Thursday, January 27, 2011

Wednesday Weekly: "To Heck with Rants (Part Two)"

Continued from here: Wednesday Weekly: "To Heck with Rants (Part One)"


NH: There’s also a nouveau riche thing going on with craft beer. It seems to be all about ostentatious display of IBU’s, ABV, etc., etc. It’s the whole Double Black Barrel-Aged IPA, beer mad lib thing that is completely boring to me. Communities like Beer Advocate advocate that phenomenon more than they advocate the full spectrum of beer appreciation. And just like the arms race brewers have to out “extreme” each other, dudes who review beers do the same thing.

RB: There is no such thing as bad publicity when it comes to turning heads. Yet again, I refer to the educational mandate that we all ignore only at our peril. You say you’re not in favor of the reviewers, or the brand of preaching practiced at Beer Advocate? Fine, then start your own damned church, but don’t withdraw into a shell and decry all comments, because turtle shell marketing can’t help craft beer at all. AT ALL. Everyone on the inside has had our issues with entities like Beer Advocate, but just look at the work these entities do to attract potential patrons to our side of the street! Besides, recently I’ve been using Beer Advocate and Rate Beer quite a lot to compare and contrast their respective takes on beer style definition, not so I can flaunt my nouveau riche attitude (i.e., I’ve been around this for more than two decades without striking the mother lode), but because is it helpful to me as I seek ways of educating prospective adherents.

Have I mentioned the importance of education?

NH: No longer is it good enough to say that a beer has a citrusy aroma or a grapefruit hop nose. Now, it’s grapefruit “pith.” Really?! Pith?! Come on….save the pretentious “notes of vine-ripened figs, off-set by a pumpernickel bread crust and grapefruit pith” for the wine world! It’s friggin’ beer, people! ”I hand wash my chalice with spring water, an Indian cotton wash cloth and handmade soap and and store it on a pillow made of the finest crushed velvet between my tasting sessions.” Beer is social and beer is fun and sometimes drinking one out of a red plastic cup is perfectly awesome!

RB: For those unfamiliar with the straw man fallacy, it’s when one places the weakest possible argument in the mouth of his or her opponent, then happily dashes the artificially weak argument to shreds. Do some beer tasters take it too far? Of course they do. Does a better understanding of how and what we taste assist our appreciation of anything we eat and drink? Of course it does. Beer’s better consumed from a glass, and yes, red plastic will do in a pinch. Know the rules first … and then break them with equanimity.

NH: I’m also cynical about the whole “celebrity brewer” thing. And I know quite a few wanna-be celebrities in this area and they make my stomach turn and my eyes roll!

RB: I hate to be a kill-joy, but something needs to be said here: If you are brewing professionally, using a brewery system that presumably cost more than a few bucks, it’s more than technical expertise. It’s show business, and we’re all performing at one level or another. You need to get used to it. There are celebrities in every field of human endeavor, for the simple reason that people demand them, period. Quit whining and pick a shtick – before someone else does it first.

NH: The whole beer-food pairing thing is pretty lame, as well. Beer isn’t wine! Don’t have a geuze with nachos. “Ah…but I find that the notes of figs and grapefruit pith are the perfect complement to a braised leg of lamb and fingerling potatoes.” Give me a break… As a pub brewer, I suppose I should be more into the pairing thing, but I think it’s pretentious, ridiculous and adds nothing to the beer culture, except for pushing it ever closer to the wine world.

RB: “As a pub brewer, I suppose I should be more into the pairing thing” – stop right there, Nate. Apologies, but while it remains that as a brewpub owner myself, I’d never seek to prevent an employee from expressing opinions, I’d have you out in the woodshed over this section of his rant.

Why talk about beer with food when you own a brewpub? BECAUSE PEOPLE LIKE THAT, and it assists in marketing, and it helps convince people to step inside the tent, and if you’re brewing for me and can’t wrap your arms around doing what comes naturally with beer and food, okay, but you had best learn to be better damned actor than that. Beside, it’s the wine world’s job to come closer to beer, not the other way around.

