Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Are you a beer snob?

By William Brand
Thursday, July 24th, 2008 at 2:38 pm in Uncategorized.

Are you a beer snob? And, if not, what mass production beer do you like?

The question was posed to a panel discussing Belgian beer at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco last week. It came at the end of the session, where participants included Aaron Porter, co-founder of The Trappist in Oakland, Rick Mitchell, owner of Luka’s Oakland and Mike Azzalini, owner of La Trappe, San Francisco, Beer Chef Bruce Paton and Sinead Carey, area sales manager for Star Brand Imports, a beer importer.

I loved Bruce Paton’s instant reply: “Absolutely and none.” Some of the others hedged. Some did not. Aaron Porter thought about it and said, “I drink a Pacifico once in a while, but I guess I’m a snob as well”

Sinead, whose company is owned by Heineken, said she discovered Heineken in college and sticks with it. Mike Azzalini said he’s no beer snob, but his answer showed he’s seriously intrigued by Belgian beer and has very little interest in American lagers.

“I get a ton of Belgians coming into the restaurant,” he said. “They’ll sit down and talk and they know so much. They’ve mostly been drinking since they were 14 and they have family members with cases of Lambic in the cellar aging five or six years.” He said he considers each conversation a learning experience.

Are you a beer snob? It’s a fascinating question and it’s totally loaded with pre-judgment. Let’s face it, nobody who loves beer wants to be called a beer snob. It’s kind of an ultimate putdown. And the idea causes a real dilemma.

  • On the one hand, I’m someone who loves beer – the great, non-aristocratic, democratic drink, much loved by the masses, of which you and I may or may not be a part.
  • But, in truth, I really can’t stand the light lagers ,which are America’s drink. In fact I was indifferent to beer until I got my first glass of a decent German lager at age 19. Regular American beer to me was about like Wonder Bread. Great, to make dough balls with when you’re 8 years old, but fairly tasteless.

Wonder Bread was a bastardization of a noble product. Light American lager and especially the light versions of light lager are a kind of distortion of a noble beverage.

Wonder Bread emerged over time as bakeries got larger and distribution increased. Big bakeries found a light, doughy bread, pumped full of air with chemicals to retard spoilage, was about perfect. And in the 40s and 50s, they pushed the bread with lots of TV commercials.

Sound familiar. Wonder Bread got buried by whole wheat, just like light lager is going to get buried by beer with real flavor. In fact, in my humble opinion, the big brewers themselves are gonna’ do the job. Look at sales of the Coors Blue Moon brands – they’re booming. Coors and Budweiser are already becoming “our grandfathers’ beer.”

So am I a beer snob? Not really. I like beer with a full flavor profile. I like beer that’s interesting and provides a taste experience. The real beer snobs are people who cling to their light lager and eschew everything else.

What do you think? Comments welcome.

Photo: North Coast Le Merle Saison in the glass. Not an industrial lager.

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  • Mario (Brewed For Thought)

    Initially I’d agree with Bruce, but I do like your last comment on the true beer snobs.

    I think the more interesting (an not so much beer related) issue is what you were saying about Wonder Bread. Isn’t this just an example of the American way. Heard this in a class while at Berkeley. “American culture is a lack thereof.” What is American society/culture/food/beer/etc but a watered down, sanitized mass consumable product.

    Crazy Berkeley liberals.

  • easong

    How low would I go? I don’t sit down in an unfamilar restaurant until I see the tap handle for a Lagunitas or Drake’s IPA at the very least. I wouldn’t drink a lesser beer than a Sierra Nevada Pale or Anchor Steam even at a friend’s party — rather have a glass of bad vodka. So sorry Sam Adams, you weakly flavored harbor water you. One exception — a 3 hour airport layover in the heartland, where you would pray to the gods for a 22 oz Sam Adams in a barren place like O’Hare or DFW.

