Has the whole craft beer thing gotten a bit too pretentious?
on 16/03/11 at 3:31 pmBeer
Step with me, if you dare, into the Craft Beer Time Machine. Turn that dial back, back, baaack … all the way back to the year 2006. Ancient times!
Imagine: Bush is still president and Busch is still American. Garrett Oliver’s “The Brewmaster’s Table” has only been out for a few months, and you snicker when someone says “beer sommelier.” Ten taps in a bar seem like more than enough, and a double IPA might mean two of them in a big glass. And a black IPA? Don’t be an ass.
OK, now we’re back in 2011. Take a fresh look around. High-dollar, five-course beer dinners are commonplace with the odd one fetching as much as $350 a person. A group of people are calling themselves “Cicerones.” Most big American cities have at least one taphouse with 50 to 100 fonts. At last check, the world’s strongest “beer” is 60 percent alcohol and fetches more than $45 a bottle. On the surface, anyway, it looks like beer is getting ever stronger, ever rarer, ever costlier, ever more special.
Maybe you don’t see it. I guess there’s a chance that you’re among the geekiest of the geeks, and that you personally will never get tired of triple-imperial-barrel-aged whatsits or pairing kvass with caviar and Kandinsky, or whatever. If that’s the case, I’m jealous.
Everyone else: Isn’t it all getting a bit precious? A bit pretentious? A bit much?
Or, to put it another way: Has the cool craft beer Fonz finally jumped the proverbial shark? Aren’t we forgetting about the Richie Cunninghams of the world, who just want a flavorful glass of something drinkable—or, preferably, several glasses—in a friendly place at a fair price?
That’s what I’ve been trying to find out. I’m still trying, although a six-week trip across the United States last summer went a long way toward reacquainting me with American beer. My choice of the year 2006 above wasn’t arbitrary: That’s when my wife and I left for Belgium, land of proper glassware and cuisine a la biére, where I wrote and blogged about beer for a living and authored a book on drinking one’s way through Brussels. I’d been back to visit the States a few times, but my perspective was somehow stuck in time. I drank my fill in Europe while pining for Cascade hops and what I remembered as a simpler, more casual beer culture.