Sunday, January 26, 2014

Diary: Swill, inferiority, and the irony-free priestly caste.

My diary entries are designed to accommodate venting without excessive rhetorical polish. They may or may not go on to become columns.

It was asked by a neophyte who might be expected to know better, "Should I drink local swill just because it's local."

Clarification was requested of her, which yielded this: "Swill might have been too harsh, but if I prefer the taste of Hopslam to Hoptimus, should I drink the inferior Hoptimus just because it's local?"

There followed a digression, in which I was asked whether trade sanctions should be imposed against non-local beer. I yawned at the predictable over-simplification of the sort that usually occurs when previously unused muscles are stressed, and gave it a stab.

No, I'm not saying there should not be out of town beer.

Rather, I'm making a snide aside with reference to the inevitable hosannas that greet the arrival of beers from elsewhere; most recently in Louisville, these would range geographically from Mississippi to Georgia to Oregon.

Yes, I still try lots of different beers in a year, and objectively speaking, perhaps one of every ten of these is genuinely memorable -- which is not to say they're inferior swill. To the contrary, most are quite nice, and nationwide, craft beer quality is pretty darned good overall ... but outstanding examples of any particular style are few and far between. Even rarer are instances of objectivity when it comes to judging them, What we see instead are outbursts of Beatles-at Shea pandemonium and a few more notches on Rate Advocate.

I'll take the fresher IPA from nearer to here, rather than subscribe to the notion that the ideal nirvana-like state for beer appreciation is reached when beers traveling thousands of miles by 18-wheeler pass one another on lonely interstates, racing in opposite directions.

That's because building localism interests me. Trucking companies and circle jerks do not.

But really, I can't help adding that the knee-jerk use of words like "swill" and "inferior" assists greatly in making my point, and points to a desperate need for gadflies now that a new orthodoxy is being erected. In any espousal of economic localism I've ever uttered, not once have I suggested that one should stoop to drinking inferior beer. What I have consistently suggested is that determinations of inferior vs. superior are often being made for every other reason except objective comparison.

Thirty years into beer as a profession, and it's increasingly clear to me that while people think they're being objective, they're mostly being subjective. If we couldn't see the packaging, didn't know the "official" ratings before lifting the glass, and tasted all these various excellent beers blind -- local, imported or Martian -- we'd discover very few differences in those ordained as chic and others derided for being local. It would be highly instructive, and as Lord Cornwallis once observed, the world would be effectively turned upside down.

But I am grateful for all comments. It is my intent is to solicit them. That's because my overall aim is to promote thinking, the paucity of which among today's beer enthusiast is cause for consternation.

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