If you like beer—heaven knows I do—then the past 15 years or so have been good to you. The American microbrewery boom of the late ’80s awakened our palates to the great diversity lurking within the deceptively simple combination of malted grain, yeast, and hops. (It was cool to stride into almost any watering hole and order up, say, a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, knowing you’d be whetting your whistle with one of this country’s best artisanal products.) Our nation’s enthusiasm for local breweries also encouraged the importation of excellent ales and lagers from historically beer-producing lands like Belgium, the Czech Republic, Great Britain, and Germany (especially Bavaria). Even though the boom eventually leveled out and some regional breweries have closed down, the quality of the beer we consume has continued to improve.
For some people, though, having access to better beer apparently isn’t enough; they want cachet, too. Perhaps to distance themselves from stereotypical images of swill-slugging yahoos in pizza-stained T-shirts, at least a few connoisseurs of suds have looked for ways to make beer more exclusive—more like (let’s be honest here) wine. Suddenly, the traditional beverage of the proletariat has acquired snob appeal. We think these connoisseurs are just being fussy, pursuing the rare or the unusual merely for the sake of the pursuit. (Similar attention has been trained on olive oil, chocolate, and coffee, among other commodities.) Beer can certainly be a complex beverage admitting many nuances of flavor and body—but it also happens to be one of the world’s most ancient, elemental forms of refreshment. Instead of creating an aura of preciousness around it, I say we ought exalt its very humbleness. We’re not opposed to connoisseurship, but we can’t help noticing that the search for exquisite experiences sometimes robs us of simple pleasures. I recently confessed to a beer-world professional of my acquaintance that I occasionally go home and drink a Bud. He reacted as if I’d said “liquid Drano”. That’s his privilege, of course, but at our house we don’t always want an archetypal doppelbock or a handcrafted lambic. Sometimes we just want a nice cold brew.