While wine snobs have blighted the earth for thousands of years (you can bet there was at least one guy curling his lip at the vintage of Jesus’ first and best miracle), beer snobbery is a relatively young art, especially in the U.S.
This is because every beer in the country once tasted exactly the same. Oh sure, there were Bud lovers and MGD aficionados who would swear they could tell the difference, but if you gave them a blind taste test, you’d soon discover they’d just keep asking for another “test taste” until there wasn’t any beer left and they were passed out on your sofa.
Furthermore, beer was considered the balm of the common man, it was not something you swirled in a glass and judged by its “nose.” It was something you swilled from a plastic cup and sometimes shot through your nose.
Then the microbrewery revolution swept the country and soon every abandoned firehouse, bank and shoe factory was outfitted with a vat and turning out every possible form and flavor of beer you could imagine, and some you would rather not.
It was perfectly natural then, with so many different beers to choose from, that a learned cadre of beer experts would appear to explain to the unsophisticated masses what is “good beer” and what “has the nose and character of a harbor-town harlot with a penchant for walking into walls caked with manure.” Thus arrived the beer snob.
Beer Vs. Wine Snobbery
Beer snobbery is less dangerous.
While wine snobs have been around long enough to be nearly universally despised and even hunted for sport in certain parts of the South, beer snobs are so new they’re considered by the general public to be as harmless as those people who carve elaborate sculptures out of Spam—someone to be viewed more with bemusement than with the scope of a high-powered rifle.
The dress is casual.
Wine snobs have a strict dress code involving turtlenecks, glasses designed to sit on the end of one’s nose and silk scarves, but a beer snob can pretty much dress anyway he likes. Aside from the snooty expression, a typical beer snob is nearly indistinguishable from your least favorite brother-in-law.
The position doesn’t require a sensitive palate.
In fact, a too-sensitive palate just gets in the way. If a beer snob’s mind is busy trying to decipher a vast array of signals from his tongue, it becomes very difficult for him to think up a clever way to insult a fellow beer snob’s tie.
You don’t need to know what the hell you’re talking about.
The fact of the matter is, no one really knows how to tell a good beer from a bad one. The prestigious Beerophile Digest, for example, will declare McChumley’s Mauled Herring Ale to be “a delightful triumph of art and nature right up there with the pulsating shower head” while the brash Xtreme Brewski Review will assert the same ale to be “the sort of crap drank by hoity-toities who take lots of showers and stuff.”
You don’t have to learn a foreign language.
While a wine snob is expected to speak enough French to enrage a Frenchman, the beer snob only needs to speak enough English to infuriate an Englishman, which only requires slurring, “Hey you remember when we saved your butts from the Germans back in Dubya Dubya Two? Remember that?”
The terminology is simple and straightforward.
For example, the guy who pours the beer is a bartender and not some snooty guy whose title looks suspiciously similar to smellier but is actually pronounced like the cry of a gardener pleasantly surprised while trying to explain the holes in your lawn: “Some mole—yay!”
Enthusiasm and relish are more important than experience and research.
When it comes to rating beers, you don’t need to be able to identify the vintage or know which field the hops were grown in. This would just confuse you. Neither do you need to attend mundane festivals, read a bunch of dreary books or even sample a lot of different beers. All you need is a big helping of enthusiasm and relish, and by that I mean sarcasm and snootiness.
The Wide World of Beers
When you were a teenager you probably thought all beers were just called “beer” or maybe “brewski” if you were feeling technical. But as a beer snob you should be aware that there are many subcategories of beers, in the same way that certain dogs are called “Cocker Spaniels” and “Rat Terriers,” and some large rats are called “Chihuahuas.”
ale: some purists will tell you this English brew is not really beer at all, but these are the same type of people who will tell you that drinking a case of beer in the company of your dog is not a “kick-ass time.”
bitter: this hoppy English stalwart is a favorite among elderly men who smoke pipes, carry change purses and will insist that Field Marshal Rommel was “indeed crafty as a fox, but no match for this cunning English bulldog.”
bock: this German beer is named for the billy goat, because, just like a billy goat, it’s lively, strong and smells like a billy goat.
doppelbock: German for double billy goat. You get the idea.
export: this is a type of beer so awful the locals refuse to drink it, so the brewery ships it off to foreigners who don’t know any better.
fruit: these flavored beers were introduced to appeal to women and certain men who get very defensive when you inform them they are plainly homosexual.
lager: there are those who like to say this light, golden beer is served cold so as to distinguish it from urine, but the truth of the matter is urine also has a much better head.
malt liquor: some will argue this is not beer at all, but let me tell you something: if it tastes like a duck, smells like a duck and makes you walk like a duck, it is probably malt liquor.
porter: this strong beer was named for the rugged laborers who made it popular in Old England and would quite frankly drink billy goat sweat if it got them drunk.
stout: these dark, rich beers are called such because after drinking a dozen of them you will feel stout enough to wrestle all four of the cops by yourself.
trappist: this type of ale is brewed by monks noted for their skill at trapping tourists in their monastery’s overpriced gift shops. They changed their name from trapper to trappist in 1816 when they realized they spoke French and thus needed a fancier title.
