All I wanted was a beer. It was a few weeks ago, when the warm sun finally arrived in Toronto after an interminably long and cold winter. The brightness, the warmth, it made me think of days at the beach or afternoons at backyard barbecues. And because these thoughts usually make me thirsty, I met a friend at a bar.
He ordered some IPA I’ve never heard of. I ordered a frosty Coors Light.
“What are you drinking that for?” my friend asked.
I didn’t need to ask what he meant. I’ve been on the receiving end of this question for years now. The question comes in a few different forms, but the implication is always the same: I am an ignorant moron, lacking all taste and discernment, stupidly blind to the many splendours of craft beer.
As summer approaches and the frequency of this question rises like mercury in a thermometer throughout peak beer drinking season, I beg everyone tempted to ask it: Please, spare me.
Before you thrust a snifter of your favourite barrel-aged imperial stout under my nose with a lecture on the finer points of the brewing process, know that I have no problem with craft beer. I enjoy lots of it. But sometimes I just want to knock back a cold Budweiser or Coors Light. It goes down easy, tastes great with just about any food and is incredibly refreshing. Plus, I just don’t care that much.
Unfortunately, with the explosion in craft beer since the late 2000s, quaffing a watery lager from a macro brewery has become a cultural affront on par with blithely sauntering through your local farmers’ market clutching a takeout bag from McDonald’s. Beer has become a marker of taste and identity, and beer snobs will often weigh in with well-intentioned lectures when they see you grab a lowbrow brew.
“Beer geeks think they have really open minds and people who drink a mass market lager are just dumb and don’t see the inner workings of beer,” says Jeff Alworth, author of The Beer Bible: The Essential Beer Lover’s Guide.
Until the turn of the millennium, the term “beer snob” would have been an oxymoron in Canada. Sure, Labatts Blue and Molson Export drinkers could bash one another, but they were bickering over branding, really. Those beers were all the same.
In 1985, there were just 10 breweries in Canada, which were owned by three companies. By 2015, the number of breweries across the country had risen to more than 640, the vast majority of them microbreweries, according to Economic Perspectives on Craft Beer, a book published in 2017.
“After the 2000s, craft brewing definitely had become a culture thing,” says Matt Williams, the Victoria-based writer behind the Great Canadian Beer Snob blog. By that he means that suddenly there weren’t just beer drinkers, there were types of beer drinkers – broadly speaking, craft aficionados one side and the rest of us on the other – and judgment was upon us all.
One’s choice in beer has become an emblem of the cultural values, and snobby debates that emerged during craft brewing’s beginnings have been inescapable ever since: local, artisanal and small batch versus mass-market swill from international conglomerates.
Beer geeks are especially vocal when it comes to this debate. After penning a defence of “cheap beer,” such as his favourite, Bud Light, in GQ magazine in 2014, chef and restaurateur David Chang said he’d never gotten so many hate e-mails in his life.
Similarly, in an interview in 2016, chef and television show host Anthony Bourdain told the website Thrillist that “the angriest critiques I get from people about shows are when I’m drinking whatever convenient cold beer is available in a particular place and not drinking the best beer out there.”
Public figures are easy targets, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us are immune from the casual condescension or sometimes outright raving of beer snobs.
What many of these over-hopped devotees may not recognize, however, is that their lectures might turn people away from craft beer. An aficionado can convince me to try nearly anything. A snob makes me want to order a 12 pack of Miller Lite just out of spite.
“That’s actually a big [topic] in the craft beer community. We need to be more helpful and embrace people who don’t know a lot about the category,” says Scott Simmons, president of the Ontario Craft Brewers.
Craft beer accounts for less than 10 per cent of total volume in Canada, so there is still plenty of room to grow. “Being a beer snob isn’t going to hurt the category, but it’s not going to help it,” Simmons says.
So please, the next time I order a Coors Light, allow me to enjoy it in peace.
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