Overheard: Nonsensical Statements About Beer

When it comes to beer, people talk too much.  Rich, I know, coming from someone who is often accused of writing too much (yes, I know B:S posts are sometimes long, but there's usually a reason for it, and believe it or not I do edit!).  But I'm not talking about volume; I'm talking about content.  They speak beyond their level of competence.  They mean well, I'm sure, but they're just out of their depth.  To give you an example and show you I'm not just being snobby, here's one I'm sure we've all heard: "I like ales better than stouts." 

Sigh.

It's hardly unique to beer, but I think (like politics) beer is particularly prone to this because it's such a ubiquitous and familiar thing in your life, even if you're not a beer person.  Beer is everywhere.  And it's simple, right?  So when presented with, for example, a tap list, or a beer judge, or a homebrewed keg at a high school reunion, there's an almost involuntary, verbal-diarrhetic reaction.  

And what comes out...well, it's sometimes amusing, but almost always frustrating.  So, as a service to you, dear readers, below are some common nonsensical beer statements, possible root causes, and some responses you might consider offering that might turn this from a choke-a-stranger-or-friend moment into a teachable moment.

So let's take a common beer query: "What beer can I get you?"  

Why not start with...

I like ales better than stouts!

This whole nomenclature thing is at the heart of a lot of beer misconception - and by the by, we beer people aren't immune.  We all associate beer names, categories, and types with pictures in our head that represent a counterfeit reality (go read "Public Opinion" by Walter Lippmann).  When I say "lager," some people automatically picture a super-light macro lager; others (like me) picture Bock.  That disconnect can cause some misunderstanding.  

But most of the time, this isn't that complicated.  It's someone who thinks that "ale" (however they picture it) is a commonly-understood term.  They also don't know that stouts are ales.  But you know what you shouldn't do?  You shouldn't go all beer-professor-y and teach them up on ale v. lager yeast strains.  Instead, maybe just talk about flavors instead of styles/categories.  We can usually all agree on flavors, at least, right?

Until you hear...

Is that beer hoppy?

I got hit with this one just yesterday.  Being a homebrewer, I field this one a lot, simply because when people come over they often want to at least try homebrewed beer.  But they don't like hops.

Look, folks - all beer is hoppy.  If it isn't, it isn't beer, it's gruit.  But you know what you shouldn't do?  Go all beer-professor-y and teach them up on beer v. gruit.  Instead, try to figure out what they're asking.

One possibility is that they don't like bitterness, and they're trying to avoid something with a high IBU count.  The other possibility is that they don't like a lot of fruity, herbal, piney, or really much of any flavor in their beer.  So maybe ask what flavors they like and/or avoid, or what commercial beers they usually drink.  After all, they'll give you some style information when they name the beer, right?

But then they say...

I Really Like [Insert Brewery Name Here]

"I like Sam Adams."  "I had a great Sierra Nevada the other day."  "May I have a Victory?"

This is pretty common stuff - non-beer people often think in terms of brewery, not specific beer. This is probably an artifact of the homogeneity within labels in macro beer (there's not much perceivable difference between MGD, High Life, and Lite, after all), and in most cases people also bought into the idea that they were more a "Coors person" than a "Bud person," so they were thinking in terms of brand (as the breweries' marketing folk intended).  

So what do you do?  Well, you're probably safe assuming that they mean the most-readily-available version of that brewery's beer.  If you hear "Sam Adams," then they mean Boston Lager, not Scotch Ale.  "Sierra Nevada" probably means "Pale Ale."  "Alchemist" means...well, that person's probably just showing off, because I'll bet lots of beer people don't even know who brews HT!  

But just in case, maybe ask for a quick description of the beer, as they remember it.  It should clear things up and help you respond.

Unless they go with...

It's Dark, so That Means it's Strong

This one bugs me primarily because it's dangerous.  I was at an event with my in-laws, and there were two beers on offer: a growler of Schwarzbier and a growler of Belgian Tripel.  Just for fun, we asked anyone who wanted a taste which beer was stronger.  100% assumed the Schwarz was, just because of its color (and some thought that even after tasting them, but that's a whole different problem).

So when you hear someone say, "oh, not the dark beer, I need to drive home later..." you might mention that beer color isn't a great guide for ABV, and to always ask what the alcohol content is, since it can vary by several hundred percent.  The more you know [cue PSA music].

Unless they just straight-up tell you...

All Beer Tastes the Same

No, it doesn't.  They can't possibly support that statement.  Prove it to them by lining up a Rodenbach Grand Cru, a Miller High Life, a Lagunitas IPA, and a Salvator Dopplebock.  Put money on it and triple your purchasing cost.

But so far these are honest and simple errors, usually made by people who wouldn't call themselves beer enthusiasts.  These people are fine.  What really gets me are the...

Dumb Things Aleholes Say

These are all 100% un-exaggerated, non-hyperbolic-for-narrative-effect things that I've heard out of the mouths of alehole-ish beer geeks, judges, bar owners, brewery reps, and more.

  • "You really can't appreciate [beer/style] unless you travel to [place they make it]."  I've heard this one all over the place.  It isn't true.  It might be fresher there, and it might taste marginally better as a result, but you can buy fresh beer everywhere.  I don't need to visit the UK to have a "real understanding" of Old Ale (as I actually overheard at a competition - one judge overruling another citing this as his crusher of a justification for why his pick should win).
  • "I can absolutely tell one IPA from another, blind."  No, you almost certainly can't.  You can probably pick out an IPA from a selection of other styles, but if you had the kind of savant-like palate it would take to parse the hop flavor variations in multiple IPAs then you'd already be the lead taster on a sensory panel for a prominent brewery.
  • "Don't drink that beer yet - save it for a vertical tasting!"  Look, I like a good vertical.  But very, very few beers benefit from anything like real cellaring/aging.  Just because it's old, it doesn't automatically make it better and/or more complex.  I've never been sorry for opening a beer when it's fresh.  I've often been sorry for opening one that's old.  You can do what you like with your beer, but don't try to browbeat me into hanging onto an American Barleywine so I can wait until it has a tiny fraction of its hop flavors left and really enjoy its "complexity."
  • "The best beer is the one in your hand."  I may get flack for this, but I don't care - this is overly-precious, "I'm a cool beer person" nonsense.  Really?  So you're going to tell me that skunked-out Michelob Ultra you're drinking is "the best beer" just because you're not willing to dump it?  Yes, judging/rating beers can be pretty subjective (especially when talking "best beers"), but there's a lot of bad beer out there, too.  Ignore that if you want, but...
  • "It was worth waiting in line for [super-rare bottle release]."  Maybe it was.  Maybe it wasn't.  But can you seriously tell me that what you waited in line for is better than a dozen others you don't have to wait in line for?

I really could go on for quite a while here, but I'll need to stop sometime.  When you hear this stuff, just nod politely.  It usually isn't worth the argument.

Dumb Things I Say

No one is immune here.  I'm sure I say stupid things, too.  I may not know what they are, exactly, but that's one great thing about this blog: you guys love pointing them out for me!  In all sincerity, I love hearing it, and I don't offend easily (or, really, at all), so be as direct as you like.  I might disagree with you (and say so, if I have a reason), but I'm always grateful for the input.

So if it's me?  Let me know, and don't worry about being polite.

But for anyone else, as always my advice is to be considerate.  Don't deliberately embarrass people, sure, but be conscious of the potential for inadvertently doing it, too.  Don't get hung up on the mistake - try to focus on what they mean and less on what they say.  Manners cost nothing, and kindness never hurts and usually helps.  

No one likes an alehole.

Keep it simple.

JJW