The Three Prime Rules of Judging a Beer
1.) Use the proper terminology
Thirty years ago the only terms you needed to express a beer’s character were “tastes great” and “less filling.” The microbrew explosion, however, made it necessary to invent literally hundreds of new adjectives to explain how great or non-filling a beer truly is. Fortunately, you won’t have to memorize most of them because most are fake words that drunk beer experts made up on the spot and probably winced at when they saw them in print later. What else can explain why grown men are using words like Chlorophenolic, Balling Degrees, Sparge and Kräusening to describe something that can be purchased in the form of a Party Ball?
Brewmaster: So, what do you think of our delicious new Squashed Sulfur Beetle Stout?
Drunk Beer Expert: S’at what this is? Thought I axidenally drank from the bar’s fuckin’ soap bucket.
Brewmaster: What was that?
Drunk Beer Expert: I said I really dig its barzfookanzope bouquet.
Brewmaster: Oh! And that’s a good thing, right?
Drunk Beer Expert: Kiddin’ me? Barzfookanzope is Upper Bavarian for chlorophenolic!
Brewmaster: Oh! And that’s a good thing, right?
In fact, the only terms you really need to know are nutty, worty, fruity, hoppy, grainy, mouthy, sulpheristical, pine-needley, and bodacious. What do they mean? No one knows for sure. The important thing it to use as many of them as possible when you rate a beer. For example, you should never just say, “This beer is worty.” Instead you should say, “I find the wortiness of this beer fruity yet mouthy, with pine-needley undertones of sulpheristicallity, bodaciousamentally speaking.”
2.) Employ all of your senses.
If you taste a beer and think, “Gee, that tastes good,” do not say so. Use every pretentious bone in your body to resist even the slightest sign of enjoyment. Just because a beer tastes good does not mean it is good. You must bring into play your other four senses to make a proper judgement.
Sight: Look at the beer’s label. If you can see little gold medals, describe the beer as “a shining avatar lesser beers aspire to.” Do you see foreign words? If they look European, call the beer a “traditional, old-country stalwart.” If the words look like the symbols used in the funny pages in place of curse words, label the beer “an exotic wayfarer with delightful stories to tell.” If the label has a singing fish, dancing moose or any other sort of animal doing something an animal does not normally do, call it “a brash upstart with a lot to prove.”
Sound: Have you heard anyone else talking about the beer? If you have, try to cover your bases by incorporating as many of these opinions into your judgement as possible: “Yes, it’s the one in the green bottle, but on the other hand, it goes for six bucks a sixer at the Liquorama up on Fifth Street, right across the street from the Conoco Station with the hot chick working the register.”
Feel: Do you feel the brewery rep standing nearby will reward a good rating with free stuff? If so, upgrade your evaluation according to how much free stuff you think you might get. Thus, a merely decent beer may become “a mind-boggling triumph,” a bad one transforms into “a powerful new statement” and something that could pass as window cleaner ascends to “a real up and comer.” You don’t have to tell the rep it will be “up and coming” the next time you visit the rest room.
Smell: Does the beer smell foreign, or, in beer expert parlance, skunky? Foreigness is a good thing because foreign countries are farther away and the farther away a brewery is the better the beer tastes. Especially if it says Export on the label, because foreigners don’t want to embarrass their country and thus only export the really good stuff.
3.) When in doubt, speak in tongues.
To express an unqualified opinion of a beer is akin to waving a big flag at the enemy, so they know exactly where to shoot. If you are unsure about the quality of a beer because you can’t see the label and are not sure if the rep is going to give you free stuff, you have to deliver an opinion so obtuse onlookers won’t know if you’re complimenting the beer or plan on using it to poison the rats in your cellar.
Instead of saying, “I guess it’s sorta okay,” you should say: “Seems its pompitude has been finely demastered in a congenial sort of way, yet its essence disambiguates the fustification of its mischarateristics to the degree I wonder about the referentialability of the primal dewortnicity, if I may paraphrase famed beer critic Baron Von Troutenmyer.”
It’s hard to disagree with a man you can’t understand, though they might try. If a competing beer snob tries to draw you out from behind your brilliant smokescreen by saying, “Hate to disagree, but I think the dewortitude terrifically interpolative and fusticating with character,” glower at him for an instant and say in a very stiff tone, “Funny, I could have swore I just said that.”
