forget history are doomed to repeat. The unexamined life is not worth living. The unexamined beer is not worth drinking.