Where are all the snobs and hipsters?

There was a recent story about Jim Koch of America’s Boston Beer Company (brewers of Sam Adams Lager) rampaging through a bar insulting owner and staff alike for not stocking his beer.

It snowballed online and because a couple of bars in one city don’t want to stock a beer, that the story suggests is already ubiquitous throughout that city, beer writers and social media have been quick to derive that faceless beer snobs and beer hipsters all hate any beer company that has gotten too big.

Pete Brown wrote a widely circulated piece where he said this:

Though it pains me to say it, Goose Island IPA is actually a better quality beer since it has been brewed with cutting-edge A-B Inbev technology than it was on knackered old microbrewery plant that couldn’t keep up with volume. Budweiser Budvar remains one of the best quality lagers in the world, thanks in no small part to its 90-day lagering. Timothy Taylor Landlord is one of the finest ales on the planet when kept well. All are dismissed by craft beer purists whose definition of the word ‘craft’ has more to do with scale and novelty than with any measure of skill or quality.

I disagree. I disagree completely. I’m disagreeing so much right now I’m like the kid in class who really wants to give the answer but the teacher is sick of hearing from.

Looking at the first example of Pete’s quote (and I’m just using his because it is convenient but you’ll find similar comments in any internet discussion on the topic), Goose Island.

Now, the idea is, that craft beer hipsters all hate big brands and only love small breweries and don’t actually care about quality and all that tired old rhetoric, thus Goose Island; bought out by AB-InBev, was completely abandoned by the craft beer hipsters and snobs in droves.

Which never happened.

In fact, their annual Bourbon County (BCBS) release (and variants) is one of the most hotly sought after beers in the world. The hipsters and snobs can’t get enough of BCBS. It creates massive queues, people chasing trucks, and numerous requests on beer trading forums.

Another example: Have you ever seen a beer “hipster” or a beer “snob” rag on beers from Unibroe? Looking at their scores on Ratebeer they are widely loved and praised. Unibroe are owned by Sapporo, a public company whose shareholders include all sorts of banks and trusts.

Locally we’ve seen Emerson’s and Little Creatures both sell to Japanese owned Lion Nathan (Kirin) and outside of one negative reaction from a bar in Wellington (who I think have stocked Emerson’s since?) I don’t think I’ve seen any backlash from drinkers at all. I would probably be the prime candidate for such boycotts, being snobby and hipster as all hell… but the Emerson’s beers I drank when in NZ were all fantastic. Their Bird Dog IPA might just be a top 5 NZ/Aus IPA for me.  I did put-down the Little Creatures IPA, calling it cynical and lazy; but have since revisited it and found it to have improved greatly and now I think it’s pretty delicious.

Another article titled “Why these beer pioneers hate snobs?” came out recently, with the title suggesting that the founders of Widmer Brewery and Deschutes Brewery are taking similar stance on the issue. When you get into the guts of the interview though, you find neither use the term snob at all (it’s a transcribed interview) and in fact they acknowledge that the whole thing isn’t really a problem (edited quote from Kurt Widmer):

We’re just reminded that it’s a distinct minority of people who respond that way. It’s a frustration because they tend to be rather vocal about it…

…But it’s only like 1 or 2% who take that attitude.

The rest of the article talks about the great success they are having.

Jim Koch from Boston Beer Company is a billionaire with the largest craft brewery in the USA.

The reality is that people just want good beer. Sam Adams Lager is a good beer and lots of people buy it. In all the discussions that I’ve seen in the wake of this, I don’t think I’ve seen anyone say they hate the beer, but rather they just don’t want to drink it. We have so much choice right now that it makes it hard to stick to any one beer.

Brand loyalty in beer is an outdated concept.

This whole thing reeks of the old guard being snobby toward people newly excited for good beer. Using disparaging terms to separate themselves from newer beer lovers who don’t have the reverence for the old brands.

And why should everyone be drinking the same beers simply because they have a place in beer history? Is the idea that every time we drink a few beers that we drink the same classic brands to appease the gods before we move on to something we actually want to drink? What sort of weird culture are people trying to promote here?

You may also like...

11 Responses

  1. DaveS says:

    Good point well made. I tend to find that people who object to people banging on about the latest over-hyped whatever are actually significantly more numerous than people banging on about the latest over-hyped whatever these days.

    Another issue with the Pete Brown article is all the talk about short attention spans and lack of appreciation for anything but novelty, which seems rather at odds with the 30+ year ongoing popularity of US IPA.

    • spicelab says:

      Yep. Take Westy 12 as an example. There’s no shortage of people denouncing this “so-called best beer in the world” – but how many actually uttered those words?

  2. Now I want a Budvar. Or a Landlord. Delicious.

  3. James says:

    Glad to see someone pick up on this. It felt like an odd Pete Brown article when I read it, assuming as it seemed to, that all people newly into craft beer / good beer (ie in the past few years) don’t like anything except the latest “thing”.

    I think there’s a stronger argument to be made for there being a very small but often noisy minority who follow certain brands or fads religiously and unquestioningly, fawning over crazy big beers because they’re crazy big without any judgement as to whether they’re actually any good but even that seems to be receding. As far as I’m aware, the majority of people who fall in love with good beer are keen to get their hands on as much good beer as possible in as good condition as they can. I’m sure Aussie beer nerds would love to have the chance to sample Tim Taylor fresh on handpump like I was able to before moving to Oz rather than the inferior bottled product or would be full of admiration for the best lagers in Munich if visiting Germany, whether they’re cool or not.

    It seems to me that there is a desire among some to create / fan / claim there is a backlash against beer geeks but whether it’s backed up by reality I don’t know.

  4. Adam says:

    I’m not entirely sold on the concept that very few beer nerds are only after the latest ‘Brett fermented Chardonnay barrel aged saison’ as one commenter on another site put it. My recent dealings with a couple of craft beer bartenders of late was to totally rag on beers made ‘to style’ as being boring and pointless, to the point where my ordering of an American style brown was questioned as to why I would do such a crazy thing.

    There is still plenty of wank factor surrounding off style and experimental beers and I think some people do confuse quality with novelty.

  1. January 17, 2015

    […] Andy Crouch’s piece on Jim Koch is the gift that keeps on giving asnd Australian blogger Luke Robertson asked some very good questions in a counterpoint to Pete Brown’s much-shared post from last […]

  2. January 17, 2015

    […] Andy Crouch’s piece on Jim Koch is the gift that keeps on giving asnd Australian blogger Luke Robertson asked some very good questions in a counterpoint to Pete Brown’s much-shared post from last […]

  3. January 17, 2015

    […] Andy Crouch’s piece on Jim Koch is the gift that keeps on giving asnd Australian blogger Luke Robertson asked some very good questions in a counterpoint to Pete Brown’s much-shared post from last […]

  4. January 19, 2015

    […] Andy Crouch’s piece on Jim Koch is the gift that keeps on giving and Australian blogger Luke Robertson asked some very good questions in a counterpoint to Pete Brown’s much-shared post from last […]

  5. January 19, 2015

    […] Andy Crouch’s piece on Jim Koch is the gift that keeps on giving and Australian blogger Luke Robertson asked some very good questions in a counterpoint to Pete Brown’s much-shared post from last […]

  6. January 19, 2015

    […] Andy Crouch’s piece on Jim Koch is the gift that keeps on giving and Australian blogger Luke Robertson asked some very good questions in a counterpoint to Pete Brown’s much-shared post from last […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *