In my mind, the “tipping point” as it relates to the world of high-end beer is when said brews go from being considered “novelties” or solely the domain of beer snobs and are instead considered perfectly reasonable, accessible beverages for the masses. Perhaps we’ve been at that point for awhile now, but two striking things happened over the weekend that made this notion impossible to refute (for me at least).
1. The McHops Monastery received its usual bucket-load of catalogs in the mail. Most found their way to the recycle bin as usual (ahh, suburban waste), but I hung on to the FLOR catalog. FLOR is the company that makes those fairly inexpensive, interchangeable carpet tiles. They look decent and hold up well so Wifey and I have made use of them in the past. We’re looking for an area rug for our kitchen so I decided to keep the catalog and see if anything appealed to me. As I was leafing through, I happened to look a little more closely at the innocuous image on the cover. It was a typical yuppie catalog scene…a clean and modern dining room set with four houndstooth chairs, a Scrabble game, a bag of popcorn open on the table, and four glasses of wine with two bottles. Only…they weren’t wine bottles. Upon closer inspection, the half-turned bottles (rotated so that you couldn’t completely see their labels) were CLEARLY bombers of Chimay Blue. One bottle still had the cork and cage intact! This may seem like an utterly minor thing, but I found it to be quite remarkable. A large, high-end consumer company was showcasing craft beer (of Belgian origin, but I’m not complaining) on the front cover of their Spring seasonal catalog. The implicit assumption is that craft beer is so ubiquitous and accepted as a part of American culture right now that a foursome getting together for a leisurely “game night” would naturally be cracking open bombers of Chimay rather than wine, cocktails, or a huge bong (Note: still waiting for that last one to pop up on the cover of a Pottery Barn catalog). Of course, it’s entirely possible that someone in FLOR’s marketing department just happens to be a fan of Trappists. But considering how carefully composed the images are in these sorts of catalogs (particularly the cover image which needs to “grab” the consumer immediately before they trash the whole thing), I’m guessing that it wasn’t just a whim. I think the use of craft beer in something as mundane and corporate as a mass-mailed furnishings catalog is as sure a sign as I’ve ever seen that craft beer has reached critical mass.
2. Wifey and I went to an event on Friday night where the beer selection was limited to a handful of adjunct lagers and Guinness. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that Guinness is NOT generally considered a craft beer. It’s the hugely mass-produced flagship of a gargantuan brewery and while I love it dearly, I fully recognize that it doesn’t have a whole lot going for it in terms of flavor and character (Guinness FES, on the other hand…that’s a different story). But compared to the other available options of Bud, Bud Light, Miller Lite, and Heineken, Guinness was practically a Rochefort 10 to me and that’s what I grabbed…no surprise there. What WAS surprising, however, was what happened after I wandered off from the bar. The other half a dozen so gentlemen drinking beer ALSO grabbed Guinness. And these weren’t Aleheads or stubble-cheeked, wrinkled-suit wearing young’uns like me…these were your prototypical Southern gentlemen…white-haired, bespectacled, wealthy, conservative Alabamans. And they were carrying around big ol’ wine glasses filled to the brim with cascading, black Irish stout. I was flabbergasted. I had been to a number of events like this one over the years and the older men invariably grabbed Budweiser or Bud Light like they were the only brands that could legally be considered beer. But here I was, surrounded by Guinness-drinkers…and even more amazingly, it was the ONLY beer people were drinking! It’s like they were telling the bartender “don’t bother stocking that other shit anymore…we’re drinking Guinness because it’s the best thing available but if you had Great Divide Yeti back there, you can be DAMN sure that’s what we’d be drinking.” And if this kind of thing is happening in Alabama…I can’t imagine what kind of revolutions are occurring in states like Oregon, Vermont, California, and Massachusetts.
Admittedly these little stories might not seem like much, but I submit that this kind of evidence seems to be mounting around us every day. Everywhere I look, people are ordering craft beers, wearing T-shirts and hats promoting craft breweries, and eagerly discussing their local ale factories. It’s enough to make even the most jaded of Aleheads hopeful for the future. Maybe the rest of the world is going to hell in a hand-basket, but craft beer seems to be doing just fine, thank you.
I can’t wait to spill a bottle of Imperial Stout on my new FLOR carpet!