Another safe tactic is to compare the beer with one that doesn’t actually exist. Because the beer ranks swell every week, even the most knowledgeable of beer experts won’t call you out, for fear of appearing “out of the loop.” So instead actually stating an opinion of a beer, say it is “a lot like The Abandoned Shoe Factory Brewery’s new Soothsucker Pine Sap Ale, in the sense that they’re completely different.”
Types of Beer Snobs
Deciding you want to be a beer snob is not enough. You also have to decide what sort of beer snob you want to be.
The Beer Fuehrer
This curmudgeonly gentlemen will declare he would rather guzzle urine than drink what he considers “bad beer.” And by bad he means any beer that comes in a can, has commercials on television, or has been heard of by more than fifty people. He can only pity the poor fools who sit in bars drinking the swill disgorged by the vast corporate vats, when they could be drinking swill produced in much smaller ones.
The Hops Head
The power-crazed Dr. Frankenstein of beer snobs, this wretched soul has descended so deeply into the pit of snobbery he has convinced himself that the vile liquid (he will call it something akin to Super Duper Black Cherry Berry Power Porter) he concocted in his basement is not only non-poisonious, but superior to the stuff it took monks 50 generations to perfect. One caveat: the longer and more grandiose the title of his obscene creation, the more likely it will be good for poisoning the rats in your cellar.
The Beer Geek
The beer world equivalent of a Trekkie, this fan is forever making pilgrimages to far flung festivals and conventions, will belong to any number of beer associations (and wears the T-shirts to prove it) and has never had sex with a woman where there wasn’t money involved. Beards are common and they have a powerful fetish for steins.
The Beer Lover
These are the Rex Reeds of the beer snob community. They have never met a beer that was not “gorgeously fabulous” or “fabulously gorgeous.” The closest they ever come to a bad review is when they mistake the glass of water used to clear the palate for beer, and even then they’ll give it three stars and declare it “a promising new light lager worth keeping your eye on.”
Interacting with Other Beer Snobs
While it’s perfectly fine and extremely pleasurable to rabidly denounce whatever swill your non-beer snob acquaintances are slopping down their gauche gullets, you must carefully weigh each word when amongst your own.
You will probably meet them at a beer club meeting. Beer snobs are generally very eager to form beer clubs, partly to discuss new beers, but mostly because their regular friends won’t drink with them any more.
At these meetings members are expected to present their “discoveries.” A discovery is an exciting new beer you introduce to your fellow beer snobs. If a fellow beer snob introduces a new beer to you, however, it is not called a discovery. It is called a travesty.
When judging another fellow’s travesty, don’t worry about the taste so much as to where the fellow is situated on the Beer Snob Ladder. Those above you should be treated with grudging deference. Those below are to be condescended to in the manner of a weary yet indulgent grown-up patting the head of a simple-minded yet well-meaning mongoloid child eager to show off yet another shiny and utterly worthless object that caught one of his unattractively bulging eyes.
You should save your vast stores of vitriol for those sharing the same rung as you, for you cannot ascend the ladder unless you plant a foot firmly upon their credibility.
When one of your rung mates foolishly encourages you to try one of his new travesties, smile agreeably, take a sip, then act as if a bug just flew into your mouth. After letting your dismay register with the club, turn your head discreetly and spit into your handkerchief. Subtlety is key. Do not behave as if the bug is a giant dung beetle, but rather a common housefly that has spent the day joyfully wallowing in billy goat manure. Deliver the coup de grace by muttering, “Well, that was certainly interesting.” In the parlance of the beer snob, interesting roughly translates into “One large step below Satan’s venereal urine.”
When it’s your turn to present a discovery, be keenly aware the act is the beer snob equivalent of wagging your testicles between the bars of the Mongoose Cage at feeding time. Rivals will do their level best to defame and discredit you, which is why you must immediately distance yourself as far from your discovery as possible. Act as if it were a hideously deformed orphan you found wandering the streets and, out of the goodness of your heart, are just trying to make a few introductions so he can possibly secure a future position as grave digger or bell ringer. Make sure you damn it to the degree that any response at all will seem unmitigated praise. Then, once you get a fingerhold, start suggesting that your orphan might not only be suitable for a grave digger position, but the head grave digger position.
You: “Don’t be alarmed. It may seem a horrid wretch, but given a chance it might just reveal itself as being merely disgusting.”
Rival Beer Snob: “Well, you’re dead on about its horridly disgusting wretchedness, but I once ate a large beetle that tasted only slightly better.”
You: “Funny you should say that! Because noted beer expert Sir Edward Edwardsbottom declared this very beer to have the potential of an especially large and ambitious dung beetle.”
Rival Beer Snob: “Dung beetle, yes, that makes sense, I—”
You: “Do you really think it that ambitious and promising? I must say, there is something rather large and bombastic about it. Why, you’ve given me a new appreciation of this bold brew. Though perhaps not as enthusiastic as you, I think it may be a real up and comer!”