by Lynn Hoffman
In the course of my long love affair with wine, I’ve met only one real wine snob. Let’s call him Walter Wealthy. The second or third sentence in any conversation with him was sure to include his mention that he only drank Bordeaux first or second growths with an occasional Grand Cru Burgundy thrown in for chuckles. It didn’t matter much if the conversation started with the weather, the Phillies or the mutagenic possibilities of the Hostess Twinkie. Walter was sure to remind you of what he drank and — more emphatically — what he didn’t.
But Walter was a rarity. All the other wine-lovers I know have an affection for homely wines that is in proportion to their awe of the most beautiful ones. If you ask most winos for stories of wines they’ve loved, there will be as many tales of gallon bottles on sunny college afternoons as there are stories of Brunello at the Piazza Del Campo in Siena. Wine lovers may define their place in the world of wine as much by what they hate as by what they love, but those lists tend to be idiosyncratic.
My love affair with beer is shorter, a mere 25 years or so. In the course of it, I have met dozens of beer snobs. These are, by and large, nice people. They simply want you to know early in any discussion of beer that there’s a level of the beer world where you just won’t find them. The drink called beer that’s at the bottom of the scale is an object of contempt. Industrial beer, “Millbudcoor” as it’s sometimes called, is the subject of a kind of contempt that that’s almost moral in its ferocity.
So, to borrow a trope from standup comics, what’s up with that? How is it that the aristocratic wine world is so tolerant and the ostensibly easy-going world of beer has a caste system?
Part of the answer lies in the beer itself. Bad beer is a kind of fraud; it’s made from sub-standard ingredients, and its only ambition is to get some alcohol into your system. Another part lies in the resentment of anybody who’s been suckered once. If you used to fall for the commercials (and fell over at the keg parties), it’s a little embarrassing to find out that there’s something real (actually good beer) where you were only getting the bogus.
But maybe the impulse at the center of beer snobbery is just the wish to be a part of something (anything) authentic. You may not be able to grow much of anything, and you may never know the farmer who raises the veal that turns into your schnitzel. The best of locally, organically-grown food and fiber may be out of your reach. But you can — for very little money and for not much effort — taste some of the best beer in the world and then shake the hand of the person who made it.
Wanna be a beer snob? Do you have what it takes? If you live in Northwest Philly, it’s pretty easy to get started. You can begin at Earth Bread + Brewery, 7136 Germantown Ave. in Mt. Airy. It’s a brewpub, which means it’s a small brewery that sells all of its beer at its own bar. You’ll find five or six beers brewed in-house and another half-dozen from local breweries. The selection is constantly changing, and there’s a good pizza and salad menu and a family-friendly atmosphere. None of the beers tastes like anything you had in college. You’ll find riffs on English Bitters, Belgian Strong Ale, Dark Mild and others. All the beer is exquisitely fresh so you don’t have to worry about ‘born-on’ dates.
Lynn Hoffman, a Mt. Airy resident, is the author of “A Short Course in Beer,” available at Smashwords.com, and the blog “Radiationdays.com.”