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The Session

Session #79 – The round up and a few rebuttals

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OK, Session #79 is now over and the thoughts of many have been recorded for posterity. There weren’t quite as many posts as I was expecting, and some of the writing wasn’t very good, but here’s my summary. If I have left you out it was NOT intentional. My apologies, and if you contact me I will gladly correct my oversight.

The first thing that I want to comment on is my own Session #79 post. Frankly, even after a lot of time and consideration I was still left a little dissatisfied with what I wrote. I knew this before I posted it, so this is not an after-the-fact observation. I struggled with the direction of the post quite a bit, and I think that I know why. I have written so much about the cultural divide in other, more specific ways, that I felt that I had already covered most of this ground elsewhere. Also, when writing about such matters without a specific topic in mind (as I was on this occasion), it can sound more like a tirade that lacks focus, than a considered, well crafted opinion. This is why I wanted people to read my other posts on cultural differences in the same vein – I hope that people took the time to do that, because taken together, I think that a clear pictures evolves.

The first Session #79 post came in quite a few days early from Simon Tucker. As Simon explains in his post, he is an Englishman in America too. I was a little confused by two things that he said in the first few lines of his offering. Firstly his reference to CAMRA makes little sense to me. What that has to do with my position I’m not sure. He goes on to write something that I absolutely disagree with; ‘And whilst I agree that America is not making the best beer in the world right now, it is the best place to be drinking beer’. On the contrary, I think some (not all, but some) of the best beer IS being brewed in America, but despite that America is a TERRIBLE place to be drinking beer – in fact I’d go further, and say that is really the whole point of my Session #79 post! I am in a place that sits 180 degrees from Simon’s statement.I them moved on to Alexsei’s post. His alternate title, although in jest, is actually more revealing than he might admit. I think that the problem I am referring to is encapsulated in the fact that the fictitious beer that he references, might actually exist (at least in the mind of an American brewer)!

I’m really not sure what Nate Dawg at Booze, Beats & Bites is all about, nor do I understand his name. The Beer Nut thinks British beer is ‘better’ based upon a recent tasting, but that wasn’t what I was really trying to get at. Luke tells us that whilst there are a few new beers popping up in the UK becasue of American influence, basically things are much the same as they once were.

I actually thought that some of the writing in Session #79 was pretty average, and in some cases even poor. There were posts that simply took a shot a me like beerbecue’s. Fair enough, I have a thick skin and am VERY used to this type of treatment, but his post was disappointing since it missed an opportunity to say more and I was under the impression that he was better than that – apparently not. Then there were people that really had very little to say on the subject matter – again, fair enough, but why bother at all? Bryan Roth’s contribution for example, was tongue in cheek I know, but really, why bother? I suppose that he may not care, and that’s fine, but why bother responding?

Beerbrarian (is he a librarian?) summed up attitudes on this side of the pond nicely, by saying, ‘What has American done to beer? We’ve made it more awesome‘. I love that he said that, since it neatly encapsulates both the essence of the problem and the American overuse of the word awesome all in one neat package.

Then we get the much more measured and well written posts like David’s at Beer Tinted Spectacles. His piece seems like it was written by a person who is older and more experienced. I do take issue with him a little, in as much as I’m not pitting one culture against another, rather I’m trying to point out the deficiencies (as I see them) in one – there is a subtle, but important difference.

Stan Hieronymous then chips in with this. I take issue with a couple of things. I have no ‘agenda’, I just have strong opinions and a passion that I like to share, but an ‘agenda’ would suggest that I am trying to ‘achieve’ something here – I’m not. I’m not trying to effect change, and whilst I am interested in what people think, I’m really merely keeping myself sane by airing my grievances. Secondly his point about ‘no single culture’ is obviously valid, but I find it a little disingenuous in as much as I suspect that everyone knows exactly what I mean.

Alan McLeod refuses to engage me (and he even deleted a comment I made on his blog and asked me not to engage him on Twitter) which is both his prerogative and his loss, but he is completely wrong about Session #79 being about me – that’s just plain wrong, and unlike almost ALL of the other Ding-hating that I have encountered over the years, it bothers me. Perhaps that was his intention, if it was then he succeeded. (For the record, the reason that bothers me more than other brickbats that I might receive, is that it is a suggestion that I am somehow not genuine, or am ‘saying this purely for effect’).

