by Stephen Beaumont
Several years ago, while attending a Blue Jays game at the Skydome (it will always be the Skydome to me!) my friend waved down a wandering beer seller and ordered himself a can of Labatt Blue.
“Do you want one?” he asked.
“Oh, you’re too good to drink Blue?”
I paused, reflecting for a moment on this unexpected and rather pointed query.
“As a matter of fact, yes, I am.”
My reply was as tongue-in-cheek as was his question, since we were both well aware of what I do and had done for a living for a couple of decades at that point. But my underlying point was not that I was better than him for not drinking Blue, but rather that Blue wasn’t good enough for me to bother to drink it, especially at $10 a can or whatever exorbitant price it was back then.
Different strokes for different folks and all.
Beer, as I have long posited, is the most democratic of alcoholic beverages, appealing equally through the ages to kings and paupers, titans of business and blue collar workers. Which, I should point out, is quite different from saying that all beers have always appealed to all people equally.
Take pale ale, for example, or rather Burton ale, as it was known during the heyday of the British brewing centre of Burton-upon-Trent. Plebes could continue to drink muddy porters and small beers all they wished; true gentlefolk drank, “Burton ale and a slice of hung beef,” as reported by Joseph Addison in the pages of the Spectator in 1712.
Then, as now, some beers appealed more to those of refined taste, or those who wished to be seen as such, while other beers, much more prolific in number and volume, were consumed by the masses. As the writer Pete Brown pointed out to me recently, the homogenization of the beer market of the mid-to-late-1900s, during which essentially one style of beer, light lager, was consumed by everyone, was the exception to this historic proliferation of beer styles and its accompanying hierarchy, not the rule.
So, as craft beer continues its rise in popularity, the most common criticism it receives from the drinkers of mainstream lager is that its advocates are “snobs” and its culture “elitist.” To which I reply, “Yep.”
During the 1990s, when some pundits were predicting the imminent demise of what we then called microbrewing, I was fond of suggesting that once someone had tasted sirloin steak, they would be reluctant to permanently return to McDonald’s hamburgers. And so it is today, except in place of sirloin substitute Burger’s Priest, Burger 320, Burger Heaven or any other specialty hamburger spot.
None of the hundreds of one, two or five outlet operations that produce great burgers across Canada these days is likely to outsell Mickey D’s any time soon – hell, all of them counted together likely account for just a small fraction of the fast food giant’s sales! – but for the customers who choose to patronize them instead of the ubiquitous golden arches, they are: a) Better; and b) Worth the extra cost. Sort of like the way a lot of us feel about craft beer.
For while long-term trends might eventually see hazy IPA turn into the light lager of its time, in the short-term mainstream lager will remain the fast food of our era, appealing to the broadest contingent, not because of its flavour so much as by its lack of offense, while craft beer will continue to be seen in certain circles as ‘gourmet,’ ‘premium’ or ‘elitist.’
So yes, go ahead and call me a snob for wanting a Canuck Pale Ale or Hoyne Helios instead of a Bud or Coors Light, but I will never apologize for choosing to spend my “dollar votes” on beers I enjoy rather than those which simply provide a bit of alcohol and a smidgen of refreshment. If that makes me appear, “too good to drink Blue,” then so be it!