The New Yorker released its annual food issue this week and before a hardcopy even arrived in my mailbox, my facebook feed was filled with pictures of the cover and friends in the beer industry talking about how cool it was and a sign that beer has “arrived.” The New Yorker asked artist Peter de Sève to draw the cover, called “Hip Hops” the magazine goes on to say that the drawing “captures the appropriate seriousness with which beer is handled these days by many Brooklyn restaurants and the people who dine in them.” The full text of their explanation is here. It wraps up by saying: “It’s an unprecedentedly excellent time to drink beer in Brooklyn, as the cover suggests. Just don’t become a snob about it.”
In my opinion the word Brooklyn could easily be replaced by “the United States” and this scene could happen in many places (maybe minus the neck tattoo).
Because of the strong reaction and celebration around the cover I reached out to several folks in the beer industry and asked for their opinion on the cover. Their responses are below:
Cicerone Certification Program, Chicago, IL
I agree with your sentiment that there’s never been a better time to be a beer drinker in America. Certainly if you are interested in flavor and variety.
As for snobbishness, it is often the refuge of those whose knowledge only scratches the surface of a subject. This is certainly true in beer where many enthusiastic but relatively inexperienced consumers cling to the small territory that they think is cool and look down their noses at other spheres of beerdom. (Yeah, I’m talking about you, Mr. I-only-drink-double-IPAs.)
A love of variety in beer and specifically in beer flavors is what created this industry. It has been a defining element of the industry ever since. “Flavor and variety” was the mantra I used to define craft beer as an industry spokesperson before there was an official BA definition.
As for our role in this, I have said from the beginning “Beer is a simple pleasure.” The consumer has the right to enjoy great looking, great tasting beer regardless of what they order. They shouldn’t have to know about or worry about proper beer service: they should just get a great beer.
Our Beer Drinker’s Bill of Rights–put out several years ago at GABF and on our website since–tells servers what they need to deliver and confirms the consumer’s right not to have to worry about any of those details while at the same time expecting them to be fulfilled. Link: http://cicerone.org/content/beer-service
Unfortunately for those who sell and serve beer, getting it right isn’t simple. That’s why we educate people in the business about what should be done. And it is also why we focus our efforts on those who are in the beer business rather than going out and teaching this stuff to consumers. But because we are in the age of fanatic interest in food and beverage, regular consumers are becoming more and more knowledgable about all aspects of gastronomy and beer is one of those things.
Ultimately, ordering a beer should be no more complicated that ordering a croissant. Everyone who sells and serves beer has a responsibility to help the consumer enjoy beer as simply as they wish to. If I come in, read the menu and know exactly what I want, then that beer (or croissant) should be delivered both looking great and tasting great. If I have questions before ordering, then those questions should be answered just as clearly and knowledgeably as if I asked whether the chocolate croissant was made with milk or dark chocolate. And should I arrive at your table (bar) having never tasted rhubarb (or Flanders Red), then you’ll face the challenge of describing the flavor of it before I can order a pastry filled with that delight.
Beer is no different than many other foods: it is varied on many dimensions of flavor and comes from many different traditions and cultures. Exploring that is fun; mastering it can take many years. Knowing about it is cool but being arrogant about it sucks and is stupid. No one–not me, not our Master Cicerones, not any great brewer–knows everything about beer. If you embrace what you _don’t_ know and enjoy learning then you can enjoy learning about beer your entire life. If you act like you know it all then you won’t learning anything more and you’ll soon become bored with what you do know. A pity for you!
The juxtaposition of the faux-sommelier and the faux-wine connoisseur without all the trappings of a “fancy” wine bar is just how they see beer; we’re wannabes, playing with sophistication that we haven’t earned, or couldn’t possibly attain given how unkempt and socially dirty we are. By putting it on the cover, they’re making a statement that they acknowledge the beer crowd, but don’t think much of them.
It plays to stereotypes. Are we guilty, as a community, of perpetuating those? We sure are. So many beards. So much plaid. Does that make this a clever cover, or anything accurate? Nope. More fuel for the fire of calling anyone who likes beer a snob without getting to know them or their motivations.
