1.19.2007

More on the "true meaning of beer".

I posted about this yesterday and like many beer fans, I jumped at the chance to defend good beer.

Stan Hieronymus has good coverage of folk's reactions, including words by Stephen Beaumont (who also just wrote a nice piece for Epicurious).

Mike Seate, the columnist who wrote the article that started the ruckus has posted some of the responses he has recieved including one by my friend Nate, which is so well-written, I'm going to repost it here (without his permission, though only until he gets back to me):

Dear Mike,

I read your recent article "Beer snobs forget the true meaning of beer". Being somewhat of a "beer geek" myself, and a homebrewer, I wanted to share a few thoughts (I'll not call myself a beer snob, because I'll drink just about anything if the situation warrants, though I do prefer more interesting brews than the ubiquitous pale fizzy lager).

You're right in the fact that many beer emporiums or craft beer bars have sprung up recently. Pittsburgh is somewhat on the trailing edge of the trend, as we usually are for more refined activities, but there is a definite market for it in our area. Compared to the sheer number of small, neighborhood bars who offer nothing more than pale fizzy lagers (Bud-Miller-Coors and their lights), there are still relatively few places to get a beer with more character. Microbrewing is picking up in our region, thank goodness, and even now we have some great places to enjoy good beer at low prices - e.g., brewpubs. Hopefully, you've discovered Penn Brewery, East End, North Country, Red Star, and Marzoni's - you'll find great beers at low prices (even lower than a Bud at most bars). Even the Hofbrauhaus is coming to the city - only the third in the U.S. - so people are waking up to the thought of better beer.

Paying a high price for Boddingtons, for example, is obviously discouraging, since it's not that great - but considering import tariffs, and the ridiculous three-tier distribution system in our messed up state (case laws, etc.), can we really expect cheap imports? I'd love to see the return of a brewer in every town, where you knew the local brewer and supported his product - that which still exists in Europe. Post-prohibition and the rise of the industrial macro brewers has really stunted that until recently. Of course, your article suggests that people shelling out $5-$10 for a beer are also drinking 4 or 5 a night, like a lot of people drinking Coors Light. Chances are, they're spending the same amount I am - I'm just drinking less.

The truth of the matter is, there are thousands of brewers worldwide, over 60,000 different beers in roughly 80 'style' categories. Some are meant for sipping or enjoying with food (just like wine), some are meant for frat parties and hunting trips. With all that variety, with rich traditions going back hundreds and sometimes almost 1000 years - most people still limit themselves to drinking a mass-produced, tasteless light beer because the TV tells them so. C'est la vie and to each their own. The more people drink good beer, hopefully the cheaper it'll get (and easier to find). You can find everything from sweet to sour, dark to light, smooth to enamel-stripping bitter, and from 3% to 20% alcohol.

In my mind, the true meaning of beer is enjoyment of the drink and socializing - not swilling the cheapest crud you can find to dull your miseries. "Working men" in most European countries sit down to a beer that is local, cheap, and tasty - not popping open a Bud Lite, y'know. If more people around here drank better quality beer, it would cease to be pretentious.

So, by all means, enjoy the corn-laden swill from Styrofoam cup with your kielbasa - hopefully, it's at least a Pittsburgh Brewing product. If that's what you truly enjoy, I'm happy for you. Perhaps in the future, you'll sit down to ask all us bar patrons why we're shelling out our hard earned cash for a "working man's drink". The most common answer will probably be "because it tastes good and doesn't give me a hangover". Who knows, you might even find a new beer to enjoy.

Cheers,
Nate McElroy