It's easy for me to forget that, not too long ago, I didn't know that diacetyl is the aroma and flavor of buttered popcorn which can be a result of poor fermentation, that phenol can be appropriate in some beer styles (witbiers, saisons) but totally inappropriate for others (most lager styles). It's easy to go to a craft beer bar and forget that not everyone is familiar with the complexity of a smoked stout or quite prepared for the acetic bite of a sour beer. There are, believe it or not, some people who believe that all IPAs are bitter affairs lacking subtlety and complexity. We need to remember that one person's idea of the "best beer in the world" is often based on experience, knowledge, and the environment in which that beer is consumed. Palates are trained, not born.
As consumers of craft beer, what are our responsibilities to the general public who might be overwhelmed by number of choices available to them? How do we approach those who aren't as into craft beer and homebrewing? How do we, as individuals, make a lasting impact on the growth of this community? Because for every one of us who espouse the virtues of the freshest offering from the local brewery less than 10 miles away from our home, there is someone who thinks that macro-brewed specialty beers are on equal footing and of comparable quality to your local brewery's offerings.
We should start by making a concerted effort to not become snobs by alienating those just starting out on their own personal beer journeys. Just because we're intimately familiar with the possibilities of great craft beer, doesn't give us carte blanche to make others feel inferior for the choices they make as less motivated consumers. Instead of turning up our collective noses up at our light adjunct lager drinking brothers and sisters we should strive to make sure they feel welcome and remember that a huge draft list can be overwhelming and confusing at times. At Glorietta Baldy, one of the craft beer bars I go to regularly, they have a dedicated line that always serves Narragansett Lager. I've witnessed a number of people walk into the place, see Narragansett on the list, and immediately relax as there's something on draft that they have, at the very least, heard of. While not my favorite beer, I recognize the value of having a familiar, approachable beer for people who might be wary of what is unknown to them.
Garrett Oliver is the brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery as well as the author of The Brewmaster's Table and the editor of The Oxford Companion To Beer. I often refer to Oliver as the Neil Degrasse Tyson of beer. He has this unique ability to explain complex brewing and fermenting processes into easily digestible nuggets of information and is able to do so with humor and passion. When I'm over-explaining a beer process or a flavor profile to a friend who is not as into craft, I ask myself how would Garrett Oliver have explained that? A WWGOD moment, if you please. I need to constantly remind myself that just because I'm constantly reading books and magazine articles or listening to podcasts and watching online videos on the subject of beer and brewing doesn't mean everyone else is doing the same.
It's important to keep our community open to outsiders. Beer can be an affordable luxury and the scene surrounding those beers has to be as approachable as possible. We need an easy access point for the new craft drinker. That can be a Narragansett, and yes a Blue Moon or a Shock Top. Rather than deride a lack of knowledge, we should applaud our friends for stepping out of a comfort zone to try something new. Let the Shocktops and the Blue Moons (with their unfamiliar profile but their familiar brand recognition) do the initial heavy lifting. Later, we can steer our friend to the Belgian-style witbier made by one of the local breweries.
Next time you're at a bar and a friend takes a chance on a beer that you wouldn't be caught dead drinking, rather than being horrified, be happy that your friend is trying something new. Unless that friend ordered a Bud Lite Lime-A-Rita. That choice is fair game for ridicule because that's not even really beer.
WWGOD... WWGOD... WWGOD... wow, this is going to be tougher than I thought.