A few thoughts about ‘Against Hoppy Beer’

17 May

It seems like every few months we’re due for an article about craft beer that gets everyone talking.  Adrienne So’s Against Hoppy Beer piece on Slate.com yesterday certainly got Jason and I going, both about the points So was trying to make and also about people’s comments.  If you haven’t seen the article yet, here it is.

Full disclosure: I enjoy hoppy beer.  I enjoy other styles as well.  I still haven’t fallen in love with sours like Jason has, but I’m trying to slowly work my way into them.  My palate’s just not quite there yet.  I don’t consider myself a beer geek, I’ve never brewed beer myself, and I’m lost in many conversations about the nuances of beer ingredients. I once made this comment about Bison Brewing’s Organic Honey Basil Ale on Untappd:

Untappd Honey BasilIn my own defense, it was a late night at Salud.  But still…

In her article, So missed the mark entirely.  I don’t think it’s the craft beer industry’s love of hops that risks turning most non-craft beer drinkers off.  It’s that 1) those of us that drink this beer sometimes forget that enjoying hops is an acquired taste, and 2) many of us unabashedly refer to beer like Bud Light using terms like “watered-down horse piss” ( So’s words, not mine.)  How can she argue that craft beer enthusiasts’ obsession with hops turns people off, when it seems like her primary strategy to win over Bud Light drinkers is to insult what they’re drinking?

“Hey, you’re an idiot for liking this swill.  Drink something you don’t like, like an IPA, so you can be one of the ‘cool’ kids.”

I’m sorry, but you should have gotten over the “cool kids” mentality when you left high school. And being presumptuous about craft beer will never make you good at turning others on to it.

The point of So’s article wasn’t to judge macrobrew drinkers, but I wonder if she realizes that when she uses phrases like “watered-down horse piss” she alienates a huge portion of the population that drinks that type of beer.  Her perspective on craft beer seems to be horribly lopsided, if her misguided assumptions about her homebrewing friend from Tennessee are any indication.  Shockingly to her, not not all brewers and craft beer drinkers are “kindred spirits” in their love of hops.

Most of us grew up in households that consumed American light lagers and have countless friends and family members who still enjoy Bud Light and other similar styles.  That doesn’t mean they have poor taste – it just means they haven’t yet been introduced to a craft beer that helps them fall in love with craft beer. And you know what?  People like what they like.  Judging someone for their preferences in beer says way more about you than it does about them.

I’m guessing many of us didn’t like craft beer the first time we tried it and that many of us couldn’t wrap our heads around hops either.  Developing a love for craft beer and hops takes time and exposure.  I remember the first time, as a Mich Ultra-drinking twenty-something, I had Magic Hat #9 at a Total Wine in-store beer tasting.  I know now that it’s a typical “gateway” beer, but at the time I thought I’d made a uniquely amazing craft beer discovery.  Around the same time, Jason and I started going to the Pizza Peel in Cotswold pretty regularly, and were lucky enough to encounter some really knowledgeable bartenders who let us try things we were unsure about before making us commit to a full pint.  Does anyone remember beer poker?  It was a great way to learn about craft beer without spending an arm and a leg.  To play “beer poker” you’d draw a card for a nominal price, and then be rewarded with a random beer from the cooler based on the value of the card you drew.  We got to try some awesome beer (and some beer that didn’t suit us well) for what we would pay for a Bud Light somewhere else.  As we were experimenting, we were also developing our palates and our preferences, and we were talking to the bartenders, who helped us identify and articulate what we liked and didn’t like about beer.  Those experiences served to guide us when we ventured to other bars and eateries, because then we could usually find a style that we had at least tried and liked.

By the way – not once did anyone ever raise an eyebrow at either of us for not immediately embracing hoppy beer.

beer snob kittyBut I’m getting off point here.  In her article, So pleads with the craft beer community to start waxing poetic about malt and barley and lay off all the talk about hops.  It seems like she would be better off learning to not to force a beer on someone without first finding out what they like.

It seems better to ease the way for non-craft enthusiasts by introducing them to beer that will be closer in style to what they’re used to, and stop referring to macrobrews in such derogatory terms (at least to the people that enjoy them.)  Do I enjoy Bud Light?  No, I don’t. But I’m also not sure what “watered-down horse piss” tastes like, so you don’t have to worry about me judging you for what you’re drinking and making that comparison.

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2 Responses to “A few thoughts about ‘Against Hoppy Beer’”

  1. Doshia May 18, 2013 at 12:49 pm #

    I agree with your response about her denigration of domestic beer drinkers. I love craft beer, can’t get enough of it. But I can appreciate the enjoyment if a High Life, by the pool, on a hot summer day. So, let’s not be a snob about it.

    Hops are rampant in craft beer, yes. But so are boutique malts and wheats. I don’t think breweries would embrace the hops as they do, if there wasn’t a desire and demand for them.

    • Christy May 18, 2013 at 5:40 pm #

      Doshia, thanks for reading, and thanks for your comments!

      You make a good point that even craft beer drinkers will sometimes choose domestic beer because it’s better suited to the situation. Jason and I both graduated from the University of Florida, where college football and tailgating pretty much dictate what you’ll be doing on the weekends from August until December. It’s not always possible to find a craft beer that’s suitable for a six-hour tailgate when the weather’s in the 90’s with 100% humidity (they don’t call it “The Swamp” for nothing!). We’re going to reach for a beer that’s 1) low in alcohol content, 2) easy to drink, and 3) inexpensive enough to be sustainable. And of course, it depends on what we can get our hands on in Gainesville on gamedays.

      I think you’re absolutely right about breweries embracing hops because there’s a demand for them. But just because I like hops doesn’t mean I should automatically assume you do too. We’re fortunate to have many breweries to choose from in Charlotte, and I think that many do a pretty good job of offering up a mix of hoppy and non-hoppy beers. The trick is for craft beer enthusiasts to be savvy enough about other styles to be able to recommend something that’s more suitable to a domestic drinker’s palate. It would be good for craft beer enthusiasts to be better educated about styles other than their personal favorites so they don’t inadvertently turn a “newbie” off to craft beer.

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