Roger A. Baylor, better know to the online world as the Potable Curmudgeon, is the owner of New Albanian Brewing and Rich O’s Public House, both in New Albany, Indiana. On an online forum, Louisville Hot Bytes, dedicated to Food in nearby Louisville, Kentucky (just over the Ohio River from New Albany), Baylor asked an innocent — and I think altogether reasonable — question while discussing positive and negative factors that go into a restaurant’s rating. He posited whether a fine restaurant should be dinged a half-point for carrying only industrial light lagers from the big three mega-breweries. He goes on to assert that if you’d lower a restaurant’s score for using Velveeta, Wonder Bread or putting Blue Nun on their wine list, then why not if they had only pedestrian beer, too? He suggested that it’s hypocritical to be so fastidious about using only fine ingredients or carrying upscale items but then to not apply that same logic to beer. The forum discussion ran to thirteen pages and at times turned ugly and even mean, but it’s a fascinating glimpse into the mind of ignorance, backwards thinking and the status quo. Most of the defenders of bad beer use the excuse that they are simply giving the customer what he or she asked for, despite the fact that they wouldn’t carry Blue Nun or Velveeta even if the customer wanted those, too. But they also claim no customer would ask for inferior food or wine at a fine restaurant and thus it’s not the same. But the nature and understanding of wine and food are not the same today as they were when I was a child. My parents might conceivably have asked for Blue Nun or some pedestrian food (my stepfather loved to drown his eggs in pepper and ketchup, for example) but new kinds of chefs and restaurants changed the food world and they didn’t do so by catering to the status quo, they did so by changing it, by challenging it. What the customer really wants is a fine dining experience and most people can’t or won’t see how that includes beer, too.
In what I find truly bewildering, especially in my neck of the woods, Chez Panisse, whose famous owner Alice Waters has written books about using high quality and local ingredients, carried crap beer, and imported at that, until only very recently. And even that wasn’t Waters’ doing. My understanding is that one of her bartenders finally persuaded her to carry local beer and they now offer beer from Magnolia and Moonlight breweries. Her restaurant opened in 1971 and it took 35 years for her to apply the same logic that made her a food guru to beer? That she had to be convinced says quite a lot about how even devotees of fine, local food and wine can’t easily manage to extend their thinking to beer. I find that quite sad, and don’t really understand why so many people defend big beer when there’s so much diversity and pleasure waiting for them if they’d merely look beyond the barrage of marketing and advertising. Baylor himself gives his own answer to that question by posting a rant he wrote ten years ago on another one of his blogs, NA Confidential. It’s very well written and in it he makes several excellent points, including several I hadn’t even thought of — but will undoubtedly steal to use in the future.