Vince Capano is a two time winner of the Quill and Tankard writing award from the North American Guild of Beer Writers.
Vince's column is now a regular feature of beernexus.com
Sometimes they’re just a pain you know where. It’s those “nouveau” beer drinkers, a term coined by New Jersey's legendary craft beer pioneer Dan Soboti. Nouveaus are not beer geeks or snobs; they’re a special group of people, new to craft beer, who somehow think they discovered it, know absolutely, positively everything about it, and are on a mission from God to bring their beer expertise to the world. I have no doubt that after “finding” craft beer their immodest egos are convinced it’s only a matter of time before they locate the Lost Fabergé Eggs, the Treasure of the Knights Templar, the Lost Dutchman Mine, and the secret Treasure of Monte Cristo. They look in the mirror and see the Indiana Jones of beer.
Last week, sitting at a bar between two Nouveaus I nonchalantly dropped the names Fritz Maytag and Jack McAuliffe. That drew totally blank stares. Believing in second chances I next tossed them a slow softball - Michael Jackson. They acknowledged my inquiry by humming Billy Jean. I could almost hear the beloved beer hunter asking for a double scotch in his favorite heavenly pub.
Nouveaus often give themselves away if you watch carefully. They walk into a bar and instantly circle the taps trying to read each one. Why? Unlike genial beer geeks or confident beer snobs, Nouveaus don’t trust anything or anyone but themselves. The pub may have their beers listed on a blackboard or printed on a menu but that isn’t good enough. It’s an unwritten Nouveau rule that they must first see for themselves and then ask the bartender to go over everything just in case something has changed during their stroll. Nouveaus are then obligated to react to each beer the bartender mentions. When the Nouveau hears the name of a craft beer not to the his liking he makes a face of great incredulity. Even worse, if it’s a mainstream beer the Nouveau inevitably asks, “you actually serve that? It’s not really any good you know.”
I’m convinced that the Nouveaus are the ones who have subjected the rest of us to the monsoon of dreaded pumpkin beer each year. They love it. They ask for it. They buy it; lots of it. The fact that they even drink it is an indictment in itself. Nouveaus take great pride in touting their discovery of pumpkin beer. Despite their self acknowledged expertise in the category of fruit/vegetable beers most Nouveaus have no idea of what a Framboise is and they don’t want to know unless of course that’s how you say pumpkin in French.
If you ever wondered who to thank for those many gimmick beers that are displayed in your beer store while quality craft brewers fight for shelf space it’s the Nouveaus. They seem to fall for everything. How else might you explain who is buying all those cases of things like Mamma Mia Pizza Beer, Hobbit Snake Pilsner, Habanera Fire Ale, Doughnut Bacon Maple Ale, The Beard Beer, Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout (with 3 bull testicles per barrel), Coconut Curry Hefeweizen, and countless beers named after bands from AC/DC to ZZ Top.
Nouveaus take great pride in their discovery of foreign beers. When it comes to anything from across the seas the Nouveaus’ mantra is to insist how much better (insert any foreign beer here you like) it tastes in its country of origin. Of course the fact that the pontificating Nouveau was never in that country is just a minor detail. Nouveaus are also fans of packaging be it their foreign favorites in green bottles with an 11.2 ounce content or the (in)famous Heineken Textured Can. Indeed, they often wax poetically about their dream of one day finding craft beer in a “vortex” bottle with a label that changes colors to show the temperature.
If you ever visit a brewery and are amazed to see hundreds of people who have camped out overnight you can be sure most are Nouveaus. Their logic is flawless. How else could they be sure to get the latest incarnation of the greatest beer ever made before it’s sold out? For the Nouveau just about any special release or brewery collaboration instantly becomes the Holy Grail of beer hunting, the best beer in the world (for today). They will gladly endure punishing physical hardships, waiting in snow, sleet, rain, and boiling sun for that Dark Lord or Pliny or Heady. Message to Nouveaus – relax, it’s not the last beer in the world. Trust me, if it was, I’d be there right next to you.
Many Nouveaus seem enthralled by a beer’s ABV. You can overhear them comparing each beer’s number before ordering. Surprisingly their taste runs to both extremes; they either want beers with the highest or the lowest numbers. Quality and style are secondary. Their heart will palpitate equally at almost any massive Russian Imperial over 12% or a Radler under 3%. If you are within earshot of a Nouveau at a bar that a offers a limited range of ABVs you can be sure you’ll hear them give the poor bartender a long treatise on how the more extreme the ABV the more complex the flavors and how a very low ABV means the beer is less filling with great taste (or is it the other way around?).
