Tag Archives: craft beer culture

The MaltHead Manifesto

A spectre is haunting the craft beer world –– the spectre of Sir Maltalot. Laid low by a tsunami of IPA, the wild yeasts have set in to consume his legacy. Extreme beerists have entered into an unholy alliance with sharp-fanged sours, enlisting sturdy barrel-aged beers to confine Sir Maltalot within their cavernous depths. Buried under layer upon layer of rum, oak, bourbon, and peppers, his spirit lies in wait.

Like an illumination of the darkest night, the repressed memory of Sir Maltalot’s lush aromas has begun to stir. Lovers of Scotch Ales and Doppelbocks, aficionados of lagers light and dark, let us band together to fight for a craft beer world in which value is not measured by the bitterness unit,IMG_0152 in which a hundred IBUs does not automatically equate with one-hundred Beer Advocate points! A revaluation of values! A world in which brown ales are not cast aside for their seeming ordinariness!

Maltheads, conceal your views and aims for not a moment longer! Emerge from the shadows and proclaim with unfaltering voice your affinity for Munich malt, crystal malt, Maris Otter, Pilsener malt, and Golden Promise! And let the lovers of the Seven Cs tremble at the prospect of a Malthead revolution. Maltheads of the world, unite! Come together to break the bitter tyranny of the IBU imperium. We have nothing to lose but our scythes.

PostScript

Installment #94 of The Session comes to us courtesy of Adrian Dingle at DingsBeerBlog, and inquires after our perceived role in the beer scene. Friday took me by surprise,Session Friday - Logo 1 as did December in general, so I wanted to write something short that was playful yet pointed at the same time. Hence my Malthead Manifesto.

I love sitting down to a rich imperial stout (as a matter of fact, I’m drinking one with chilis as I write), and my fridge is stocked with Belgian sours, American wild ales, and all sorts of beers containing ingredients that would make the crafters of the Reinheitsgebot roll over in their graves. But I do think that some styles have gotten short shrift in recent years. Lager of just about all stripes springs immediately to mind, along with other styles that don’t push the proverbial envelope in any appreciable way.

Anyone care to join me for a glass of Munich Helles later?

High ABV, high IBU, intense sourness, and anything else “extreme”: these are the discursive markers that dominate the contemporary North American craft beer landscape. What’s more, these markers have become conflated with quality. (A glance at any of the “best-of” lists making the year-end rounds quickly bears this assertion out.) People new to the community enter a world of predetermined codes, a canon of taste that prescribes which beers are worthy of attention, and which ones aren’t.

Anyone up for grabbing a six-pack of brown ale this evening?

Aside from the pleasure I derive from writing about the stuff I like to drink, I suppose one of the main reasons I approach writing about beer in the manner I do is because I’d rather not see our choices diminished by powerful taste trends. There’s a certain irony here: Our current range of beverage choices in North America could not be more extensive, but with increasing competition for shelf space and tap lines, I’m wary of a consolidation that favours the dominant tastes I mentioned above. And I’m wary of perfectly good beer styles –– beer styles excellent in a subtle way that doesn’t call forth a cascade of adjectives to describe them –– being eclipsed by certain styles deemed “better” merely be virtue of having higher this and more intense that.

Maybe we can order a few pints of Scottish ale when we’re done with our English mild.

I drink with a catholic embrace. I drink wine, bourbon, Scotch, and tequila. And I drink saké. I even drink my share of IPA. Better yet, make it a double IPA. But when we’re in Berlin, let’s head to a pub in Neukölln instead of lining up at Stone’s new location.

The first round of Hefeweizen is on me.

Related Tempest Articles

Let Us Now Praise Famous Lagers: Your Saturday Six-Pack (Vol.3)

Every Day Is Craft Lager Day at Kansas City Bier Company

Celebrating Craft Lager Day with a Landbier from Kapsreiter

Drinking Lager in an Age of Extreme Taste

Hefeweizen: A Beer for All Seasons

Brown Beers Get No Luvin’: Your Saturday Six-Pack (Vol.2)

Becoming Munich Dunkel.

Becoming Munich Dunkel

With the exception of The Session logo, images by F.D. Hofer.

© 2014 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.