Jay Brooks (who along with Stan Hieonymous the father of The Sessions) writes a comprehensive anti-Ding post – no sweat, it happens all the time. I’m glad that he made the substantial effort. There’s a number of problems for me in his piece starting with Jay (like Stan), assuming that I have an agenda or motive – I don’t. Do people really think that I am attempting to reverse the direction of the American beer scene?? I’m stubborn, committed and brash, but I’m not delusional. Jay goes on to accuse me of believing that, ‘if it’s not English beer, it’s crap’. Did he read what I wrote? I address that VERY issue in my post, and LITERALLY write quite the opposite about American beer – talk about ‘agendas’, LOL! He then completely misrepresents (or maybe misunderstands) what I said in the myth post about canned beer. I was never talking about ‘metal turbidity’, I was referring to the ‘culture’ being happy to embrace the container at the expense of the beer, i.e., valuing convenience and a market trend above the quality of the liquid.

Jay is right about a few things though. For example, The Rake certainly couldn’t have existed a few years ago in the UK, and nor could the Euston Tap. Then again, whilst I have no particular animosity toward either, I wish that those bars (and others like them) existed in their rightful abode on THIS side of the pond. In a strange way, they actually detract from English drinking culture in their ‘Americanness’.

As for Jay’s comments about session beer, at this stage of my beer-life and beer-musing I am EXTREMELY happy with my defense of 4%. I think I’ve constructed admirable and solid arguments and have been backed-up by Cullen-Harrison, so having a pop at me there is basically of little interest to me, but Jay had better be REALLY careful quoting Martyn Cornell in order to attack me. My suspicion is that Martyn agrees with me more than Jay would care to acknowledge. For example, on Steven Beaumost’s Blog, Martyn says this;

Martyn Cornell on Ding & Session Beer

Jay also (apparently) misunderstands my reason for talking about session beer as much as I do. He says, ‘[my position] does nothing to advance either the idea or concept of session beers’. Well, I’m not trying to ‘advance’ anything OTHER THAN the correct use of the terminology. I’m definitely not looking to America to produce more session beer – if I want more session beer, I’ll go to the source, thanks,

Finally, if Jay wants to look to Japan, Argentina, Chile, New Zealand and Italy to ascertain the pulse of worldwide beer culture (yes he uses Japan, Argentina, Chile, New Zealand and Italy to point to America’s ascendency), then have at it! That’s akin to seeking knowledge and opinions about grits, in London! Besides, as A Girl and Her Pint acknowledges, New Zealand’s relative beer vacuum has been filled by American culture anyway, so there are no surprises and the whole thing becomes an echo-chamber of self-fulfilling prophecy. Glen over at Beer is Your Friend acknowledges the same vacuum filling has taken place in Australia to much the same effect. Vacuums get filled by the loudest and most brash.

The Draft magazine post by Chris Staten is especially comforting. It points to a bunch of events that essentially make my point for me. Funny. Bill at The Pittsburgh Beer Snob seems to relate to me and my cynical approach but I guess he just cares less! You cannot manufacture passion, and if he is content not to get involved, then so be it – for me it burns a little brighter!

At first glance it might appear that Oliver Gray and I have something in common, but actually I think that we are quite a distance apart, although I do like his acknowledgment that, ‘evolution does not always equate with improvement‘. I especially like the comment from Baltimore Bistros and Beer that the old world appreciates subtlety and nuance in an way that America does not.

I really like what Jon Abernathy says in his Brewsite piece. He picks up on a couple of important things. I actually agree with his characterization of cultural appropriation and how that defines what America’s beer ‘culture’ actually is, but I guess where we differ is in thinking that all cultures are equaly valid. I see common threads in English, Belgian and German culture – such as beer being integrated into everyday life – that are not present in America. Of course all cultures are different, BUT I find a lot of the American model to be running counter to principles that are common in those other, widely (different) cultures. Somehow, the cultural thread that passes through the traditional brewing nations gets broken in America - Jon’s thoughts helped me to clarify my own on that point. Jeremy at Saints Arnold Society also touches on this by referencing the ‘Arms Race’ of ABV and IBU which for me, is another counter-cultural reference to the traditional beer world.

Heather Vandenengel acknowledges the American abuse of other beer cultures in her piece and the role that rampant consumerism plays in the US. Jon points to prohibition as the source of the problem, which is of course a great point and one that has been explored a lot in the past. Roger at A Fool and His Beer agrees with my observations on irreverence and consumerism.

