Wednesday, September 9, 2015

CAREFUL WITH THAT AXE, BEER ADVOCATE

I've always found BEER ADVOCATE magazine to be both illuminating and immensely aggravating in nearly equal measure. The magazine definitely filled a voice in the "beer journalism dark ages" nearly a decade ago, when only regional newsprint mags like The Celebrator and national "hobbyist" magazines like All About Beer were active, and I've been an off-and-on subscriber from their very first issue. Happily so. These guys, the Alstroms, have also unfortunately kept up this we-know-best, voice-of-the-real-drinker facade for so many years that I've mostly learned to tune out their various navel-gazing proclamations and the phony, whipped-up "crises" that they periodically throw out there as calls to action to rally the holy warriors of craft beer to their various trumped-up causes.

Examples include "Drink Local". "Fuck eBay". "Save the Lager" - and other mistaken cause celebres that I've long since forgotten. ("Drink local" has always struck me as immensely absurd. If my local beer is excellent, I'll drink it. If it isn't, I'll drink some from your state instead. Fair enough?). 

The new issue of Beer Advocate has got a real whopper on the editor's page. Apparently drinking beer just recently stopped being fun. Who knew? I've scanned it here so you can take a look:

This is especially rich coming from a magazine that sells a "Walez, Bro" t-shirt on their merch page, and from one that's done more to stoke the beer trading, rating and fake-outrage frenzy in the last ten years than any single media outlet, bar none.

What I think the Alstroms might notice if they stepped away from the cloistered world of the beer-obsessed for a moment is that hardly anyone actually fits this stereotype. There are millions coming over to great beer for the first time in their lives, in all parts of the planet, and rather than sucking the life out of craft beer, they're injecting it with more vitality, exuberance and experimentation than I've ever seen in my nearly 25 years of actually drinking the good stuff. We've never had it better. The 0.000001% of individuals who loudly proclaim themselves beer snobs and let price & hype dictate their drinking choices may have an outsized profile in the circles the Beer Advocate guys run in, but on the ground, at the bar or in the brewery? Nah. They're not even factors. Sometimes I think they only exist in the imagination, like the bearded shitwaffle bottle-share types that Don't Drink Beer likes to write about.

I think when people put a little too much emphasis on the hobbyist nature of beer, rather than on the simple act of drinking the good ones, they start seeing ghostly phantoms where none exist. Sure, beer consumption is evolving in many ways, and the circle of like-minded individuals is expanding so fast that it's impossible to know them all on a first-name basis any longer, like it perhaps was in 2005. I get that. It's probably uncomfortable to have to share your marbles.

Oh, and "a handful of styles dominate the discussion, while traditional, more nuanced, and creative styles get ignored"? Jesus, spare me the lecture on the glories of the Vienna Lager. Five years ago there were probably 5,000 Americans who even knew what a saison was. Let's let people move through the stages of beer connoisseurship on their own time, OK? The flavorful wild ales, imperial stouts, Double IPAs and saisons that get most of the attention in 2015 just happen to taste the best for the majority of drinkers, no matter how long they've been drinking beer - myself included. It's like trying to scream about how great mutton is to a table full of diners at a steakhouse. No harm in trying to rescue the cream ale or the steam ale from obscurity, but it's certainly not worth getting too worked up about.

At the end of the proverbial day, beer is not exactly the most riveting topic to write or read about, and I do like that the Alstroms have long attempted to inject the discussion with considerably more "respect" than their forebears, who were often content to make punny jokes about alcohol abuse or who lost themselves deep in the homebrewing weeds. 

Beer Advocate needs to fill pages, and one good way to do that is to rant to some segment of their choir and gin up some faux controversy about "problems" that might not actually exist. I'd recommend taking a step back, and a subsequent good look at all they've overseen and accomplished, and give themselves a well-deserved pat on the back. They won. And trust me, the fun does not need to be put back into beer, by you, them or anyone else.

1 comment:

ddb said...

oh trust me. they exist.