is an award winning
member of the North
American Guild of Beer
Writers. His column
Adventures in Beerland
is now a regular feature of
|That one is a shelf turd, this is a gusher, and that other beer is definitely a drain pour. It’s all English but
meaningless to most people unless you’re a true craft beer aficionado or just happen to have a Star Trek Universal
Translator on your utility belt. For anyone not so blessed I just said one beer is standard fare found on the grocery
store shelf (or worse a good beer sold in a supermarket), the other is an over-carbonated beer that immediately
gushes out of the bottle once opened (meaning you will be losing a lot of that wonderful beverage – oh the
humanity), and the third beer is so bad you have to literally pour it down the drain instead of drinking it. By the way,
that particular derogatory labeling of certain highly coveted beers has become a sport among more than a few beer
geeks. It is done at their own risk however since champions of the defamed brew sometimes take it personally and
demand immediate satisfaction per the Marquis of Queensbury rules.
Unfortunately we’ve all seen a self styled craft beer “expert” use language like that to be a beer bully and intimidate
someone new to craft. Those mean spirited folks are annoying but at least they are not as bad as their wine
counterparts. Talking with some pretend sommeliers is like eating soggy Cheerios for breakfast, drinking orange
juice just after you brushed your teeth, or snacking on raw ramen fresh out of the package.
When it comes to craft beer geeks – wait. Why are they called geeks? That’s fairly insulting or more accurately,
unfair and insulting. The carnival sideshow geek was a performer often billed as a wild man whose act sometimes
included biting the head off of a live chicken or snake. Hopefully they were really fake chickens and snakes made
from that Beyond Meat plant based product. Hey, you believe what you want and I’ll believe what I want.
Today the word geek typically connotes an expert or enthusiast obsessed with a hobby or intellectual pursuit.
Obsession may be good as a perfume but not when it comes to most other things. Not to worry because even the
most obsessed beer geek is likely a nice person. Likely however does not mean it’s a sure thing. You who aren’t
know who you are and so do we.
It’s easy to tell who is a beer geek and who is just a regular beer drinker. The geek asks for a beer menu at the pub
while the regular drinker asks for a “beer”. The geek asks about the serving size and price. The drinker asks for a
beer. The geek cares about the beer’s ABV, while the only three letters the drinker cares about are PBR. The geek
waits to sniff the beer before drinking it; the drinker waits to polish off a shot of Jameson before drinking his.
However it gets a bit harder when trying to tell the difference between a beer geek and a beer bully, a/k/a beer snob.
After all, both geek and snob have four letters which might confuse some off the bat. The good news is those letters
all are different. Think “the quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog” and you’ll see what I mean. They both love,
not just like, beer. However, while a beer geek is picky about what he drinks, a beer snob/bully is picky about what
others drink. For example, most geeks will shudder when sitting next to someone who not only orders a seltzer but
takes 15 minutes to decide which one to get. The snob will laugh out loud, snicker while mumbling under his breath
“what a loser”, ask the person about their last mental health exam, then tell them to dump the seltzer and buy a real
beer. Then he’ll shudder.
Most beer geeks enjoy a variety of beer styles including an occasional, dare I say it, Heineken if the time and
occasion fit it. A beer snob would rather be caught dead than drink anything besides 7 UP from a green bottle. That
brings to mind something I recently heard from a well known, nationally certified beer and mead judge. He was
lamenting the “tyranny of styles”. He explained that too many people (particularly the snob) worry about a beer fitting
into the “correct “style guidelines. Yes, there are guidelines for what each type of beer should taste like. Beer
cannot simply be beer. Just look up “BJCP Style Guide” and you’ll see what I mean. If the beer you are drinking, for
example, calls itself a Scottish Ale but is perhaps too hoppy, or dark, or whatever, then according to the guidelines it
is not a good beer. That in turn proves you are a total bozo if you admit to liking it.
As an addendum, even if the beer is in style the snob still eschews it if he doesn’t care for it. The beer in question
may have been GABF gold medal winner, it won’t matter. The good news is that there are more than a few beer
judges who have the sense to recluse themselves from having to evaluate certain styles they do not like at a
competition. The bad news is that the snob would not do that. They simply give every beer in that style a low rating,
proving once again that sometimes you don’t get what you deserve. And no, that wasn’t a self serving comment
because some wacky, clueless judge said my last home brew was terrible.
Although more craft beer this year will be sold in cans than bottles the snob still curses the day when Oksar Blues
became the first brewery to widely distribute craft in a can - Dale’s Pale Ale. To the snob craft in cans is an
oxymoron. To his dismay it’s now nearly a tautology. I try to always buy beer in a can. Cans are more portable, limit
exposure to both light and oxygen, keep the beer inside fresh and flavorful for longer. And they’re better for the
environment. I don’t know if that one is true but I know you’re less likely to get a flat tire (not Fat Tire) going over a
broken can than a broken bottle.
While both the geek and the snob enjoy utilizing the ubiquitous Untappd website the snob alone knows which ratings
are the most correct. His. Even more, any mention of this site will bring on a long soliloquy on how the snob earned
so many badges in such a short period of time. The only good thing about this is that while the snob is leaning over
his phone writing in his many beers during the evening he’ll be too busy to talk to you. Thank you, Untappd.
By the way Untappd ‘s parent company very recently bought Beer Advocate. The tie up between Untappd and Beer
Advocate comes one year after RateBeer, another online beer review platform, was acquired by the venture capital
arm of Anheuser-Busch InBev. I know a few people who boycotted Rate Beer after they sold out. What will they do
now about Untappd? Maybe they could go revolutionary retro like me. Write everything down on a piece of paper. I
doubt if the snob would do that. It’s not that easy to find a pen.
Beer snobs tend to be advocates of craft but not in a good way. They are more like cult recruiters in pushing their
choice of beer on just about anyone who will listen and more so on those who won’t. They usually take it as a
personal insult when anyone declines to taste his recommendation or tells him where he can stick it. To be fair, he’s
right to take that one as a personal insult.
The true snob has lost friends and even teeth over disagreements about beer. The blame for most of these
altercations clearly falls on the non-snob since all they had to do was agree. Most snobs will tell you they’ve never
been wrong. I did however know a more reasonable one. He freely admitted that one time he thought he was wrong
but then found out he was right. Interestingly it seems the more strident the snob the fewer serious beer credentials
he has. There’s a better chance that he’s a direct descendant of Cicero than a Cicerone.
Actually some geeks are snobs at times and snobs are geeks at other times. Despite my gentle kidding about them
in this article they are both good people with their heart in the right place. That place is a love of beer. What could
be wrong with that? Nothing, just like there’s nothing wrong with wanting people’s mouths to be happy. If you can
help someone to select a better beer to drink, why shouldn’t you? Even if you believe there is no such thing as a bad
beer the fact is that some beers are better than others. Giving people a broader perspective so they can make a
more informed decision is a worthy mission for anyone who knows about and enjoys great craft beer.
To put it another way, imagine if you knew someone who never heard of pizza. How could you look in the mirror if
you never told him about it?
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