I had the rare opportunity to write a letter to my local public radio station the other day on the subject of homebrewing. It's not often that I hear about our humble hobby in the daily news, so the story of course caught my attention right away.
On my way to work one morning, I heard a piece about a new homebrew competition in Vermont called "Make the Cut." The competition would be limited to 300 homebrewers, and the two finalists will have the opportunity to make a 120-gallon batch of their recipe at 14th Star Brewing in St. Albans. I had heard about the competition a few weeks earlier and shared the news with my homebrew club, so I was happy to hear it getting statewide coverage. And then I heard this opening sentence in the story: "Homebrewing has quickly grown from something associated with snobbery to include more than a million people in the U.S. . . ." Say whaaaat??!
I happen to really like that public radio writer/announcer's work, so I sent her an email explaining that the homebrewers I've worked with over the past eight years at BYO may be a lot of things (enthusiastic, a little nerdy, often into zombies), but never snobby. But the insinuation has been needling me for days ever since. And lo, this morning I opened my Facebook to see a funny "listicle" trending among my beer friends about "The 19 Types of Beer Snobs." What was #1? "The Self-Important Homebrewer" (insert sad trombone sound). Sure, I gave that post a thumbs up – it was funny and not some sort of hard-hitting journalism. But now I'm getting worried. Homebrewers, we can't go down this route or let this label stand.
I've been observing the uptick in snobbery in the beer scene for a few years now. It's great to see beer and brewing getting all the attention and respect it rightly deserves, but it's also a bummer when people use taste and opinion as a shortcut to having a personality or being interesting. I graduated from culinary school in the late 90s, and this same phenomenon happened to the American food scene in a big way, and it was a turn off to a lot of people who really just like to cook and eat good food (myself included). It's possible to love something to death (visit Cape Cod in August and you'll know what I'm saying). I read this piece in The Growler back in 2012, and it says how I feel better than I can say myself: http://growlermag.com/the-beer-scene-is-getting-weird/
Call me naïve (you wouldn't be the first one), but I have always seen homebrewers as sort of the anti beer snobs. The fun of homebrewing — at least for me — has always been the community, not the exclusivity. Our community is the incubator for much of the craft beer we drink today. Name a pro brewer and chances are they started out as a homebrewer. We all start somewhere, and there was probably a friend or friendly face in your homebrew club that kept you going even when you made a truly awful spiced beer or an infected pale ale with a major band-aid-taste; you laughed it off and tried again, you got better, you didn't sweat it. So don't forget those early days and graduate into being a beer snob. While it's inevitable that snobbery is happening in the commercial craft beer drinking scene (that's what happens when things get popular — see also indie rock), I am suddenly pretty worried about snobbery creeping into homebrewing. It's one thing to knock "yellow fizzy beers" (a refrain I see all the time in homebrewing stories and throughout the Internet), but it's quite another to look down your nose about beer to a newbie as a homebrewer. Being a snob is essentially uninviting other people to the party and transforming something that once was fun into something pretentious that people won't want to try. Ask anyone who has unsubscribed from a friend who regularly posts Instagram photos of every meal they eat — being a "foodie" was fun and hip in the 90s/00s, but today people will give you major side eye if you say that word even ironically. I don't want "homebrewer" to be the new "foodie." Take the advice printed right on every can of Heady Topper — a beer that people regularly line up for and trade: "Don't' be a D-Bag." What will happen at some point is that people will stop getting interested in homebrewing because they won't feel welcome — and that's just not the spirit of the hobby. As the author of that Growler piece said in the link I shared above, "Declaring the superiority of the beer one owns doesn't promote connection. It creates a wedge."
So you tell me, am I just being paranoid, or is snobbery creeping into homebrewing? Or has it been there all along and I just didn't notice? Or am I being a beer snob snob and snobbery is a good thing?? Comment on BYO's Facebook page or via Twitter.Last modified on