There’s the remote possibility that this is actually flattering, and we should appreciate that the New Yorker for being kind to our subculture by comparing it to wine. But I don’t think that’s the case. I think the art style – the smug look on the toweled waiter, the silly swirling face of the beer drinker, the overwhelming aura of “hipster” in the background – are meant to be mocking, not flattering.”
I’ve also gone and looked up more of de Sève’s work and now realize that this highly stylized satirical style is sort of his thing. I admittedly did not know that before seeing the cover (how uncultured of me), but I also assume that means most beer people who see it won’t be familiar with his other work, either. That’s where I think the message will change from “excellent time to drink beer in the country!” to “people think beer snobs are pretentious hipsters.” There are two messages here, pretty well (and deservedly) mixed together.
New Albanian Brewing Company, New Albany, Indiana
The conceptual basis of America’s better beer revolution always has been egalitarianism, or an ethos of equal opportunity for those seeking better beer. It is from whence better beer derives its authenticity. But by its very nature, snobbery is an act of exclusion, one turning inward, and both delineating and restricting access. Conversely, egalitarianism seeks broad dissemination of information and opportunity, and is the polar opposite of clannishness and hoarding. Ask not what better beer can do for you, but what you can do for better beer.
At first, I saw the picture and thought “Cool, a young couple having dinner and a waiter presenting them a bottle of beer, much like you would see wine presented in a fine dining establishment.” That, after all is what many in the craft beer scene have been pushing for. We want beer to be accepted as a proper alternative to wine. I would want nothing more than to have a bottle Hill Farmstead Saison to pair with dinner at a top notch restaurant.
The one thing that bothered me however was the feeling I got from the customer who was tasting the beer. “Nose up in the air” is the feeling I got from him. The article further went on to send those mixed signals. In one part it refers to the “appropriate seriousness with which beer is handled”. Now that would seem harmless enough, but what many of us stress is that while we want beer to be respected, we want to keep it fun.
It’s beer after all and in many circles when things get too “serious” a common response is “it’s just beer”. Of course the article does end on something we can all agree on “Just don’t become a snob about it”, but I think that bothers me most, the recent suggestions that craft beer is full of “snobs” and “pretentious” folks.
Stone Brewing Co. Escondido, CA
I agree that it could be “The United States” although not really “ALL of the United States.” After all, neck tattoos still just aren’t that common, and I’m sure that the per-capita appearance of them in Brooklyn is higher than the average distribution in the US.
The word ‘snob’ gets thrown around a lot. Often by folks that are looking for an excuse to put someone else down. If I want to geek out on my beer, let me. If you want to call me a snob for doing so, have at it. I’ll continue my geeking all the same thank you very much!
Nora D. McGunnigle
I think it’s interesting that beer finally finds legitimacy as an alternative to wine or spirits when paired with food, specifically high end food. In New Orleans and Louisiana, food pairing is the best way to convert people to craft beer, because it’s introduced as melding and complimenting flavors, something that the locals here are very familiar with as a matter of course. I think that breweries and beer nerds should concern themselves less with being legitimate or high end or upscale and just enjoy the ever expanding range of flavors and styles available and have fun with playing with the pairings with food. Beer is delicious. Beer is fun. Let’s not lose sight of that.
Craft Beer Revolution: The Indider’s Guide to B.C. Breweries
You could easily exchange Brooklyn not just for “the US” but even “North America.” Craft beer has never been so interesting and understood in Canada as right now — except for tomorrow and the next day and so on.
I guess my somewhat cheeky comment “Gosh, does this mean #craftbeer has finally made it?!” was intended to say both: 1) it’s great that the New Yorker has finally registered what the rest of us have known for a long time — took them long enough; and 2) Wow, isn’t it cool to see craft beer on the cover of the New Yorker! And that’s honestly how I feel: half suspicious and half proud.
