This column was originally published by the Burlington Free Press on 07.26.13 under the same title and is no longer available online.
I walk into the liquor store with my sunglasses still on and my head down. Hopefully no one will recognize me as I slowly drift past all the glistening craft beer bottles, heading towards the macro-beer cooler. A stockist asks me if I need help as I’m opening the cooler door. “All set, thanks.”
As I walk towards the register with my cans Red Dog, a cheap adjunct lager I used to drink growing up, I start to feel guilty. I quickly added a six pack of a micro-brew that I’ve never seen before and plopped them both down on the counter. I drive away wondering about this odd pang of guilt.
There’s been a weird movement in the craft beer world that’s polarizing the beer scene: if you like craft beer you must hate macro-beer. If you like macro-beer then you’re not one of us; you’re just a poser or at best an ignorant neophyte.
I see this blind us-against-them attitude expressed frequently online and mostly by the ‘fans’ of craft beer. These Craft Beer Crusaders troll the forums of BeerAdvocate.com and Ratebeer.com, lambasting anything that isn’t craft, micro or nano. And then there’s the by-invite-only Facebook group simply called “Beer” which was originally started as a safe-haven for sharing craft beer experience, but is now more often a ‘bash anything that’s cool’ club. I like to hope these Crusaders are in the minority, but their rhetoric is poisonous.
How did craft beer end up on this dead-end road to self-destruction? All this anger, all this negativity is going to destroy the movement and only serves to delegitimize the cause of brewing beer with flavor. It’s starting to sound like a sports team debate: “the Vermont Socks are better than the Maine Yanks!” “Why?” “Well…just because they are!”
In the end, doesn’t it all really boil down to personal preference? Just because someone prefers the taste of Dominos pizza over American Flatbread, does that make them wrong? Some of you will exclaim “Yes, it does!” while you’re reading this, but to quote The Dude, “that’s just like, your opinion, man.”
You can make hundreds of claims about why your opinion on beer is more justified. And there are ethical considerations behind every financial decision you make and you should feel responsible for your purchases. Every beer you purchase is a vote, so buying macro-beer is voting for adjunct-infused cheap lager. Buying craft beer supports the little guys and gals. Buying local keeps your money local. Ad infinitum. And of course, these are all true.
But at the end of the day, it’s up to you what you like and what you don’t like.
Luckily there’s a movement from within the craft beer world to change the course before it’s too late. A few forward-thinking craft beer icons are coming out against this negativity and trying to chill everybody out.
John Kimmich, co-owner and brewer at The Alchemist, was quoted in this month’s BeerAdvocate magazine (“Last Call,” Issue #78) saying “I love love love drinking stuff like Iron City and Pabst, Corona, anything cheap like that…Sometimes, I just really like to fall back on the beer I grew up on…” In the same issue, famed beer writer Andy Crouch writes, “After more than 15 years of drinking craft beer, 10 years of writing about it, countless festivals, breweries, bottles and glasses later, my philosophy on beer can be easily distilled: Drink whatever the fuck you want” (“Unfiltered: No Judgment”). So if Kimmich can brew what is heralded as the world’s best Double IPA and feel comfortable drinking Iron City, you can drink whatever the fuck you want, too!
In summation, here’s my suggested guide to buying craft beer: Consider the ethical ramifications of your purchase. Consider how new or hyped a beer is. Consider the ratings online. Consider the hear-say. Consider recommendations from friends and stockists. But in the end, remember that you’re drinking for taste, and let your palate guide you.
And lastly, never, ever apologize for what you like to drink!
After this column ran, Stan Hieronymus picked up the subject on his blog AppellationBeer.com.