2011 interview, Dogfish Head founder Sam Calagione famously referred to the craft beer industry as being “99 percent asshole-free.” At the time, it sounded about right. Maybe it still is. But craft beer’s exponentially increasing popularity has brought a host of new people into the fold, and when one takes a look at the larger beer community these days, one has reason to suspect that Calagione’s estimate may need to be adjusted downward.
I confess: It’s going to be difficult to make what I want to say sound like anything other than the gripings of an aging curmudgeon – or even one of Calagione’s assholes. But hear me out.
Lately I’m finding that I’m just not excited by the same things that so many more recent “beer converts” get worked up over. At Literature & Libation, Oliver Gray noted he was feeling something akin to a “beer midlife crisis.” If there is such a thing, I can think of many symptoms of this malaise.
Take beer festivals. I used to get amped for them. I still kind of do, but now it’s for a different reason than that of most beer dorks. Festivals these days for me are mostly a way to re-connect with old friends and maybe make a couple new ones. The beers themselves – often numbering in the hundreds – tend now to be so much background noise, even the “special releases” that attract long lines of folks.
Or take those special releases themselves. Many of them are just some version of stout or similar beer aged in discarded bourbon barrels. Some of these beers are perfectly fine if you’re into that sort of thing, but I’ll say it: too many of them are pretty much indistinguishable. Worse, modern-day beer geeks routinely vote them as the best beers on the planet, completely snubbing great examples of staid but decidedly less sexy styles like pilsners, pale ales, or brown ales. The bourbon barrel fad, for someone who prefers beers with, well, “beery” flavors over those of mostly whiskey, is growing really, really long in the tooth.
And yeah, those “best beers” lists and ratings sites. Almost every brewer I know – and I know more than a few – hates beer rating sites. There are various and sundry reasons for this, but the general consensus is that the sites are populated mainly by obnoxious know-it-alls who actually demonstrate they know very little. Apparently believing there are only two styles of beer, double-digit-ABV bourbon barrel aged stouts and imperial IPAs, they often dismiss styles with which they are unfamiliar (i.e., almost all of them) with bad ratings. One guy characterized every beer at a local, long-established brewpub, which specializes in flavorful, lower-ABV English and German styles, as “watery.” Right on, bro.
Then there’s this whole notion, perpetuated in the wider media, that the rise of craft beer is somehow due solely to twenty-something hipster types. (You know, the people who drink PBR and Tecate from cans.) This is where I really get to yell, “Get off my lawn, you kids!” There are more than a few of us who have been drinking, sharing, discussing, even brewing great beer for more than the past couple of years. #Millennials may get all the #hashtags, but odds are Generation X is brewing that awesome beer you’re enjoying presently, thank you very much.
I could go on and on. Trading? These aren’t baseball cards; they’re beers. You’re supposed to drink them. “Rare” releases? This is 2016. There are so many great beers available that you shouldn’t ever need to stand in a long line or pay some exorbitant price to get some. “Whalez”? “Dank”? “Shelf turds”? Read Randy Mosher’s Tasting Beer or get thee to a Cicerone training course and learn to talk about beer like an adult. All those pictures of your Founders KBS bottles or Alchemist Heady Topper cans you post to Facebook groups? No one cares. It’s beer, not a status symbol.
Of course I still love good beer. I love drinking it. I love sharing it. I love talking about it. I love writing about it. But the subculture surrounding it – one that I’ve felt a part of since the 1990s – seems to be drifting off into increasingly lame-o territory. Either that, or I’m just becoming an old grouch.
In any case, all this complaining has made me thirsty. Time to go pop open a nice pilsner and enjoy it quietly somewhere well away from the Internet.