Most people reading this will be more than familiar with my opinions about the lack of beer culture here in the USA. My thoughts are well documented, and boil down to the fact that I do not see alcohol (and in particular good, high quality beer), seamlessly integrated into the fabric of everyday life amongst a wide audience, in the manner that it is in Europe, and in particular in the UK. I’ve touched upon this subject over and over again, but wanted to expand on it a bit, here.
Sometimes it is difficult to quantify and express my exact feelings on the beer culture question, partly because it is such a difficult, somewhat abstract thing, and partly because it is something that I feel so emotionally attached to. As such, it stirs very deep, strong feelings in me. Of course, there are pluses and minuses when it comes to such passion as it can perhaps cloud ones perspective, but at the same time means that I have thought about it a LOT.
People around America have countered my bemoaning of the lack of beer culture with statements like, ‘Well, you live in the bible belt in Atlanta and it’s different in other parts of the country’, or, ‘We have bars and store FULL of great beer, what more do you want?’, or, ‘England is just full of bland, warm beer with little variety’. All of these accusations miss the point and fail to grasp the essence of my I’m trying to describe. So what is it that I am trying to convey?
When I talk of a lack of beer culture I’m not talking about a lack of beer variety or a lack of beer ‘geekery’ – in fact, in terms of wacko, geekery and bars & stores with colossal selections, there’s pretty much nowhere on earth that can match the United States. However, America mistakes quantity for quality, and enthusiasm for knowledge & understanding, all over the place, and abundance is most certainly not a prerequisite for (or indeed an indicator of), beer culture; nor am I claiming that like America (and indeed Belgium, Germany, the Czech Republic and all of the traditional beer producing nations) the UK has not suffered at the hands of the international conglomerates marketing fizzy yellow beer; nor am I (God forbid) requiring, wishing, wanting or hoping that the US can replicate the greatest social institution on the face of the the earth, the British pub; nor am I knocking, disputing , ignoring or discounting the interesting beer scene that current exists in the US, BUT WHAT I AM saying is this; there is a horrible dearth of an American ‘Beer Middle Class’
Sure the US has heaps of extreme beer geekery, bars with 100’s of taps and beer ‘event’ after beer ‘event’ after beer ‘event’, BUT that’s PRECISELY the problem! Almost EVERYTHING connected with the US beer scene (outside of blue collar consumption of macro swill) is wrapped up inside of some enormous fanfare and dog & pony show. High quality beer is NOT integrated into the fabric of society and everyday culture, and people who are not especially interested in the beer sub-culture generally don’t drink good beer.
As in all countries there is a well defined ‘beer working class’ (BMC and PBR in blue collar bars), and as in some countries there is a ‘beer upper class’ (geekery like nowhere else in the world with trading, rare tastings and Ebay leading the way), but precious little ‘beer middle class’, where non-hipster, regular folk, who are not remotely interested in the analysis of an ’89 Cantillon, choose simple, high quality beer over BMC on a daily basis. THAT’S the ‘lack of beer culture’ I am referring to.
In other words, in order to have a real beer culture you need a groundswell of beer appreciation that rises above the mass-market, macro element but at the same time one that stops way short of a 15% barrel-aged, convoluted beer tasting, ‘event’ culture that is often tied to the hipster sub-culture and ‘alternative’ beer scenes, and drops high quality beer into the lap of regular folk on a daily basis – currently, that doesn’t exist in the USA.