BROTHER BARLEY: Well Slouchie, it’s finally happened. The anti-Alehead backlash has officially begun.
A strange op-ed piece from The Good Men Project has been making the rounds amongst beer geeks recently in which it claims that no one really “likes” craft beer…they just pretend to because it’s the cool, new thing. Then today, you forwarded out a Vimeo video which satirizes a novice Alehead as they decide to get into craft beer by buying the “best beers in the world” on eBay and starting a blog within the first few hours of getting into craft beer. The latter was fairly amusing and definitely skewers a particular segment of the Alehead population and the former seems to have been written with tongue planted firmly in cheek.
Still…despite their satirical bent, these posts seem to be the first warning shots in what I fear will almost certainly turn into a barrage of anti-Alehead screeds. You can almost sense the first, faint stirrings of a culture war about to be unleashed. And Big Beer will, no doubt, take full advantage with a Macro vs. Craft ad campaign in the vein of the old Mac vs. PC ads.
So I’m curious, what do you make of all this? Does any of the satire strike a chord with you? Are you nervous about a “snobs vs. slobs” type narrative starting to form? Personally, I think there’s a definite sub-set of Aleheads which we, for lack of a better word, have deemed “hopsters”. These are the ones that judge a beer’s worth by how high its IBUs are, how expensive it is, and how difficult it is to find. They only drink beers they haven’t tried before and they suck all of the fun out of drinking beer with their breathless, oenophile-like tasting notes and assurances that “last year’s version was better”. They’re the beer equivalent of the Williamsburg hipsters who stop liking a band the second they find out their friends like the band too. Truth be told, I don’t actually KNOW any Aleheads like that, but that stereotype is starting to gain traction. And like all stereotypes, I fear that it will soon be how ALL beer enthusiasts are painted by those who find craft beer culture entirely too pretentious.
Are you more optimistic than me?
SLOUCH SIXPACK: The worst part about the recent trend towards beer geek bashing is that much of it is geek-on-geek crime of the “Straw Man” variety: whether it’s well-respected beer writers like Lew Bryson concocting arguments about how beer geeks are out to disrupt his Session Beer Project, brewers like Dogfish Head’s Sam Calagione lashing out on the BeerAdvocate forums at a negative beer geek culture in the face of legitimate consumer criticism, or satirical user-generated works like today’s video, the authors and supporters of the “Hopster” stereotype are influential and seasoned members of the craft community.
There’s a glaring problem for me- I’ve never met anyone in craft beer that is anything like the negative, elitist, ill-informed hopsters that I keep reading are proliferating the community. In fact, by far the coolest thing about living here and now in the craft revolution is how great the people are. Every brewer I’ve met has been friendly, humble, open, and accommodating. People in and around the industry, from bottle shop owners to craft publicans truly love good beer and the authentic customer base that comes with it. As far as craft fans go, give me a lineup of ten people to spend a few hours with- given that one likes and appreciates craft beer while the rest do not, the choice is made sight unseen. Why? Because craft beer drinkers also tend to be educated and interesting. They question multi-billion dollar advertising campaigns that continue to fool so many. They often also like good food, good wine, and good, well you can fill in the blank.
Do we tend to be negative sometimes? Sure. I can see why criticism in online forums piss off hard-working brewers like Sam C… I’d be protective about something I’d worked so hard to build too. But rather than lashing out in anger or passing it off as drivel by some anti-social geek with nothing better to do, why not confront it for what it is: criticism from someone who most likely buys and drinks a good amount of craft beer that paid for your product and for whatever reason came away disappointed.
It’s the beer geeks that are driving this whole boom and the million dollar expansions of Sierra Nevada, New Belgium, Lagunitas, etc. as well as the wildfire of new nanos popping up in every community in the country… the enthusiasm is fed by breweries that hype limited and hard-to-find beers to the max, and then get pissed when their wares end up on eBay. Where is the culpability of the brewers in this crazy craft environment, and why aren’t they standing up for their best customers while they get flamed?
BROTHER BARLEY: Interesting point about the self-destructive nature of Aleheads. I think you’re probably right that “most” of the hopster backlash has come from within our own ranks. Reminds me of this amusing article about internal fighting within fringe groups. And yes, by linking to that article, I just compared the Aleheads to 911 Truthers and neo-Nazis.
I suppose that internal bickering shouldn’t be all that surprising though. I mean, isn’t that one of the defining characteristics of hipsterism? Accusing newcomers of not “getting it” because they weren’t there at the beginning? What’s the difference between a grumpy, old Alehead mocking a newbie for not having been there when Anchor Steam first appeared on the shelves versus an aging hipster rolling his eyes at a kid with liberty spikes and Doc Martens who was born after punk had already come and gone? People ALWAYS feel like they appreciate their favorite hobby/passion more than a newcomer. It’s just human nature.
