People in a dream job industry turn beer jokes into a brewhaha.

This weekend the Great American Beer Festival kicks off in Denver and it should be a time of unbridled revelry. As a result of the craft beer explosion in this country an astounding amount of brewers are descending ascending on the Mile High city to compete with their beloved recipes. Over 800 brewers are submitting over 4,000 beers to be graded in 102 categories, with numerous more subcategories.

And yet, as I have seen over the years, there is an amount of tension and effrontery from those plying their trade in this glorious industry. For all the joy to be had in all the various vocations surrounding zymurgy there is a surprising amount of tension. The latest serving of outrage comes from a rather innocuous source: comedian Jim Gaffigan. The affable and self-deprecating stand-up has managed to anger some in the beer universe for making some disparaging jokes at the expense of craft beer.

Imagine — on the eve of when beer experts will be assessing and judging the merits of various labels with their opinion many are getting offended at someone daring to have an opinion on beer.

Gaffigan has a weekly segment on the CBS Sunday Morning show and his latest has the comic waxing pestered about the landscape of craft beer. He opens his segment with this piece of drollery:

I am an overweight American male in my early 40s. Alright, late 40s. Alright, let’s just say I’m an overweight American male who likes beer. Not just any beer. I like a quality beer that can help me forget that I’m … well, not in my early 40s.

Fair enough. But then he launches into a treatise against the boutique and flashy styles, lamenting that rather than avocados and chocolate he prefers more standardized brews.

Specialty beers, microbrews, craft beers made by community artisans. And I have to tell you, without exception, they’re all bad. I’m not exaggerating! No, I don’t care how creative the cute beer name is that has to do with local folklore.  I don’t care how beautiful the hand-drawn label is of a cactus wrestling a penguin.I want a beer that tastes like … I don’t know, beer.  

Elements of the craft universe became bent out of shape and responses were dispatched. Julia Herz, Program Director for the Brewers Association and publisher of CraftBeer.com, sent out a letter to Gaffigan in defense of the industry. Now, she did take a conciliatory tone and was very effusive about the craft beer landscape; she even sent him samples of styles to try. (Why haven’t I tried this ploy?!) But seriously, there is no need to correct the comedian. If he prefers to be cloistered in his convenience store selections that is fine. He’s not impacting those of us who imbibe adventurously.

Less tolerant was the take of Jim Vorel, at Paste Magazine. JV was not only corrective in his rant at the comic, he was borderline hostile. This reflects something I have seen from some in the Craft universe — a reflexive outrage that seems to harbor at least a small amount of quixotic insecurity. I mean, how else would you label a piece that in its title declares Gaffigan’s opinion to be “Pointless”, then launches into a lengthy harping screed? Pointlessness would lead to a non-response; it would not inspire 1,200 words of vituperative rebuttal.

After calling Gaffigan’s segment “sorry”, and an “attack”, he states the comedian demanded that beer must “conform to the most basic and pedantic of outlines.” And then he steps things up. Vorel implies Jim is being left behind in a rapidly evolving world, and that he is offended at seeing people enjoying a complexity he does not fully grasp. It is a curiously strident response to a guy essentially saying, “I just like regular”.

Sure, Gaffigan panned almost all craft beer, but he did so in the scope of a comedy bit, a light culture video segment. And let us be honest here, the man is no expert in terms of gastronomy. His stand-ups are peppered – nay, coated – in bad food takes. One of his most famous routines involves Hot Pockets, for reference point. Let’s face it, Gaffigan is in no position to be handing out Michelin Stars.

So why the impassioned reaction? “It’s a genuine venting of apparent frustration from Gaffigan,” vents Vorel, “which suggests he falls into that bracket of people who illogically see themselves as imbued with the sole right to decide the definition of “what beer tastes like.” And that, suffice to say, is an incredibly presumptuous thing to believe.”

Presumption. A revealing term used there. It is something I have encountered frequently from micro-brewers and craft beer denizens. Invoking the name of certain brands sometimes garners an immediate rebuke. State an affinity for a particular style and it can lead to dismissive sniffs. And usually the mere mention of Anheuser-Busch/InBev will provoke a venomous response.

I am someone with a deep affinity for beer. I enjoy a wide range of styles, I have hundreds of entries on Untappd, and even worked for years in the beer industry. On our podcast, Marble Halls & Silver Screens, Sara Lee and myself open the show by declaring what potable we have cracked open for the broadcast — I have gone through dozens of episodes without repeating a label.

At the same time I do not count myself as an “expert”, and I certainly do not harbor strict stances on what is considered proper. Beer is subjective, and personal tastes and preferences must be allowed. Far too many take beer positions that are either inflexible or outright militant. I cannot think of a time when someone held a beer opinion I did not agree with and it led to anger. A drinker preferring a style I found undrinkable does not impact me. But for many, a differing opinion is an offense.

Case in point — my stance that IPAs are a vastly overrated style frequently leads to some outrage and defensive postures. Now, if you felt a reflexive tension at my opinion ask yourself, why that is? What is it about my finding that type of ale to be a played out, overused style that was originally developed solely to keep beer drinkable over lengthy months-long trips by sea? Why would my aversion of a type of ale made based on preservatives (albeit natural ones) impact you emotionally?

A couple of years ago Budweiser put out a Super Bowl commercial that displayed craft beer drinkers as trendy sippers while positioning its label as one made for beer drinkers. Predictably many in the craft industry rose up in outrage — to a commercial. (One beer writer called the depiction of the Craft crowd in the spot as a hipster caricature, then in oblivious fashion pointed out one of those shown looked exactly like a local brewer.) The anger was swift, and loud.

This animosity has even spread to smaller brewers which have developed relationships with InBev. Some have called for boycotts of labels because they have been bought out by the brewing giant, or merely entered into other deals with the company. This activism is not as easy as expected, since the amount of labels it distributes numbers into the hundreds.

For me, this reactionary default runs contrary to overriding attitude of brewing. You are creating a nectar of joviality and comity – maybe indulge in a little more of those emotions.

(Oh, and a quick note to Julia Herz: I think milk stout is an abomination upon mankind! In order to prove my opinion incorrect you can send numerous samples over to me for consideration.)

 

For other bad opinions on beer, movies, politics and such follow me on Twitter @MartiniShark, or at the Untappd app @PucksNSuds