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