Never the Twain Shall Meet? Thoughts on The Great Beer Culture Debate of 2013

The early days of September 2013 are days that will not go down in infamy in many places. But in a small corner of the interwebs, the September installment of “The Session: Beer Blogging Friday” generated no small quantum of sound and fury. These sessions have become somewhat of an institution among people who appreciate and write about beer, with topics that typically provide plenty of grist for those inclined to ruminations over fine beverages. Each month, a prominent beer scribe is called upon to frame an issue for debate. Recent topics range from the economics of the beer industry (a craft beer bubble?) to the issue of gender in a male-dominated beer world (beer feminism).

September’s Session Friday was nothing short of a provocation. Indeed, it would not be too much of a stretch to christen the event in retrospect “The Great Beer Culture Debate of 2013.” Adrian Dingle, a self-described Englishman “marooned in the beer culture desert that is The South of the USA” (his emphasis) and amusingly irascible creator of dingsbeerblog, detonated the following incendiary device:

“What the hell has America done to beer?, AKA, USA versus Old World Beer Culture.”

Unsurprisingly, Ding’s formulation – a stark binary opposition if ever there were one – set off a tidy little tempest. Responses ran the gamut from reasoned engagements with, to outright rejections of, Ding’s question and subsequent position statement.

Nothing like a good dust-up, Trainspotting style. – And a more than apt point of departure for this, my first A Tempest in a Tankard musing on beer and culture.

On several points I would agree with Ding – often wholeheartedly. But other aspects of the argument are less carefully wrought, as many critical interlocutors have been quick to point out. Here’s where I think Ding’s polemic misses the target.

Near the outset of his position piece, Ding references George Bernard Shaw’s likening of England and America to two countries separated by a common language. Ding then proceeds to use beer culture in the two places to illustrate the proposition, with England working overtime for the entirety of the Old World. To invoke yet another British author, one might be tempted to ask: And never the twain shall meet?

Culture is not a static entity. Nor is it a monolith. Dominant cultures may leave their mark on certain regions – but each regional culture is made up of a tapestry of subcultures. And so it goes with those enthusiastic about their choice of beverage. To suggest that each and every American craft beer enthusiast is an unsophisticated and unreconstructed hophead – or worse, a dupe of rampant American consumerism – is to paint with brush strokes far too broad.

In choosing to shine a light on drinking culture – more precisely, a nostalgic longing for the pub culture of old Albion – Ding is careful to decouple his argument about the United States’ ostensibly negligible contribution to drinking culture from his endorsement of American beer. But is it so easy to disassociate the product from the cultural moment and context that gives rise to a particular beer? Even if one were to argue that the U.S. lacks a distinctive “drinking culture” beyond beer pong and keg stands, the U.S. still has plenty to offer in terms of its cheerful embrace of all sorts of different traditions and styles, be it wine or beer or other spirits.

Here’s a brief personal anecdote. When I lived in Paris, the ubiquitous wine shops carried the best and the worst of French wines, but I was hard-pressed to find a bottle of claret that bespoke a different land. A mere handful of Italian wines had managed to slip past customs and into Italian delis in the Montmartre district. German wines? Not a chance. That was 1994-1995, so maybe things are different now. Living in Berlin during 2008 and 2009, I was able to find some stellar German beers. Who can beat Aventinus for about $1.10 per bottle? Aside from a decent selection of Eastern European beers and some Belgians for good measure, though, it was as if the U.S. did not exist as a beer-producing country. Perhaps things have changed during the intervening five years in Berlin too. (I’ve been hearing some promising rumours). The broader point, however, is this: unencumbered by a long and complex set of historical associations that link parts of France with particular grape varietals and Germany with certain kinds of beer, the U.S. has been free to experiment. Sangiovese in California? No problem. Turns out Riesling does well in the Finger Lakes, so how about Rkatsiteli too? Bourbon barrel-aged stout? Excellent results. Imperial Pale Lager? Well, the jury’s still out on that particular experiment.

In the end, reductive as many of Ding’s rhetorical moves may be, his sustained tirade does us a useful service by forcing us to reflect on how cultural contexts encode canons of taste. Rather than following Draft Magazine’s example and enumerating a mere list of events as a rebuttal to Ding’s position, we would do well to engage with some of these provocations, if for no other reason than to develop a deeper appreciation of the contexts that influence how we perceive and taste what’s in the glass.

Stay tuned for further engagements with the issue of culture and taste.

Till then, Prost!

____________

© 2013 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.