Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Slow Beer and Hedonism. Or, Time for a Heavy-Handed Post on Beer Philosophy.

Hey there, beer snob. Oh come on, fess up, you know what you are. You're among friends. But what does that title mean to you, "beer snob"? Something I've been thinking about. I'll try to illustrate with a true story. Yay, story time!

So it's muggy mid-summer in Washington, D.C., and I'm camped at the bar of RFD. Sipping a hoppy and overpriced beer. Waiting for a friend. A clean-cut, necktied young man arrives and waves down the bartender. This is what he says: "I'll take a bottle of the DT's!"

DT's, eh? Interesting, I think. Never heard of it. The barkeep pulls a familiar, gray, ceramic bottle from the cooler. Oh... Right. Delirium Tremens. DT's, get it? Cute.

It gets cuter. This young buck, no doubt fresh from a long day of fiddling around on MySpace in his cubicle, forks over his eight dollars. And he promptly proceeds to slam his "DT's." Straight from the bottle.

Mind you this is a potent brew of 8.5% strength. And while it's sweeter than I like, this is still a good beer. In the grand scheme of things. But give the knucklehead credit for knowing exactly what he wants out of life – inebriation – and just embracing it. Chase your dreams, young feller! Don't let flavor hold you back!

Now: That kid was a hedonist. But we're hedonists of a different sort, aren't we? Beer snobs, I mean.

I keep thinking of the Slow Food movement. Besides that philosophy's ecological and political components – which are fine – there's an especially brilliant notion that food is not just a means but also an end. It's the same with beer, wine, and many other arts. There is real pleasure to be found in good beer and good food. If you take the time to enjoy that pleasure it can set your life apart from others. This is nothing radical. There are a lot of unhappy people in this world. They get too few moments that make them happy to be alive. We know that good food and drink can do that – if we stop to pay attention.

OK. So let's say Slow Beer* is the notion that beer should taste good, and that we really ought to stop and enjoy it. If you want to add the bits about environmental impact, fair pay for labor, blah blah blah, that's OK with me. As long as we get the fun part in there.

So, what's snobby about this? Because there's something at least a little snooty about gnashing our teeth and wishing that dude would drink his ale from a glass.

Beer snobs want to enjoy their beer of course, but we also want to drink better beer. More often than not, we also want others to do the same. This implies a certain objective standard. Otherwise, how do we know which beer is better? We're all critics. Criticism assumes that some is good, some bad. For example, we might say that Miller Lite is bad, Westvleteren good.

Here's where it gets tricky. Think about a friend who likes beer but isn't geeky about it. Would you rather see her really savor and enjoy her Miller Lite, or slam a Westvleteren 12 so fast she can't even taste it?

And if I vote for Miller Lite, can I still be in the club?

*Slow Beer is not new either, of course. An Australian chain uses it to market craft beer. A festival in San Francisco is named for it. Other bloggers have written about it here and here and elsewhere no doubt. Quoting beer scribe William Brand from that last link, "beer is one of the original slow foods."

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