NH: Let’s see…what else am I cynical about? Craft fans seem to ascribe a false virtue to the small brewers and false vice to the big brewers out there. We laud some brewers’ success and vilify others for theirs. And the argument usually, and ignorantly, falls along the lines of “the big guys don’t care about beer, only profit.” And, “I know Sam Calagione and/or Greg Koch makes beer because he’s passionate about it.” Try opening a brewery in San Diego or Wilmington and see just what a couple of swell guys Sam and Greg are! Craft fans have taken up the mantel that they are fighting the big guys out there. In reality, however, Mercury Brewing is competing more fiercely with the likes of Wachusett than they are with Anheuser-Busch. But, David versus Goliath is a much easier and intriguing tale to tell if you’re a small brewer, even if it’s not entirely correct.

RB: Nate, you’re absolutely and spectacularly wrong with the gist of this assertion, which is understandable for someone who doesn’t believe in marketing or related evangelism of any sort, because if you don’t believe it’s fitting and proper to try to convince a mass-market drinker to switch his or her approach, then you’ve no choice except to believe that craft brewers are fighting one another for market share, not taking it from the big multinational boys.

That’s illogical. The big boys control 90% or more of the market, and that’s growth territory for craft beer for decades to come. How have we, as a segment, even come this far? By doing all those things Nate Heck so vehemently dislikes. How do we make further inroads? By doing all those things Nate Heck vehemently dislikes.

Is a pattern beginning to develop?

The ultimately puzzling nature of Nate Heck’s rant lies in the fact that he seems to have paid no heed to any side of the craft beer business and marketing equation that exists outside the confines of the brewhouse, and as a result, he’s missing just a few very important components. If everything he’s cynical about were to be taken away from craft brewing, both he and I would be having this dialogue while standing behind the counter of the convenience store, where we both would be working, then breaking for a few MGDs out by the dumpster, probably without red plastic cups.

That’s all I have to say about it. If you wish, you can call me a nasty beer evangelist … and I hope to meet Nate Heck some day and try his beers.

Out of a glass, please.


johnking said...

Very well stated, thanks for the education and interpretation. Although I've never been to the Salem facility, I've been to Beer Works quite a few times while visiting Boston. I consider it more of a sports bar than a brewpub due to it's massive size. They are comparable to two times the size of the BBC on 3rd, but with more TVs than actually beers on tap.

beau said...

I loved it! For some reason Nate seems to think craft beer drinkers are grown on trees and not converted. No one starts off saying "I want an IIPA or a good baltic porter." Instead I would be the majority of craft beer drinkers try a few craft beers, realize the diversity of flavors, and want to discover more. That's how it happened with this guy and I wouldn't have it any other way. And speaking from my business background, it's a good thing this guy doesn't run/own the brewery he works at. They would be non-existent if that were the case. Great writing Roger.

Patrick said...

A perfectly executed response to a very bizarre rant that I could not wrap my head around when I saw it last month. While I understand some of the core exhaustion that Nate brought up, his vitriol came off as bitterness of having missed a bus if not petty jealousy in going right after guys like Sam C and Greg Koch. I'll be the first to admit, I don't always agree with the approach of either Dogfish or Stone, but that is only natural, I'd be worried if I seal clapped at everything they do. But where I really lost it is the baseless accusation that both of these individuals not only would but the suggestion that they have made it difficult for Breweries to start in San Diego or in Rehoboth/Milton. For the former that is categorically ridiculous, as San Diego owes a debt to what Stone has done for the city. Greg and Stone crew would humbly decline that notion, but it is true. For the latter, while I can't imagine Sam and Dogfish strong arming a new brewery in Rehoboth or Milton, I can't imagine why anyone would start a new brewery in either location, we are not talking about economic powerhouse cities.