Tannin Salon: Let’s Talk About Beer.

by A.A.

I don’t really like beer.

by Flickr user Wootang01 (Creative Commons license)

by Flickr user Wootang01 (Creative Commons license)

There. I’ve admitted the awful truth to myself and to the world at large, or least to the IFA audience.  No big deal, really. After all, we all have preferences in terms of the food and drink we enjoy, and, as the cliché goes, it takes all kinds.  If you forced Ezra to choose two cuisines to eat for the rest of his life, he’d likely pick Sichuan and Italian, per this post.  I’d go with French and Indian, with a rider clause for one Tex-Mex meal every five years.  Surely Ben Adler would take his beloved New York pizza and bagels to his grave, while Kate and Kriston would choose some variation of the slow-smoked meat that we tend to call “barbecue.”

And, were you to force me to choose one category of alcoholic beverage — beer, wine, or spirits — to enjoy for the rest of my life, I’d choose wine in a heartbeat.  Runner-up would be spirits, because as I’ve noted before, I believe in the curative properties of a well-made cocktail.  Beer would run a distant third. Extremely distant.  As in, I could never drink another beer in my life and I think I would remain a relatively happy soul, all else remaining equal.

The problem is that I don’t really know why I don’t like beer.  I’ve consumed a lot of it over the years, certainly.  I’ve sampled everything from a keg of High Life Light to the wide variety of microbrews that Oregon has to offer.  I’ve toured at least three breweries (or, in the case of the Heineken factory in Amsterdam, a highly-entertaining “brewseum”). I know how beer is made, and I have a vague understanding of the major types of beer, in the same way that most people know that there are different kinds of grapes used in wine. And I do appreciate how it can grease the skids for enjoyable social interactions among large groups in a way that a martini or a glass of Cabernet just can’t.

I’ve just never been able to taste beer the way I like to taste wine; that is to say, explain exactly what flavors and textures I really like and why.  And while I’m fully prepared to admit that wine snobs are the worst of the worst, I believe the beer snob population is growing in both size and attitude.  I went to the Portland International Beer Festival this past weekend with a group of fairly beer-snobbish friends, and they lobbed the same criticisms at me that I’ve heard from others in the past: “You like IPAs? What’s wrong with you?”  “Fruity beer is not real beer.”  “Why the hell are you drinking mead?”  To which I could only reply, “Uh…because it tastes good?”  It’s not that I think beer is gross; I don’t.  I just can’t get excited about it. And I’m tired of pretending.

So knowing that a lot of my co-bloggers, as well as many of you, are big beer fans, I’m wondering: is it worth it to become a beer person?  Or is it wiser to cut my losses, focus on where I have a slight competitive advantage knowledge-wise (wine), and simply treat beer as one of those things that you drink when everyone around you is too?  If you’ve ever had a transcendent moment with beer, I’d like to know about it.


21 responses to “Tannin Salon: Let’s Talk About Beer.

  1. Well… your reservations about aspiring to snobbery seem well-considered. And I think that Yglesias’s philosophy about trying to avoid cultivating expensive tastes is generally sound.

    But yeah, I think transcendent beer experiences are possible. A crisp pilsner wish sushi, a wheat beer with a slice of citrus on a summer day, something warming and malty after coming in from the snow — for me it’s still easier to have a pleasant experience like these via beer rather than facing the intimidating, faceless world of wine.

    But I’ll admit it’s changing. Wine’s getting more approachable even as beer is getting snobbier and more expensive. I think there’s it’s still worth trying to enjoy well-crafted versions of both, though.

  2. is it worth it to become a beer person?

    What do you hope to get out of it? It sounds to me as if you like beer just fine and are being put off it by some really lame “friends” who are causing you to question your own judgment. Drink what you want to drink, man. It’s all good.

  3. I’m with Chris. You should eat food (and drink beverages) that you enjoy. If beer’s not your thing, then it’s not your thing. And just because you, yourself, aren’t a beer person, doesn’t mean you can’t still try for a transcendent beer experience when the opportunity arises (perhaps under the guidance of someone who is a beer person; I first really got how great wine could be due to wine pairings at a restaurant).

  4. Your beer drinking friends are being dismissive of mead??!!!???!!! Dear me, they don’t know as much of brews as they think they do. Well-brewed meads have all the character and complexity as any beer or wine.

  5. Transcendent beer experience? I don’t think it exists. Have you honestly had a transcendent wine or cocktail experiences? Surely there’s been some that are really good, but transcendent?

    Beer, I’ve found, is appealing because it’s more accessible than wine: very good beer costs $10-$15 a pack at places that mark up, amazing beer slightly more. There isn’t an obscene amount of labels and styles that you have to go wading through. Also, beer-centric places tend to be really cool, unstuffy locales that are fun to visit with great drinking culture to boot, so going on beer expeditions is a great excuse to see them.

