As beer lovers, beer geeks or whatever we choose to call ourselves, are we going too far? In our quest to push the beer envelope are we merely becoming beer wankers?
I don’t know if we are there yet but there are aspects of contemporary beer culture that could certainly suggest we are coming close to it. This thought was prompted by a new organisation in the USA called the Cicerone Program. This is a program designed to certify people to be the equivalent of what the wine world calls a sommelier.
Now, I do think increasing beer literacy in beer servers is a great thing. Beer servers should have some idea of how to store and look after the beer they are serving. They should know something about the ingredients and how that beer was made. Having an idea of what food may match with a particular beer is also a good thing. However, do we need a fancy name that nobody is familiar with? If my memory serves me, we used to refer to someone who could do all this as a Cellarman. Is there something wrong with the term Cellarman? Has it somehow gone out of date? Are we becoming wankers requiring a new name for an old concept?
As beer lovers we have also started to use a range of descriptors that some may see as wanky. Another thing we seem to be borrowing from the wine world as we seem to think it makes beer more legitimate. We don’t need to go down this route to be accepted and be taken seriously. Beer can be seen as a serious craft product without having to use a bunch of terms that most people don’t know and don’t understand. Wouldn’t we rather attract a wider audience rather than try to win over the people who have already found their passion in wine. Do we not want to educate the people drinking mega swill lagers to what beer can really be?
As a group, as an industry we keep saying this is what we want but we are not helping ourselves achieve this goal if our efforts alienate the very people we say we want to win over. We are not going to do it with a bunch of fancy and sometimes idiosyncratic descriptors that make people feel like they are missing something, not part part of ‘the club’. You have possibly felt this way at a wine tasting or at some arts event – intimidated by your lack of the insider language. I certainly have. It’s not fun is it?
Matching beer with food advice is good but needs the advice needs to be measured. When we talk about food matching we should be picking dishes and ingredients that people may know and or are familiar with. Suggesting a dish or ingredient that people haven’t heard of is not going to help them start the journey. We should also avoid being specific. People may take this literally and the ‘rules’ bay discourage them from actually experimenting with different brands/styles of beer and food variations. There is nothing wrong with a good stout and a lamb roast after all. People have to start somewhere and the lamb roast may be a better place than Fois Gras and Saison DuPont.
While we may not be there yet there, is a line that we should be careful not to cross as ambassadors for craft beer. Think about who you are speaking to and try to use language that suits them. There is not always a need to make up new words to describe things when we already have suitable descriptors in place. When we are talking to other beer geeks we can be a little more creative, but when we are talking to the public let’s use language they can understand. I’m not asking people to dumb anything down, just think about the people you are talking to and pitch it at them.
Remember, the great thing about beer is its sociability and inclusiveness. It’s the people’s drink. In sharing our passion, let’s not lose that most important element of what we love about it.
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