Ammo at Drunken Speculation decides to hone in on Pumpkin beer which I suppose is interesting since I see that particular, American phenomenon in a similar way – it’s a gimmick, and in that respect typical of the US beer scene. Gus at Beeroclockaustralia says a number of things including that British beer is ‘relatively bland’ – mmmm, I think that I dealt with that preemptively in my original post, and in a similar way the The Tasting Nitch puts together a predictable post, also addressed preempitively. Sean Inman at the Beer Search Party repeats much the same thing.

Staying Down Under, finally we find someone that (I think) agrees with me. Derek Harrison makes a couple of excellent points. I particularly gravitate toward his observations about the specificity of the term ‘beer culture’ being redundant in the old world and the constant Kumbaya in the beer community in the US – that really grinds my gears.

So, there it is. I didn’t expect to make many friends here, not my goal, but equally it’s not my goal to ‘stir things up’ (The Tasting Nitch was wrong about that), rather I’m simply trying to express what I feel. For me that’s all beer blogging really is – an outlet for my thoughts in order that I might stay sane.

Most of this post was written while I was drinking an absolutely magnificent beer – Boulevard’s Saison Brett. I say that to make a point. Some American beer is phenomenally good, and whilst some is phenomenally bad, Session #79 was about my thoughts on American beer ‘culture’, not the lack of good, American beer.

10 Comments

  1. Ding,

    The CAMRA reference was just a little joke: in the last two years it has been easy to see CAMRA’s position on beer as being Cask is great, anything else is bad.

    I enjoyed your post and I felt a little bit of a resonance with some of it. I think a key difference between beer culture in the UK and the US is that sometimes here it feels like you need to have a lot of energy. Cantillon is a good case in point: In Sheffield, you can buy it in pubs and bottle shops. Here, though, any mention of it seems to cause a riot. I guess the quantity of people who like craft beer creates the herd mentality which I think is something of a minority.

    I think you mis-interpreted my comment that the US is the best place to drink beer: I meant that, personally, I have access to a much broader selection of beer here than I did in the UK – I think there are more European beers here (especially the more modern breweries), and I think these beers are more appreciated in general. For example: In what supermarket in the UK could you buy Orval, Duchesse De Bourgonne and a local beer from down the road? I agree that you have to put up with young people if you go out, rather than your typical UK pub crowd but at least you can be Brit and avoid talking to them ;-)

    • The ‘event’ culture that I talk of is the same thing that you reference when you talk about needing energy. I agree with your observation completely, and this is what I find counter-cultural to everything ‘beer’ in the old world.

  2. Thanks for hosting, Ding.

    I agree that you and I are a distance apart, but I also think that could be part of a generational divide. You’re closer to my dad’s age than my own, and he shared a lot of your sentiment about the quality of the beer he could get over here versus what he drank back in Sale/Bolton in his 20s. I’m pretty damn “Americanized” despite my English roots, so it’s hard to form a solid basis of comparison that isn’t just me guessing or being overly subjective.

    Thanks for reading my piece though; it was fun to write. You’ve definitely given me a lot to think about in terms of my own tastes, and how my upbringing may be influencing them more than I know.

    Cheers!

    • Oliver, you hit on another absolutely CRUCIAL point! I find that huge discrepancies are caused by a generational gap, and that almost every single, person that I encounter in the ‘American beer geek scene’, is younger than me – usually by quite some distance. Of course that in and of itself makes me susceptible to the ‘Get off My Lawn’ syndrome, but as you observe, I think it goes deeper, too.

      Thanks for taking the time to write – again!

  3. What the hell do you mean by “I don’t know what Nate Dawg is all about”? I’m not sure you even read my post.

  4. What? No mention of the fact that my post was a freaking animated video!?

    You clearly don’t think I’m better than that. You blocked me on twitter for a tongue in cheek blog post about session beer (that I’m pretty sure you didn’t actually read).

    My blog doesn’t take many things seriously and embraces SOME of the irreverence you abhor. There was a subtext to my animation, however: None of this is new, beer has always evolved within various cultural contexts, and there is nothing fundamentally wrong with US beer.

    As for your disappointment with the substance, or lack thereof, in my post and Bryan’s, clearly the Session needs some periodic comedic relief. One can only read so many serious dissertations on beer.

    In any case, thanks for hosting.

  5. I love that you expressed what you felt, Ding. We were all here for you and I, personally, was very glad to see that you were able to get something out of this Session, for your sanity and what not.
    But mostly, thank you for opening up your goals and insights! I apologize for assuming you intended to stir things up, turns out that you were right, hardly a ripple on the pond.

    XOXO

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