Here in British Columbia, the beer scene is exploding — eight new breweries in 2012, nine in 2013, already 17 in 2014 with more on the way before the end of the year. Several unique craft beer neighbourhoods have formed in Vancouver in the past two years, creating an amazing culture there, and more and more breweries are opening to serve local residents in small communities all over B.C. We just had the BC Beer Awards last Saturday and I was struck by the fact that nine of 51 awards went to breweries that hadn’t even been open at last year’s awards. The overall best in show prize went to Yellow Dog Brewing, which opened in Port Moody, a Vancouver suburb, this past summer.
Shmaltz Brewing Company, Clifton Park, NY
As one of the founders of the New York City Brewers Guild and now an owner of a craft brewery in upstate New York, I can truly agree that it is a spectacular time for both enjoying unusual and artistically created beers – as well as to produce them. It has taken our evolving industry of small brewers – still modest in volume but potent in energy and enthusiasm – to grow into a true force in the larger beer and food universe. It’s a profound realization to know we are participating in a phenomenon of creative success.
However, much like when your favorite indie rock band finally gains wider appeal, there’s always a possibility of losing the special qualities that attracted the cult like following in the first place. For now though, I’d say the best brewers are instead continuing to balance innovation with manufacturing progress and keeping their roots well in tact.
Fortunately the craft beer consumers are keeping pace with the passion of the brewers. And we as small Brewers are excited to share our babies with more and more enthusiasts who can certainly run the gamut from casual and appreciative to demanding and critical. All types of beer drinkers not only in Brooklyn but across the City and beyond, can still be serious about making their lives better and taste buds happier through engaging with these amazing beers no matter the source or the style. It’s an endeavor of the spirit which comes through – but even we can admit – it’s just beer. But it’s oh so good!
Batch Brewing Company, Sydney, Australia
As a brewer, I think a lot about how my beer presents when it’s put in front of the consumer. Is it aromatic enough? Is it served at the right temperature and in an appropriate glass? And that effects the way our beer is made.
This picture depicts servers, the critical link between my customer, taking beer seriously, and me and that’s a very exciting prospect. With servers and restaurants putting in as much thought to the choice and presentation of beer as brewers put into its production, we’re all going to have some exciting beer experiences.
It’s an unprecedentedly excellent time to drink beer in Sydney as well with thoughtful venues buying back their taps from the major brewers and wine lists being infiltrated by some really tasty beers.
Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, Milton, DE
I love it. I think you can replace Brooklyn with around the world actually. In the last week I drank seven different beers from seven regions in Italy made with grape varieties from each of their home towns. I brewed a tart Berlinerweiss in The UK with London gin botanical. Both of these countries have vibrant and creative craft brewing scenes and the local brewers are quick to recognize the American craft brewers as catalysts for a global movement towards more adventurous beers. But we do need to be careful.
To maintain the integrity of our community as it grows we need to be beer geeks and not beer snobs. I define the difference as this: geeks love beer and love to share their love of beer with others. Beer snobs love beer and lord their knowledge and access to great beer over others. I am excited and hopeful the beer Renaissance will keep moving in the right direction. The geeks shall inherit the earth.
Snobbery and pretension already are starting to rear their ugly heads among some beer drinkers and some breweries aren’t entirely blameless in this. But let’s be clear: those elements are a miniscule minority within the beer community. It’s the responsibility of the rest of us to seize every opportunity to call them out on it. Even though they’re the smallest percentage of beer drinkers and brewers, they’re the ones on which the media like to focus.
Brewer, San Francisco, CA
Progress, I love progress! It will still take a while. On the day that Westleteren was released in the US, I happened to have had a reservation at a James Beard Award winning restaurant in San Francisco. I brought a bottle of Westy 12 and a recently released bottle of the Firestone Walker Anniversary beer to share with the chef/owner. He introduced me to his wine/beer sommelier to also share the bottles. This expert hadn’t heard of Westvleteren and thought Firestone Walker was a winery. At least they liked the beers. Progress, I love progress
John Holl is the editor of All About Beer Magazine.