My fear is that, even if it really is just Aleheads casting stones at other Aleheads…those slings and barbs could stick. It doesn’t really matter where stereotypes originate…they have a nasty habit of never really going away. Granted, our site has poked some fun (in a good-natured manner, I think) at some of those tropes, but it’s never done so with malice or the intent to dissuade people from becoming beer enthusiasts. There’s a difference between celebrating our eccentricities as beer geeks and attacking others for not agreeing with us 100% on everything beer-related.
You echoed my point about never having met a truly elitist, snobbish hopster. I agree with that. I’ve almost universally enjoyed spending time with every Alehead I’ve ever met. It’s a unique subculture which is populated almost exclusively by decent, thoughtful folks who genuinely care about the growth and stewardship of craft beer. Sure, some folks are a little too gung-ho about acquiring rarities. And yes, we’ve got our share of overzealous fanboys. But, for the most part, Aleheads are as humble and generous as you claim. Just visit a well-attended beer festival and watch people practically trip over themselves to share beers with complete strangers.
However, like everything else in the world today, there’s a huge difference between how people really are and how the portray themselves on the Internet. And I think THAT’S where the problem has arisen. If you got a group of Aleheads together in the real world, they’d immediately find common ground and have a grand ol’ time. But on-line…hidden behind masks of anonymity and with no social checks and balances to their basest instincts, people can be downright nasty. I think Aleheads.com mostly avoids that trap, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that some of our posts are a little more harsh or inflammatory than they would have been if we were having a face-to-face conversation with the targets of our ire over a beer (like say, Garrett Oliver…who I’m sure is just a wonderful guy in person).
And that gets us to your questions about where the brewers are in all of this. I agree that they shoulder some responsibility for fanning the flames of Alehead Nation when they only brew 10 barrels of an insanely popular, prestigious beer and then act appalled that said beer is selling for 20 times its retail price on eBay. I loved Alpine’s response to this problem when they simply banned all growler and bottle fills for their highly popular Exponential Hoppiness. If you don’t want a secondary market for your beer, just get rid of the opportunity for there to BE a secondary market. Pretty simple fix to me.
But when it’s something like Sam C’s tirade against hypercritical beer geeks or Lew Bryson’s problems running his Session Beer Project, that’s different. Sam and Lew are battling the ceaseless hordes of on-line personalities. The Aleheads have seen this problem first-hand when some of our posts go up on Reddit. We love Reddit and the beer community there is as good as anywhere. But there are always a few folks on there that seem to relish in attacking anything we publish. I’m sure we’d get along famously if we were sitting next to them at a taproom, but there’s something about on-line forums that brings out the absolute worst in people. From my perspective, it’s not a battle worth engaging in and I think Sam and Lew are fighting an impossible fight there.
I went furiously off-topic as is my wont, but for me it’s a fairly simple matter. If Aleheads acted the same on-line as they do in the real world, none of the negative stereotypes would exist. It’s the on-line personas that are hypercritical, inflammatory, crude and vicious. If we, as beer enthusiasts, can tone that down, the world would see us for what we really are…thoughtful, respectful and passionate.
Of course, asking millions of people to be nicer on the Internet is probably not a viable goal.
SLOUCH SIXPACK: No, it’s not. But that is a problem that extends well beyond talking about beer on the Internet. The anonymity found online changes discourse, sometimes for the worse. But behind every troll on a BeerAdvocate discussion thread lies a real person who cares enough about beer to be hanging out there in the first place. And BA trolls and investment bankers overpaying for Dark Lord on eBay represent such a minuscule percentage of craft drinkers it really isn’t even worth mentioning. For influential beer writers and brewers to keep raising their specter is irresponsible, and counter to all of our interests in spreading the awesome world of craft beer to as many people as possible.
I just can’t understand this mentality to wanting to keep newbies out of craft. Sure, they might gravitate towards the classic “Best of” lists with HopSlam, Pliny, Abyss, etc. But no one gets stuck in that mode forever. The more you learn about beer, the more you realize that you know nothing. You can learn to brew yourself, learn to judge competitions, explore the lesser-known breweries in your city or state, and branch out to styles that aren’t found in the RateBeer Top 100… how many people do you know that start out overspending for beer at an auction site and let it end there? In the short term, it might make it tougher to get your annual allotment of that prestige imperial stout, but allow the kickass nano no one has ever heard of to get off the ground.
As beer bloggers and commentators, it’s easy to fall into a familiar media model provided by cable news networks and political or sports talk radio. Everyone has to have a take, a point, a side, a team. I think this is natural and won’t be changing anytime soon. Let’s try to remember, though, that we represent a tiny minority of beer drinkers, and that we’re all on the same side in the grand scheme of things. Craft has an enemy, and it’s not the trust-fund baby who took your favorite booth at the brewpub or started yet another crappy beer blog – it’s Big Beer, and the billionaire bankers who back it. They’d like nothing better than to see leaders of the craft movement marginalize the drinkers that have allowed the boom to happen in the first place. So let’s not- we’re better than that people. We are beer geeks, and beer geeks rule.