I read an article yesterday published in Boston Magazine titled “Tweets, Shoots, and Leaves” about how food hype destroys dining out experiences. My first thought of course was how similar this story sounded to beer–or the direction that beer drinking might be headed.
For example, this passage:
“I had begun to worry whether we, as food lovers, have lost sight of the big picture. In our shift from enthusiastic connoisseurs to gluttonous consumers (and beleaguered producers) of food-related “content,” I fear we’ve forgotten how to enjoy the very activity that turned us into gastro-evangelists in the first place. Foodie hype-mongering is changing dining out, and not for the better.”
Could easily be written as:
“I had begun to worry whether we, as [beer] lovers, have lost sight of the big picture. In our shift from enthusiastic connoisseurs to gluttonous consumers (and beleaguered producers) of [beer]-related [reviews, tweets, and Instagrams] I fear we’ve forgotten how to enjoy the very activity that turned us into [beer geeks] in the first place. [Beer geek] hype-mongering is changing [drinking], and not for the better.”
Or maybe this quote from Joanne Chang of Flour Bakery and her hyped sticky bun:
“I get a little bummed when people think the sticky bun is the only thing we do,” says Joanne Chang, owner of Flour Bakery. “If we don’t have them, they’re crushed, as though there’s nothing else in the bakery worth trying.”
Could be written as:
“I get a little bummed when people think the [sought after IPA/Imperial Stout/barrel-aged whatever] is the only thing we do,” says [Owner of a successful brewery that brews many more beers than that]. “If we don’t have [that beer], they’re crushed, as though there’s nothing else in the [brewery] worth trying.”
And finally this:
Ana Sortun, chef-owner of Oleana, puts it this way: “You’ll get a young chef who has just taken that big leap of faith, they’re trying really hard, maybe a little insecure, cooking up a storm to make it work. But they’re also reading every single comment out there. If their filtering system isn’t good, they think, ‘Yeah, maybe I should be doing something weirder because it grabs people’s attention.’ It can distract them from their vision.”
“You’ll get a young [brewer] who has just taken that big leap of faith, they’re trying really hard, maybe a little insecure, [brewing] up a storm to make it work. But they’re also reading every single [Beer Advocate review] out there. If their filtering system isn’t good, they think, ‘Yeah, maybe I should be doing something weirder because it grabs people’s attention.’ It can distract them from their vision.”
I’m both fascinated by, and a victim to, beer hype.
When I heard that Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout was on draft at my local beer bar last spring, I sprinted there after work only to find out that they had run dry just 30 minutes before. I spent the rest of the night moping and whining about not getting to try it, a considerably dramatic reaction for not getting to drink a beer.
Last March, I went up to Portsmouth Brewery for Kate the Great Day and spent many hours in the cold talking to people who had been waiting hours in line about why they felt they had to be there and what exactly they were expecting from this beer. [Read the full article here] Their answers were a mixed bag, but most simply heard the beer was amazing and that it was a fun day, so they hightailed it to Portsmouth from California, Ohio, and even overseas to wait in frigid temps to try the beer. More interesting to me were the brewer’s and owners’ reactions–bewilderment and awe at exactly how it had come to this.
But mostly, I find hype to be exhausting and unsustainable. I want to drink good beers, but I find myself less likely these days to go chasing down the rare ones the second they get tapped or put on the shelves (or go searching for them on the beer black market). Most days, I just want a hoppy low-ish ABV beer after work and something stronger on the weekends. Still, I find myself reading a beer menu at a bar seeking out the buzz words (“Brett” “barrel-aged” “Imperial”) and buzzed-about beers and breweries.
In the Boston Magazine article, the author talks about trying the famed “Egg in a Jar” at West Bridge–a hyped, food blogged, reviewed, and message board revered dish. And when he finally tries it the verdict is…
“And? Well. I thought it was…pretty good. At the time, I made a mental note that I wasn’t blown away by the soft, pillowy textures writ in triplicate (egg, mushrooms, potato purée). That it tasted a little underseasoned. Also: blah, blah, blah. The truth is, the culprit was neither the salt level nor some “abject pillowiness.”t was the fact that, at this point in the game, mere enjoyment was no longer acceptable—I had to be blown away.”
His dining partner who ignorantly ordered the unassuming carrots, however, was more satisfied as they turned out to be the winning dish of the night.
Which is exactly what I hear from many beer drinkers after they finally try a Heady Topper or a Surly Darkness or a Westvleteren XII. Had they gone into the drinking experience with no preconceptions of how it is the best beer in the world, they would probably have been very pleased with a delicious beer. But going into the experience with a heavy load of hype? You better be dazzled or else it’s deemed overrated.
“It’s those damn expectations,” as my mom always says to me after I griped about a disappointing night or when something didn’t go as planned. I just hope we can enjoy a beer as is, expectations be damned, and maybe even order the carrots once in awhile.