The dearth of an American, ‘Beer Middle Class’
05/11/2012

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.


11 Comments

  1. JaxbeerLover

    Nice rant, feel better? I hope so, otherwise you may need to seek help. ;.)

    I am curious I read your blog usually every post, but in your rant against beer blogging you said:

    quote:

    For me, my blog IS really about a monologue since I write for my own mental health, think I’m 100% right on lots of issues, and don’t especially set out with a goal of creating dialogue!

    :endquote

    I really curious, do you really feel you’re always right? What are your goals?

    IMHO if it’s to piss off many an American beer drinker, you’re doing that really well.

    Heck I supported you on BA, but if you really hate the USA’s so called lack of beer culture, please do what I did and stop caring about beer so much; its just beer.

    I have my own pub at home, I make beer, I buy beer, I invite friends over to drink it. I leave the TV off and the stereo on. Seriously, nothing is going to change by you writing about how bad things are, you have to either change, or find a way to Change Atlanta beer world…….

    Many young folks are into this new wave of beer, you just have to get over it.

    Just my 2 cents…..

    Reply
    • Ding

      A few things;

      I never said I was ‘always’ right, they are your words, not mine.

      I don’t really have any goals, other than to point out ignorance.

      I can’t ‘stop caring’, that’s one of the problematic things!

      I’m not trying to ‘change’ anything. Unlike most Americans, I believe it is entirely acceptable to complain WITHOUT offering solutions!

      I’m certainly not going to change, and I will almost certainly continue to complain about the lack of beer culture in the US.

      Reply
  2. JaxbeerLover

    ok 100% right and always right, not sure what the difference is, but I am quite sure you can point out my logic flaw. You always do that so well.. ;.)

    All I was trying to do is to get you to see that this is all much to do about nothing important. But I am sure my words will fall on deaf ears.

    I care about good beer, and would love to have some of that European culture here, but Its not going to happen in your life time… Do like I do, get on an airplane and reconnect.

    But scream at the world all you want, but after a while NO ONE including me will be reading you. I feel you do not value others opinion’s much anyway so its no great loss.

    Reply
    • Ding

      100% right about certain things.

      Reply
  3. Andrew

    I agree with the comment about the middle class beer drinker. Lots made sense there but perhaps you are trying to compare the US Beer Culture with the one you are familiar with in the UK. As in, this is OUR Beer Culture and its OK if it looks nothing like that in the UK. US Beer Culture is rich with innovation and diversity and, for the most part, is very much a work in progress. For better or worse, its HERE. As little as 20-25 years ago, it wasn’t….

    Reply
    • Kamal

      I agree with you 100% Andrew. The beer revolution has begun in the US and is on the full swing. I appreciate the author’s concern about quality beers not getting into the masses but one has to understand that 70 + years of continuous corporate brainwashing (via incessant advertisements and monopoly) has left the American beer palate as numb as a prostitute’s vagina. The US, right now, is by far one of the best nation in the world to produce quality beers, albeit people including I, think that the craft beer industry has grossly neglected lagers and focused heavily on high gravity ales such as IPAs, just because they wanted to differentiate themselves from the big 3. What they do not understand is that producing good pilsners and high quality lagers is the key to capture the huge market that the big three has on its grip, the market of macro swill drinkers. Once craft brewers start doing that, the big 3 will have an imminent death. And that day, I will celebrate like I have never celebrated before.

      Reply
      • TokerAce

        I agree with you on the point regarding lagers and pilsners being neglected. Victory and Great Lakes could legitimately take over the beer world if they could get Prima Pils and Dortmunder Gold in enough hands. The problem, the way I see it, is that sometimes ‘beer folk’ get a bit TOO descriptive about what some of these beers taste like. I took a macro-drinking friend to a local beer bar and encouraged her to drink a Dortmunder. She was reading the description on the beer menu and they described all of these things she would taste, and it was very intimidating to her. She wound up liking it, but she almost passed just because she thought it sounded like too much. I think they’d have more luck just saying it’s Like Bud, Only Better (TM), or something to that effect. As much as I dislike the idea of marketing being more important than the product, it almost has to be in order for craft/micro/whatever you want to call it to make any real headway.

  4. Beertwigs

    Ding – I just recently started reading some of your stuff. I must say that I enjoy your cander and openness. I agree with you on this matter. If you happen to make it North of NYC to the Hudson Valley, you will need to check out the Golden Rail Ale House. Not until your post did I realize that this bar actually has what the country is missing. I call it home, some call it a dive bar and some call it a craft beer bar. 18 lines, at least 15 are actually craft beer. The beauty is that most of the customers prefer the craft beers of the world, anything from your most common craft beer or your most sought out. And… they don’t celebrate it, they don’t brag about the beers they drink. Instead of simply ordering the mass swill, they belly up to good American Craft beer on a daily basis and enjoy it. I can only hope to find or hear about more places like this across the country. Cheers!

    Reply
  5. TokerAce

    Ding,

    Long time, man. I ran into a guy last night in the Facebook Beer Group (this is a group you should stay far, far away from if you’re disgusted by the “Mine’s bigger than yours” beer culture, but I digress)…one gentleman was talking about how Cuvee Des Jacobins Rouge was delicious, but too damn expensive. Several of us pointed out how he would have no problem dropping $20 (approximately the price of a 4-pack of the CDJ Rouge, which IS tremendous) on another Flanders Red such as Bruery Oude Tart, for example. I just thought of you during that conversation, as it pretty well summed up the lack of perspective that is a very large obstacle to beer becoming integrated into the fabric of everyday life, as you like to put it. Certain folks – a lot of them, to be sure – are happy to spend more money for less beer that may or may not be of the same caliber, simply to drink something that’s more rare. The desire for prestige in beer drinking leads to elitism and divisiveness, and that’s the complete opposite of integration, which is why I don’t think we’ll ever get to the point of having an all-encompassing ‘Pub Culture,’ in the manner you describe the one in the UK. It’s just another example of how Americans almost always completely miss the point and overdo things. As an American, that makes me sad.

    Have a good one, mate.

    Reply
    • Ding

      Hey, man, good to touch base.

      >It’s just another example of how Americans almost always completely miss the point and overdo things. As an American, that makes me sad.

      This reminds me of an (English) friend of mine who lives here in the US who was complaining about something similar, this time with bicycles. He bought a simple, run-of-the-mill bike, to ride to work and take a few, leisurely Sunday afternoon rides. He found that when he told Americans about this, the conversation often turned toward $3000 machines, thousands of dollars worth of accessories and generally taking the simple pleasure of jumping on a bike and pedaling a few miles, into a huge, extravagant, unnecessarily complicated dick-waving session. He stopped telling people.

      Reply
  6. David

    Ding,

    You hit the nail on the head with this point. As an American I find the habit of, ‘I am more into something then you are because I spent more time/money/effort and so on’, to be silly. That is missing the point of just enjoying a good brew at reasonable price and (that should be) available in your area.

    Reply

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