At a homebrew competition this weekend, I was part of a conversation about boorish, pushy alehole behavior, and one of the participants opined, "Beer nerds - what are you going to do?"
It occurred to me, though, that what we're talking about doesn't really fit with generalized "nerd" behavior. Deeply knowledgeable, overly-committed, willing to talk a subject to death - that's nerd behavior, for sure. Shaming, bullying, exclusive? That's not "nerd" terrain, no matter what the canonical Revenge of the Nerds films would suggest.
What we're talking about here aren't "beer nerds." They're beer jocks.
The Beer Jock
I should probably point out at the outset that I'm not casting aspersions on athletes as a group. I'm simply using the 80's-nostalgia-film-fueled paradigm of nerds v. jocks as a rhetorical device. Some of my best friends are jocks. There - I've covered myself, right?
Now, back to those awful, cruel, high-handed beer jocks, shoving us beer nerds into our chest freezers...
I'm not talking here about a garden-variety "beer talk terrorist," horning in on conversations and holding forth on the proper glassware for a Kolsch v. a Pilsner. No, I'm talking about the people that are so committed to craft beer that they're openly mocking and shaming other beer drinkers.
Sometimes the target of their ire is just a rube who stupidly thinks s/he actually likes their preferred macro lager. Let's all have a laugh at their expense!
Often it's a fellow craft beer lover who isn't sufficiently nerdy - "what do you mean you haven't heard about Rainbow IPA? The BA better update its guidelines to include them. They have negative IBUs and are no discernible color, which means they're every color. They're everywhere in Pittston, bro. Wait, you don't even know about the hot new brewing town of Pittston? Wow..."
Could also be the beer jock who's too cool/postmodern for pumpkin beers, except the ones that get released in March "and are really more white squash beers, which is way more authentic." In fact, the beer jock rejects all seasonal beers, and the people who drink them.
Or maybe it's a soulless capitalist who still buys the occasional case of Boddington or Goose Island, not realizing that they're coughing up money so that some rich CEO can get a third beach house - what a POS. "Can you believe he still does that? I mean, I've consciously uncoupled from any of my relatives and friends who still insist on drinking Devil's Backbone Vienna Lager. Who needs that kind of betrayal in their lives?"
And I'm not even going to bother (well, I guess I am) pointing out the irony that these same aleholes never miss a chance to talk about the importance of camaraderie and fellowship in craft beer.
By all means, nerd out. I'll spend hours in a discussion of the futility of secondary fermentations and the virtues of floor malted grains. We enjoy the minutiae of beer and brewing, surveying the beer scene, analyzing what we see.
There's nothing at all wrong with a deep dive on a topic. Malcolm Gladwell, writing in The Tipping Point, discusses a type of person he calls a "maven," who is an active expert on a subject. Mavens are useful "tippers" because they can provide more than superficial knowledge on a specialized and not-yet-broadly-engaged topic. Mavens are obsessed with ideas, not people.
And therein, I think, lies the difference. When you turn from an obsession with knowledge and ideas to a preoccupation with how others engage with your chosen nerdified field of interest, you weaponize your nerdism. When you do, you pivot from Beer Nerd to Beer Jock, and that's when we see the kind of bullying behavior that's so common to this archetype.
If you see me doing this, please let me know - I'm sure it happens. As I've always said, I am, without question, a carrier of the alehole gene. It's one of the reasons I love writing Beer Simple - it lets me engage in a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde-like analysis of my own beerhavior. If this applies to you, too, then we all have some work to do.
Keep it simple.
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