    I wouldn’t let it bother you, unless it’s possible they are doing to you what you do to them with wine…

  6. Well, I think we’re admittedly being pretty generous with the word “transcendent”, Arlene. I’m just using it to mean a food experience that’s interesting, unexpected, and which changes my understanding of what the food — or beverage, in this case — can be.

    Great point about the ambience, though — I’ll take a bar over a wine bar any day. This brings to mind another factor, too: while there’s doubtless tremendous variety in the world of wine, there’s considerably less when you consider wine that’s packaged for a single serving. A bottle is kind of a big commitment. And besides, you have to decant it — it’s just all a bit fussy. That, more than anything else, is probably what stops me from drinking more wine.

  7. I’m glad you don’t like beer because it means I can leave a sixer in the fridge and it won’t be gone the next day (unless of course I drink it which is often the case). However it also means that I will never buy case of wine with you again, I learned my lesson on that one!

  8. My husband is a HUGE beer (and wine) geek and I’ve subsequently had to learn quite a bit about beer (I still despise IPAs). I like good beer and good wine but I’m not a snob about either and I honestly don’t think there’s a “transcendent” experience to be had with either. Look at beer the same way you look at wine re: food pairings.

    Also, sometimes it’s just nice to have a beer that doesn’t taste like pee. There’s also something to be said about drinking super cheap beer past the age of 23.

  9. Maybe I was being a little floral with “transcendent” – I only meant to describe what happens when you take a swig of something and think, “Wow, that’s the whole package. That is the perfect beverage for this moment.” I should also note that something like 98% of wines are meant to be drunk young and shouldn’t be decanted. The last thing I want is someone being turned off by rituals that aren’t even necessary!

  10. is it worth it to become a beer person?

    If it’s not your natural inclination to be a beer person, and you’re sufficiently ok with beer that you don’t make an ass of yourself at social situations by refusing to drink beer, I don’t see the point in trying to cultivate a taste for schmancy beers. If for no other reason than that you’ll save a ton of caloric intake by not drinking beer.

  11. And, yes, I have had actually transcendent wine experiences.

  12. I should also note that something like 98% of wines are meant to be drunk young and shouldn’t be decanted. The last thing I want is someone being turned off by rituals that aren’t even necessary!

    Yeah, I was unclear: I actually meant “decant” in the most general sense, not in the “let’s let it breathe” sense. As in, the experience is worse if you drink it straight from the bottle (this is true of many beers, too, of course, but not to quite the same degree).

  13. What’s with all the IPA hate?

  14. Hating IPAs is the thing to do right now — the inevitable backlash from the hops arms race. I think everyone here actually likes IPAs, but there’s no doubt that putting them down is the trendy thing to do at the moment.

  15. Have you tried Belgian beers? If you have, and find them boring and uninteresting then beer drinking is probably not for you. Of course, there are plenty of beer drinkers who despise Beligan beers but those people are idiots I tend to think Belgian styles share more of the subtleties and nuance of wine than your average lager.

  16. Ooops no html tags for style here… the “those people are idiots” thing was supposed to be a struck out joke but I was defeated by the internets.

  17. I myself have never liked IPAs — I just plain don’t like hops. As a result I never thought I would like beer. Then I discovered Guinness. Give me a good porter or stout (especially microbrewed) any time of the year and I’m a happy camper.

  18. I don’t mind a mild hop like 60 minute or a Dale’s Pale Ale or even Abita’s Jockamo but when you bring out things like Hopsicle..ugh.. can’t take more than one sip.

  19. kid destroyer

    Hey, I was at that festival too! I much prefer the Oregon Brewer’s Festival, actually, but sadly I no longer live in Portland.

    And weren’t IPA’s the rage like five years ago? I dunno, I’ve always been a Red man myself. But really, like other commenters say, if you can’t get into beers or you don’t really like them, feel free not to get into them! Stick with drinking them only to “grease the wheels” every so often.

  20. I feel about wine the way you feel about beer – I can drink it, but don’t have any real interest and don’t “get” it intellectually, can’t analyze it the way I can other foods.

    I do like beer, but that’s a relatively recent development. I wouldn’t call myself a snob, but I do find that I generally like the pricier, offbeat, craft beers better than, well, what’s served in most bars. There is a lot of complexity in beer, but if you don’t care for it, you don’t care for it.

    I find it useful to know enough about a beverage to be able to drink it if the situation warrants – to be able to order a wine I won’t dislike too much in a restaurant, in my case. No one should have to feel pressured to drink something they don’t want, but it can be handy in social situations just to have the choice.

  21. My transcendent beer moment was Natty Ice at a frat party. That was when I stopped being one of those “I don’t drink beer” girls because my options were that, date rape punch, or sobriety. Then I consumed a ton of $5 pitcher beer for the next four years. Then, the first time I had a Delerium Tremens I had a “holy shit, not all beer tastes like crap!” moment and now I am all about the Belgian Triples and yes, the IPA. But if you’ve tried em all then you’re just not a beer guy, and that’s fine because at least you tried.

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