The True Meaning of Beer?

This little screed came courtesy of a regular east coast reader (thanks Loren) by way of the Beer Advocate Forum, where it was commented on extensively already. It’s a column from yesterday’s Pittsburgh Tribune-Review entitled “Beer snobs forget the true meaning of beer.” Despite being a large former bouncer, the author, Mike Seate, is apparently vying to be the next Ann Coulter. He also writes a blog for the Tribune-Review called the “Hot Seate” and according to his bio there, he has already gotten a “stack of hate mail as tall as Shaquille O’Neal” and “collected more than nine hours of angry phone calls from readers, many of which he hopes to compile into a comedy CD tentatively titled ‘He Hate Me.'” So it seems clear he’s acting this way on purpose. He claims to be “writing about the grittier side of local life, focusing on touchy subjects like racism, economic strife, crime and the police, transportation, pop culture trends and, occasionally, the absurdity of modern politics.”

I won’t spend much time dissecting his article, it’s too intentionally inflammatory to bother and Todd Alstrom and the legion of Beer Advocates commenting after him have pretty much said it all already, anyway. Suffice it to say it’s the ignorant ramblings of a man who honestly appears to know nothing about the subject he’s writing on. It’s pure unadulterated opinion. There’s nothing wrong with having an opinion per se, plenty of beer writers have them — not that I’m naming names. It’s when you can’t back them up with supporting facts, any expertise or even familiarity with the subject matter that causes those opinions to become meaningless. Obviously anyone can say anything they want to. But that doesn’t mean anyone else has to listen. It’s unfortunate that some such people get an imprimatur from the mainstream media outlets by virtue of their thoughts being published. Newspapers, radio and television openly court controversy because it sells papers and air time. Now that “news” has become viewed largely in the same way as entertainment programming by their owners, ratings and revenue have become more important than providing a public service as a thank you to all of us and the FCC for giving them control of the airwaves so they can make billions of dollars. As the great writer A.J. Liebling wrote. “Freedom of the press is limited to those who own one.

Seate reminds me of the peasants outside of Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory with pitchforks and fire, ignorantly mistaking the technological advances his work represents as a monster. He clings to the notion that the “true meaning of beer” is that it’s a “workingman’s drink,” ignoring centuries of history. Mike’s blissfully unaware that were it not for the “strange orders of Trappist Belgian monks who craft their beers in dank basements” he so blithely insults he would have no industrial light lager to swill from a Styrofoam cup. Like virtually every commodity the world has ever known, its role and status in society is always changing and evolving. Things very rarely stay the same. Mike is obviously uncomfortable with change and seems especially upset that beer with more flavor also is more expensive. Oh, the humanity!

It’s quite funny that the only to beers he mentioned are Guinness and Boddingtons, neither of which are held in great esteem by the beer snobs he so disdains, and both are from fairly large companies, especially Guinness, whose parent company Diageo is one of the biggest beverage concerns in the world. But he manages to mangle just about every assertion he makes in his piece and in the end, I think that must be the point. Shock and awe always creates more of a stir than thoughtful analysis and reason. And like Coulter’s ignorant pronoucements, it works. I should be ignoring what he’s saying but I can’t. The bait is there and I took it. It’s schadenfreude. I can’t look away.

So what is the true meaning of beer? It’s a good question, but not one that’s easy to answer, especially since it means different things to different people. But like it or not, there are probably many millions of people who are afraid of better beer just the way Mike Seate is, ignorantly lashing out at what he doesn’t understand. It’s a common enough strategy for those that cling to their precious status quo. Change is always a little scary. Perhaps all we can do is offer him our sympathy that his ignorance keeps him “doing [his] drinking at home, on the cheap, from a Styrofoam cup,” while the rest of us are above ground, out at one of “those so-called beer emporiums,” enjoying a beer so good it will make you cry out of a “tiny brandy snifter [or] elegant, hand-blown glass goblet.” Ah, now that’s the life.


  1. Loren says

    Being a fan of Pittsburgh’s beer scene for quite a while now (my sister in law has lived there for 7 years now) I’ve come to love most, if not all, of the “local” beers Pitt has to offer. What this guy fails to realize is that you don’t need to be a geek to enjoy a passionately crafted beer. Just ask the tons of Steelers fans (blue and white collar alike) who happily quaff the glorious Penn offerings at the stadium not at all worrying about the beer dorks around them. Or the snooty image they be portraying to their “hard working” friends around them.

    Seems we know where the pretensions lie with this story.

    Aye aye aye…

    Wonder what Scott Smith @ East End Brewing thinks?


  2. says

    Well, I just invited Mike out to the brewery. Who knows? He might make an interesting connection between the working man’s beer, and a man who works to make beer.

    I won’t make him wash kegs or shovel out the mash tun though. But since it sounds like he’s watching his budget, I’ll definitely point him to a nearby place where he can find my Big Hop IPA on tap for just $1.85 a pint.


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