Stan over at Appellation Beer put me on to this. In Saturday’s Wall Street Journal, drinks writer Eric Felton, in reviewing Maureen Ogle’s Ambitious Brew, says the following in his concluding remarks:
It was a taste that favored bland beer, and the brewers bowed to that public preference until the microbrewery revolution that got going in earnest about 20 years ago. Ms. Ogle tells that story with appreciation for the new school of brewers but without the snarky prejudice against the big corporate beer companies that is so common to today’s beer snobs. It is one of the virtues of her history of American beer that Ms. Ogle isn’t afraid to admit admiration for the bold risks and ambitions of the capitalists — then and now — who have made beer their business. [my emphasis]
Now I’m a self-avowed beer snob. Do I have a “snarky prejudice against the big corporate beer companies?” Let’s look at what that means.
Snarky is defined by the O.E.D. as “sharply critical” and I am certainly that with regard to most of corporate America, but yes, especially the big beer companies. And Merriam-Webster defines it as “sarcastic, impertinent, or irreverent in tone or manner.” I’m certainly often sarcastic and irreverent, though I don’t believe I’m impertinent (which they also define as “not restrained within due or proper bounds especially of propriety or good taste” or “given to or characterized by insolent rudeness.”). I don’t really believe the relationship between critic and the object of criticism should be restrained by any bounds or should avoid being rude under some circumstances or that any company necessarily deserves to be treated within “proper bounds.” I don’t mean to suggest one should go out of their way to be impertinent but we likewise shouldn’t shrink from it if appropriate. So by the more common definitions, impertinence aside, I am often snarky, and quite proud of it. What’s wrong with drawing attention to things I believe to be false, misleading, etc. That’s what journalists are supposed to do in reporting to the public. The media should “comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable.” But more often today’s media does just the opposite, promoting the agenda of their advertisers, who are almost always businesses.
But now let’s look at prejudice. That’s a much more loaded word. Here are its most common meanings:
- an unfavorable opinion or feeling formed beforehand or without knowledge, thought, or reason.
- any preconceived opinion or feeling, either favorable or unfavorable.
- unreasonable feelings, opinions, or attitudes, esp. of a hostile nature, regarding a racial, religious, or national group.
prejudice. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.0.1). Retrieved November 01, 2006, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/prejudice
And the O.E.D.’s main definition is a “preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or experience.”
So prejudice is based on forming an opinion, and usually an “unreasonable” one, “without knowledge, thought or reason” or “without experience.” Now is that why so many beer snobs do not care for the big beer companies? Is is that we just don’t “get them?” If only we’d experience them by drinking their products, think about them, or learn the true message of capitalism they’re bring to the world then we’d stop our misguided criticisms of big business. Only then perhaps we could celebrate their “bold risks” and admire their deeds.
What utter nonsense. Beer snobs don’t like the big beer companies precisely because we have experience with them. Our opinions are based on a thorough knowledge of what they’re up to, we can reason that their business practices often harm smaller business. Experience has shown us that the bigger beer companies have been putting the smaller ones out of business for decades. I should admire such predatory instincts as they decimate this country’s brewing heritage with their ambition and their bold risks (which are not actually usually that bold given government subsidies, lobbying efforts, etc.)? I know that the big companies are capable of brewing more flavorful beers but choose not to and then deceive the public with advertising designed to disguise that fact and in fact try to destroy the image of all beer so they can sell the more cheaply made industrial equivalent they sell in its place. How admirable. Am I being snarky. You bet I am. But this is not a beer snob’s prejudiced opinion, it’s an opinion based on experience, knowledge, thought and is utterly reasonable under the circumstances.
Should wine snobs appreciate Gallo, Wild Turkey and Blue Nun, too? Is the only reason they don’t because they’ve failed to admire the bold risks and ambitions of the capitalists who have made wine their business? Is the reason I don’t like Wonder Bread because I don’t admire the bold risks and ambitions of the capitalists who have made bread their business?
I realize Felton writes for the business focused Wall Street Journal and he probably can’t help being a cheerleader for big business. The Wall Street Journal is, after all, owned by Dow Jones, making it in effect big business itself. But he sincerely pisses me off when he accuses the good beer community of not supporting big business because we’re ignorant of their boldness, their risk-taking ambitions, or because they’ve made beer their business, too.
Beer snobs celebrate what’s best in beer and that’s not usually the core brands of the largest beer companies. We’ve tasted them and tasted them to come to that conclusion. The best beer snobs I know will taste any beer and make a sober assessment of its quality as a beer, regardless of who made it. But like anything, the more you taste the different products of a brewery over and over again, certain patterns tend to emerge. Brewery A tends to make very good beers. Brewery B does not. Those are not prejudices but realistic impressions that are created over time. And from time to time, Brewery A makes a dud and B brews up a winner and beer snobs are the first to admit it when that happens.
Eric Felton is, quite simply, full of it, and is being quite snarkily impertinent himself. He’s certainly jumped to an unreasonable and unsupportable opinion about beer snobs — now that’s prejudice.