Possibly it escaped your notice between mugs of pilsener, but a nasty little spat is beginning to erupt in the world of beer.
The issue is snobbery among hops heads and the emergence of snooty, palate-enhanced “experts” who – much like those puckered oenophiles who delight themselves by sloshing chablis around their gums – are threatening to turn beer appreciation into an overly sophisticated art.
In recent weeks, several beer publications have tackled the issue, pointing fingers at so-called snobs who rate beers. Last month’s Barleycorn, for example, laid into an author who dares to evaluate 650 beers by sampling 2 ounces at a time, then spitting it out. Outraged, the beer rag (available for free in many bars in our region) rightly blasted the author’s ratings as “pretentious and snobbish” and “irritating and pompous.”
Beer snobbery might seem a contradiction of terms, like “military intelligence” or “jumbo shrimp.” After all, a good, long sip is properly followed not with some wry observation of its “nose” or “finish,” but simply, “ahhhhhh . . .” Twenty-dollar sixpacks notwithstanding, beer is Everyman’s drink, a refreshing, social lubricant that goes best with sausages, not a thesaurus.
In other words, one need not chug a brewski with one’s pinky extended.
Still, most of us who enjoy premium beer have encountered slander from guzzlers of boring, factory-made swill.
Coach Thompson, for example, has once again engaged in a campaign of harassment, aimed squarely at his softball team’s star first baseman/beer columnist. The People Paper movie critic, a Pittsburgh expatriate, has convinced himself of the superiority of IC Light, a canned product scraped from the bowels of his hometown’s Iron City brewery.
It’s not bad enough that he forces his suspect tastes on the rest of his squad, Thompson harangues those (Joe Sixpack, in particular) who refuse to swallow the foul stuff.
The other night, after an awesomely powerful yet stunningly nimble performance on the diamond, I was besieged by Coach’s beer barbs when I refused to dip my paws into his fetid ice bucket. Grimacing, I told him I’d rather wait a few minutes till I could belly up to a nearby beer bar, where the taps promised refreshing and tasty drafts of another Pittsburgh lager, Penn Marzen.
“So Iron City’s not good enough for you, you beer snob!” he snarled.
In my neighborhood, them’s fightin’ words. But in the interest of team unity, I withheld my pithy reply (it would have withered the poor guy) and instead telephoned a fellow beer writer who recently wrote about an assault on his own alleged snobbery.
Columnist and author Stephen Beaumont got an earful when he wished in print that “people who know better will stop drinking flavorless beer . . . I’d like to see craft beer aficionados stop drinking tasteless, mainstream brews simply because they happen to be the only brands of beer available . . .”
His own editor thought that sounded snobbish and told him to lighten up.
“I don’t consider myself a snob in any respect, I just like things that taste good,” Beaumont told me. “I’ve seen a lot of people, especially beer writers, who think nothing of dismissing Bud and Coors, but will drink it if it’s the only thing available. That’s curious behavior – why would you want to drink something that you already decided was no good? Don’t be hypocritical, don’t drink [bad] beer for the sake of drinking beer.”
Instead, have a glass of wine, a martini, a whiskey, he suggests.
I agree with Beaumont on principle. If we boycotted bad beer even when it was the only thing on tap, maybe bar owners (and softball coaches) would smarten up and give us the good stuff.
That’s a dream, of course. Bud and Coors are here to stay because most beer drinkers regard their brew primarily as cheap refreshment, not as a beverage to savor.
And that’s not such a bad thing. As long as beer is guzzled – not spat – no one who drinks a brew should ever be mistaken as a snob.
“Stephen Beaumont’s Brewpub Cookbook” (Siris Books, $18.95 paper) just hit the shelves and features 100 recipes from 30 North American brewpubs. Among the grub: sauerkraut and beer cheese from Stoudt’s Black Angus in Adamstown, Pa., and English Stilton Tart from Dock Street Brewery & Restaurant in Center City.
Cheapskate alert: Cuvee Notredame (17th and Green streets, Spring Garden) is serving half-price Belgian beers during all World Cup games. Chef/owner Michel Notredame promises other specials whenever Belgium or the United States scores a goal.
Joe Sixpack, written this week with the aid of a bottle of Victory Prima Pils, appears every other Friday.