I grew up in Portland, where the smell of hops mingled with the muddy breezes blowing off the Willamette River. The fragrance of hops was the smell of downtown Portland, at least until the late nineties, when the Henry-Weinhard Brewery sold its operations to Miller, who moved the brewery to Washington. To lose a piece of Portland’s history to Miller is a sad affair, indeed. But, don’t despair over the loss of Henry-Weinhard’s, because Oregon is rich with micro breweries that craft some of the tastiest beers around–better than HW’s, I have to add, if only in a whisper.
Why, you ask, am I bringing this up now? Have I finally cracked (well, yes, if you read my previous post you know I have) from living in New Mexico for too many years? New Mexico is known for its wines, not beers. New Mexico is, in fact, the oldest wine-grape-growing region in the country, but that’s the subject for another article. In part, I’m feeling nostalgic for a beverage I no longer enjoy. My gluten intolerance, which has worsened in the past few years, makes beer drinking a dangerous activity. I don’t prefer to spend the night doubled over in cramps, regardless of how little gluten remains in beer after the brewing process. Oh, how I used to love beer, though. I loved all kinds, too, as long as they were high quality–pale ales and porters and stouts and nut-browns.
And for the other part, beer reminds me of literature. Not so long ago, I had noticed a sentiment among writer-bloggers of belittling writers who wanted to be critics of literature, as well. Readers don’t care about the same craft devices that writers do, which renders writers’ critiques useless, not to mention snobbish, to those uneducated masses who simply know how to read and conversely know nothing about craft. Never have these readers had to dissect Shakespeare in English classes, apparently, nor have they sat through lectures on sentence structure, essay/poetry/story structure, theme, or symbolism. Of course, that’s utter nonsense. If they graduated from high school, they sat through these kinds of lectures.
The snobbery of treating readers as if they’re uninformed irritated me. I vented my frustrations to my husband, who happens to be a reader rather than a writer, and I thought he would agree with me and justly be offended by the notion that readers aren’t that smart or observant. Instead, he changed the subject and talked about beer.
The bitter truth of it (thanks Deschutes brewery!) is that the same types exist in the beer-drinking trade as in the reading trade.
The lowest common denominator of beer drinkers will buy cases of Budweiser or Coors or, God forbid, Hamm’s. They love to drink beer, but they don’t know or care about quality or craft. They buy a lot of beer, they like it cold, and they like it in quantity.
Residing on the next step are the beer drinkers who’ve tasted the good stuff, but they prefer to buy the cheaper beer and only occasionally play the snob with a Sam Adams or a Dos Equis. They may or may not know anything about the crafting of beer.
The next group up on the ladder to heavenly brews prefers the best kind of beer and wouldn’t consider lowering themselves and their drinking experience to a Bud Light, even if the Bud was free. Still, though, they know nothing about craft–they just know what tastes good.
The next group are the aficionados, who can talk for hours about crafting techniques, while savoring the good stuff. They study their beers for balance and quality of ingredients. They look for mastery. They long for it!
And then, of course, the brew masters run up and down the ladder–some brew Bud quality and some brew Blue Heron quality. They know their craft, but they also know their audience. Does my audience want a cooler full of beer to drink away the night, or do they want something with a creamy top served by the side of an expensive gourmet hamburger or a pizza baked in a wood-fired oven? Brew masters find themselves soul-searching, looking for their niche. Or maybe they only ruminate this way in my imagination. Who knows?
Needless to say, the vast quantity of beer drinkers reside on the first three steps of the ladder. But sometimes beer drinkers will surprise you. Sometimes you’ll find a Bud light drinker who knows all about the crafting of beer and still prefers Bud. Sometimes you’ll find that the world isn’t a black and white place, in which beer drinkers and readers can be easily quantified.
My analogy breaks down at a certain level–and I’ve already hinted at it. All high school graduates in this country have sat through grammar and Shakespeare, and if not Shakespeare, then some other highly esteemed literature. Nobody is forced to sit through lectures on beer crafting, though it should be a mandatory subject, right up there with algebra (oh, come on, why not?). Yet nobody would tell a brew master that he isn’t allowed to critique beers by what he knows of craft, simply because the average beer drinker might not know or care about hops and malt, might not know that it takes more than just a recipe and a group of ingredients to create great brews–that it also takes inspiration and talent and hard work.
But you’d probably be surprised at what the average person knows.
Now for the nitty-gritty. What’s your favorite beer (if you have one)? And what do you think of writers reviewing literature?