Wow, that worked? I figured a catchy headline would pull some readers in, but you? You, I never thought would fall for that. I’ve been meaning to put this excerpt up on the site for a while but in light of our recent bantering the past few days I figured now was as good a time as any. The following is a real passage, from a real book, and not just an opinion from the blogosphere:
The US makes the world’s biggest selling brand in Budweiser…American beer is also made from other grains than barley: corn is widespread as an adjunct. However the last quarter of the 20th century saw many micro-breweries appear, while a city like Milwaukee has numerous breweries, beer festivals and a critical public. In the United States beers are very light, delicately flavoured with just a hint of bitterness. They are drunk very cold.
I think what they’re getting at, in not so many poorly chosen words, is that American beer sucks.
Now, where would one find such a glowing assessment of the American brewing industry? Maybe a US travel book from the 1950’s written in sunny London. Maybe a German’s 9th grade social studies paper filled with paraphrased sections of what they thought they could translate from Wikipedia. If you look closely at the text you can tell it’s an extremely poor translation for an English-speaking audience. Missing commas, sentence fragments, and the unmistakable spelling of flavoured are dead giveaways that this passage was not presented in its original form (Or produced domestically). So, where did these remarks come from and who dares shit on the sacred beer ground that we Americans love so much? The French, that’s who.
That passage was taken from the world’s greatest culinary encyclopedia, Larousse Gastronomique. Okay, the fact that it’s French really has nothing to do with my point. I like the French, no problem with them at all, but I do have a problem with incorrect or incomplete assessments of America or the American way*. Gastronomique was first published in Paris in 1938 as a way to give a history of cookery leading up to that time and also to produce a reference book for the cooking world in general. It truly is a phenomenal reference book that budding homecooks as well as polished chefs turn to for ideas and assistance. It also has lots of little tidbits about anything that one would want to consume – This excerpt comes directly from their heading titled “Beer”. Had that passage about American brewing been written back in the 30’s during the original production of the book, I’d really have no problem with it. At that time, hell for the next 40-50 years, American beer really was just as they described it. What bothers me is that I’m sitting on the newest edition of the book, with a 2009 update, and that passage is still in there. Why?
* Let’s be serious, I don’t care about attacks on America or how we do business. I just care about our American beer. If that’s Patriotism, than I guess I’m a Patriot and you should applaud me. Go ahead, applaud me.
I’ll tell you why it’s in there and will probably still be listed the same way in the next edition. It’s because stereotypes are easy, generalizations are easy, and if you’re writing about a country as vast as the US you might as well describe the beer profile that represents 95% of the market. If 95% of French food was cooked with butter, which it probably is, then all of the French recipes in Gastronomique would incorporate butter, which they do. Still, describing a flavor profile for an entire country as “Light, delicately flavored with just a hint of bitterness” is just wrong. Double-standard? Sure, but only to a certain extent. For simple math lets say there’s 100 breweries in the US, each producing 1 beer, and 95 of them produce a light macro lager. If that was the case, then I would describe the beer scene the same way. If however the country had over 1,600 breweries producing 10’s of thousands of different beers, with only 20 of those breweries producing the macro-piss that represents 95% of beer sales, then I would have a little bit of an issue with the statement. Just because every family in France drinks cheap red table wine at all hours of the day, I wouldn’t say that “France is a country that produces light bodied, easy drinking red wine that’s best drunk quickly and repeatedly” and call it a day. That’s just a poor assessment of the entire wine industry in France. Same with the US. You can’t simply generalize the entire brewing industry and make bold statements like the one presented above. I suppose you could say that light, delicately flavored lagers make up 95% of beer sales, but you’d be remiss not to mention the rest of the industry.
Maybe I’m wrong in this. I stereotype other beer cultures all the time because it’s easy and in most context it actually makes sense. England – Bitters. Germany – Lagers. Russia – Vodka, lager, vodka, repeat. Just because it makes sense though doesn’t mean it’s right. While England doesn’t have 70+ categories at their beer award ceremonies like Americans do, they do have at least a couple dozen styles that are sampled across the country. Germany is the same way. That said, the only two countries that I wouldn’t peg with such a narrow description of their beer culture are Belgium and the US. To me, those two countries have a ton of different flavor profiles and there’s no way you can pigeonhole them into one particular style. In the end, you shouldn’t use a broad brush to generalize anything about a country. Last time I checked, creating an environment that propagates prejudices is a bad thing. Not Egypt crumbling before our eyes bad, but at least as bad as a really nasty hangnail. That’s still bad though.