  • discdude

    I’m proud to wear the beer snob label (not the one you mention Bill, the full-flavor profile beer snob). I’ve been called that more than once, but who cares what others think? It’s just more good beer for me to drink. Of course, I do try to educate people. And now when I go to a beer bar, it’s filled to the rafters with 20-somethings (that’s 20+ years younger than me), so I think the label will eventually die. And hopefully American swill, as well. (Nah, probably not…)

  • TheDett

    I definitely agree with the last comment, that the beer snob is actually stuck defending American beers. Perhaps of interest – I’ve heard it said that to sell more product, inexpensive American food products (beer, wine, bread, “cheese food” – think Cheese wiz, etc, boxed Mac & Cheese, and many other food products) have been watered down, made bland, tasteless, or conversely very salty, to appeal to the most people in order to sell the most volume. It’s a sales volume game; just like Wonder Bread was. It’s not necessarily a lack of culture; it can be a corporation driven marketing strategy first. (And marketing can turn that around so it is said that we are able to feed more, cheaply.) Inexpensive is a key word here.

  • William Brand

    Hey Discdude, I agree light lager will always be around. But pretty much as a tiny segment of available beer. Try to find Wonder Bread today.

  • William Brand

    Mario…I like to think that we’re evolving. Us masses are getting more sophisticated and we don’t drink our grandfather’s beer.

  • William Brand

    Hey Easong, I;m with you, although I’d tend to order a Diet Coke over BudMiller Coors. But you know, airports are getting a lot better. Although, admittedly, I haven;t been to DFW in a long time. It might be a true desert,

  • Stuart

    I am not a beer snob. I’m a beer geek.

  • A. Ass

    You strike me as being more of a bread snob.

  • William Brand

    Yup. No bread made with BFT and hyrodgenated vegetable oil for me. If there are more than five ingredients, I pass.,

  • Mario (Brewed For Thought)

    William, you got my email, please, educate me on bread. I hate white bread, and if Garrett Oliver is a big bread snob, I can do it too.

    Seriously, email me.

  • Scott

    I’ll try anything at least once. As time goes on however, I do find myself not volunteering to drink the “wonder breads” of the beer world.

  • William Brand

    Yeah, you drink one light lager, you’ve drunk them all. Some are kind of sweet (Miller), some are kind of dry, Bud. Mickey’s is kindof soapy. Keystone is kind of dry. Some vaguely sour, well, a tiny bit of sourness) Stroh’s now gone, was one of those. Pabst Blue Ribbon also has that kind if tiny sour, unpleasant finish. There were many that were much worse.
    Safeway had one called Brown Derby that I absolutely found undrinkable. Dittoi one from the old Lucky’s stores in California called, naturally, Lucky Lager. Does anybody remember Generic Beer. Now that was forgettable.

    Never q

  • Chilebrown

    I thought I was a beer snob of sorts. I have been to most Microbrewery’s on the West Coast. I have brewed my own beer at one time. Everything changed when I went to the Trappist in Oakland. I admit my expertise is not Belguim beers. The bartender let me know that I was a Plebian in his actions and service. I have experienced that at high end restaraunts, not knowing the nuance of certaing wines. I never expected that from a beer establishment. I guess snobbery and rudeness crosses all boundaries in life.
    I will drink a Budwieser, but I love an Anchor Steam.

  • William Brand

    Wow Chilebrown, gotta’ admit, I’m surprised. Been in there a ton of times and talked to dozens and dozens of people who have visited it. Nobody else ever had that reaction. Tell us more. How did the bartender let you know you were plebian? I’ve never detected the least bit of snobbery from the owners or the people behind the bar. My suggestion is to give the place another try.

  • easong

    Ah, generic beer! How I remember it well my last years of college. Kids, now that was back in the day when 18 year old could still buy beer — you know, old enough to die in Nam, old enough to drink? Seemed pretty reasonable at the time. Well, generic beer came in six packs of all white cans reading, in large black letters, either “BEER” or ‘LIGHT BEER”, catering to water lovers of all calorie limits. You found it at the local Kroger or Winn-Dixie, at the end of the cooler beyond the Schlitz and the Blatz, $1.59/six.

  • William Brand

    Yeah, we had it in stores out here on the West Coast too. That was about right, $1.59/6. It was made by General Brewing in Vancouver, Wash., a big contract brewer that went under sometime in the 1990s. Tasted like sour water.

  • Chilebrown

    We will give the Trappist another try. It seemed like a nice place with a lot of good beer. I will not let one experience form an opinion. I also want to go back to the restaurant next door.

  • William Brand

    Good move, I think. I’d be shocked if you got rude treatment again. The restaurant next store is supposed to be very good.