You can also identify a Nouveau by his total belief in online ratings of beers. Instead of simply asking for a taste of the beer to see if they like it they opt for the infallible wisdom of On Tap , RateBeer or any similar site that uses public generated input to create a number. Interestingly, the Nouveau doesn’t believe in an expert’s opinion such as the one featured here on BeerNexus by Sandy Feld. They don’t want to read about flavors, hops, and flaws. That takes a bit of effort; a quick rating number is all they need. They love seeing that On Tap gives one beer a 3.2678 and another 3.2679. That enables them to make an easy and quick choice with the added benefit that it is most assuredly the right choice.
After drinking the beer the Nouveau goes back to the website and files his own rating. To him the lure of being both truth seeker and truth knower at the same time is irresistible. Some might say it’s the blind leading the blind leading the blind but nonetheless it has a wonderful symmetry that always works….. as long as his phone’s battery isn’t dead.
Of course we all dislike macro brews from the big boys but Nouveaus also look down on many craft breweries because of their size. You’ll rarely if ever see them order anything from Sam Adams or even a Sierra Nevada for that matter. Despite their role in the origins and growth of craft beer those breweries simply aren’t trendy enough for the Nouveau. Even worse, they are too readily available. You see, a beer you can’t get is always better than a beer you can. In the spirit of full disclosure, I admit to not ordering a Sam Adams Lager or Sierra Nevada Pale that often but for different reasons than the Nouveaus. There are an incredible number of beers in the marketplace that I’ve never tasted. I find it a wondrous adventure to seek them out despite the chance that a fair percentage may not be that good. My approach may not be as an uncommon as you think. If that's so it might explain why mature craft breweries have expanded their portfolios with more styles and new creations . That’s the way of capitalism. The very seeds sown by the founding fathers of the craft movement have led to competition in the industry which has in turned caused them to continue to innovate and push the boundaries of beer. It’s a win for all concerned even the Nouveaus.
Most beer lovers understand that certain beers are enhanced when served in the proper glass and at the right temperature but also accept the fact that our local pub is likely going to serve beer in a shaker pint and at 38 degrees. Unfortunately a neighborhood bar usually doesn’t have the resources to do everything as perfectly as we might like. Management may be enlightened to the best ways of serving beer but tulips and snifters and goblets just aren’t in their budget. If the local does the best they can that’s about all we can ask of them. The Nouveaus are far less tolerant; they can be counted on to be greatly offended and make their displeasure known. My advice to them is to just enjoy that shaker pint and think about how hard it would be to drink beer without a glass at all.
Nouveaus are very sensitive when it comes to any challenge to their knowing everything there is to know about beer. They are always right. Wait, that’s not entirely true. I did meet one Nouveau who said he had made a mistake once. He though he was wrong but later discovered he was actually right. In a recent discussion I told one Nouveau his palate was limited. His well reasoned and convincing response was: “if you ever say that again I’ll punch you in the nose.” Having studied for years under IP Man in the discipline of Wing Chun I was taught the value of discretion and calmly walked away remembering the words of my fellow marshal artist Bruce Lee who once said “You must be shapeless, formless, like beer. When you pour beer in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour beer in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. Beer can drip and it can crash. Become like beer my friend.” So like beer in the glass of a thirsty drinker I just disappeared.
Oh, for the record, the fact that this Nouveau was 6’5”, 230 pounds had nothing to do with my quick exit.
Nouveaus come in all shapes, sizes, genders, colors, ages, and walks of life. Because of that you might inadvertently assign that term to a true beer aficionado. To avoid that error it’s important to remember this one basic fact: an aficionado’s (be he geek or snob) personal passion for beer is buttressed by knowledge. They read beer books, magazines, brewspapers, and of course, BeerNexus. They travel for beer. They enjoy the excitement of drinking various styles. They are willing to try something new and not just a beer nestled in some top ten best list. Beer itself takes precedence over the touting of their personal expertise. Having said all of that the aficionado too can become a pain in the rear. I know that for a fact since I’ve been justly called that on several occasions…… usually by a Nouveau of course.