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The Session 83: Against the Grain

I have a naturally contrarian disposition. I’m not a fan of over-using the word “literally,” but I literally don’t know a single person who would doubt, contradict, or otherwise challenge this simple statement of fact. It would be a chorus of nodding heads and some punctuated shouts of “shit yeah he does.” “Against the Grain” would have made a great name for this blog.

“Beer bloggers”—well Hell, let’s just start there, shall we? I’m not a beer blogger. Pretty contrarian statement for a dude playing along with this month’s Session. I like to blog about all drinks, although I concentrate on beer and the beer industry. I’ve even blogged about water, and I’ll do it again. But insofar as I am a beer blogger, my entire modus operandi runs contrary the grain.

Beer bloggers are mostly evangelists. They love craft beer!!!! They cannot put enough Os in how much the loooooooooove it!!! They want you know how much they love it. They want you know exactly how they love it. They want you know that if you don’t love it in precisely the same way as they love, that’s OK…or maybe it isn’t.

Maybe if you love it slightly differently then you’re “a newbie,” or maybe you’re a “beer snob,” or maybe you’re just “a ticker.” Maybe your pursuit of the Next Rare Beer qualifies you as one of those who “are ruining craft beer culture.”

If you deign to ever purchase a Bud product, even to be a good sport at a BBQ at an acquaintance’s house, you have certainly transgressed an unwritten line in the Craft Beer Lover’s Code. This is true now, for some reason, even if the Bud product you buy is Goose Island. God forbid you’re beer is contract brewed—which is a thing we care about this year.

But me…well…I will defend the macros. I will defend Goose Island. I will defend the eBay traders (as well as the Event Beers/Beer Events that spawn them, like Dark Lord Day). I don’t think every craft beer is good. I don’t think you should buy a local beer if it tastes bad in your mouth. I don’t think we serve our purpose as “citizen bloggers” if we shy away from accurately pointing the way to the good stuff and away from the bad stuff. I don’t think we should mourn every time there’s a craft beer merger–or a macro buy-out. I don’t think we should cheer every time a craft brewer writes a snide note to a mega-corp whose trademark they’ve violated. I don’t think we should get our panties in a wad every time one craft brewer writes another a cease and desist letter. I think we do the business a disservice if we pretend that craft brewers are not also savvy businessmen. It’s OK that after all the collaboration beers are brewed that there’s still competition to get into package stores. It’s OK that when a bar has a limited number of taps to dedicate to a product that they choose the one they like more (or, more wisely, that their customers like more).  We’re not all memorizing the BCJP just so we can sit around and not judge beers. All beer may be good beer, but some beer is better. That’s OK. I’m not sure why these positions mean I primarily write contrarian posts.

When it comes down to it, I drink beer. I drink a variety of beers. I think about beer. A lot. And I love it. And I don’t really care what you think, however….

However. (It is my favorite word).

Actually, before I go on, I want to preface this next bit. I used to be an English major and one of the best classes I took was in the the Theater Department, a class on how to perform written poetry. One of our three textbooks was a book by poet John Ciardi called How Does a Poem Mean? From that book I learned a fundamental critical approach to all the narrative arts, including how to interpret the humans I surround myself with. It doesn’t matter what the story is “about.” There’s only a handful of stories in the world once we pare them down to broad outlines. What matters is the specific way a story is told and whether it corresponds to the truth and resonates emotionally with the reader/watcher/listener.

Which is to say, I do care why and how you have come to the conclusions you have come to. I care very deeply about those things. And I argue to get you to clarify your stance and to help me articulate my own. I argue to get you to be more accepting of people who have arrived elsewhere than you have and to build that understanding in me. Is it a public service? I like to think so. Is it an irritating, abrasive, and mostly irrelevant public service? I have been told that it is. I like to argue….and beer is a thing I like to argue about.

It’s sort of like Sayre’s Law: “Academic politics is the most vicious and bitter form of politics, because the stakes are so low.” Just replace “academic politics” with “beer blogging.”

When we’re talking about beer, we could be just talking about beer, but I doubt it. How do you define “a session ale”? How do you know when a beer is on this side or that side of some taxonomic dividing line? What qualities make Goose Island 2004 a good thing, but Goose Island 2014 a bad one? How did you get here? Your arguments…the way you determine what we should be looking at…the way you determine what things qualify as “facts,” the way you value this or that side of an issue…that’s the important part. That’s what makes you interesting. That’s what makes you you.

I once read a blog entry that claimed (citing some studies) that philosophy students are just more abrasive than others because to them (me) the argument is the thing. The argument is the true test of whether the company you’re keeping cares as much about the issue as you do. It isn’t where she’s arrived; it’s whether she thought it interesting enough to look out the windows along the way.

I’m no Socrates, but it’s worth considering his fate as I lay claim to myself as a beer blogger gadfly.

Oh, and for the record: spiced beers. Wit beers, Christmas Ales, Pumpkin Ales. I just don’t care for them. I try…every year. I try and try. I used to love them. In some ways Blue Moon was a gateway beer for me. The first beer I homebrewed was a pumpkin red. My favorite non-GABF beer festival in recent years was Indianapolis’ Winterfest (chock full of holiday beers, winter warmers etc). I just lost my palate for them. I don’t hate them. I continue to try them, especially in sampler flights. But every time, I’m like “meh” and order something else.

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Posted in The Drinking Class.