you may not like coffee guys but you like the coffee, guys
I wanna put in a plug here for one of the virtues of midwestern culture: it seems like here in the midwest, we're better at getting enthusiastic about stuff without turning into insufferable snobs. So for instance, here in Cleveland, beer culture is pretty huge, with tons of very popular local breweries all over the place. But everyone at these breweries is, pretty much universally, helpful and excited to show people new beers they might like (and are happy helping beer newbies get started). And yeah, I'm sure there are snobs floating around, but most of the beer guys I know are perfectly happy to drink a PBR or even a white claw if that's what's available.
So my hot take, I guess, is that snobbery doesn't necessarily have to be correlated with enthusiasm and knowledge. I think snobbery is really it's own distinct cultural phenomenon that infects whatever it touches. Beer or coffee enthusiasm doesn't turn people into snobs, but snobby people are happy to weaponize whatever interests are available to grab on to.
I'm going to put in a plug here for Jimmy Carter, who legalized home brewing of beer and helped launch the craftbrew trend. In this particular case it wasn't just the internet.
James Fallows published an overstated take on this in the Atlantic, but since he had to walk it back slightly I'll link to the correction and not the original:
Is this an ode to neoliberalism?
The other half of this story: deregulating the beer industry. Before prohibition there had been thousands of tiny breweries in the US thanks to the heritage of our German citizens. After prohibition, regulatory capture led to only gigantic mega-breweries being able to compete. Carter signed a law making home-brewing legal, by reducing onerous regulations in 1979. CA and WA made brew-pubs legal shortly thereafter, and other states followed. The result was the explosion of beers seen here, in the same way that the wide distribution of personal computers led to an explosion of tech startups.
I guess for me the amusing part has been being overtaken by a whole new generation of coffee snobs leaving me totally bewildered. When I grew up we considered ourselves lucky to live in the land of Peets Coffee and it was indeed so much better than what you could buy at the supermarket -- so that's how I learned to love coffee -- strong and rich and a little burnt tasting. So when third wave coffee came along with all kinds of new descriptive terms I was completely confused -- I would find myself in pour over coffee temples reading descriptions and they would sound good until I would get to the word citrus or something like that and think what do I want with citrus notes in my coffee -- which one is like Peet's Italian Roast? I mentioned this to a coffee snob friend who then said that I was like the beer drinkers who prefer Bud. That put me in my place. I have learned to appreciate the third wave beans on occasion but would still rather grind up my super dark and oily Peets beans in the morning and feel myself wake up.
sapporo is great delete this
As a Michigander who was college age a few years later than you, I admit I have taken for granted how nice it is to have Bell's, Founders, Short's, and a bunch of other local options available pretty much anywhere I'd like except for dive bars and party bars (and even in some of those, occasionally). And I wouldn't have discovered my longstanding love for extreme and unorthodox metal if I hadn't stumbled across people gushing about Opeth's Blackwater Park and Isis' Panopticon on nerdy forums as a high school student in '04. So, here's to the nerds and snobs.
I read this with Skallas's essays on refinement culture in the back of my mind (https://paulskallas.substack.com/p/refinement-culture). Seems like we could say refinement happens in two directions: flattening certain things (basketball, graphic design) and fracturing others (beer, coffee). Is that fair to say? Other thoughts on how these analyses interact?
Man, I gotta say I disagree with you here. There is actually a good pile of microeconomics research that indicates that greater choice leaves consumers with both more anxiety about making their selection and less certainty that they choose correctly afterwards.
I honestly hate that I need to have a minor in beer crafting to even know enough to start to make an educated selection. And even once I have found a beer I like, because of the diffusion of a zillion different beers, not every bar carries it, so every bar I walk into I have to start the select process all over again. My head is full of enough things. I would rather a consistently available ok beer that I don't have to think about than to have to know all about craft beer to pick out a drinkable beer at my local bar.
Now multiple this across the hundreds of products people consume regularly. I have to be not only an expert in beer, but also food and clothes and cars and how other things just to not get screwed in the marketplace? Its exhausting.
As always, thought provoking and well written but I disagree with your conclusion.
The internet showed me that there is at least one rabbit hole devoted to every interest, every skill set, every taste. I've found them to be a wealth of knowledge, expertise you didn't know existed, and, yes, sometimes nasty condescension.
But I'm nothing but grateful for it. It blows my mind that there are so many who freely share their guidance and expertise with others. There are forums devoted to selecting the best mattress for the heavy set side-sleeper next to his petite snoring wife; assembling the right roaster-grinder-espresso machine setup for a given budget; authenticating and identifying the tell-tale signs of the original 2001 Balenciaga motorcycle bag; analyzing why Death Magnetic clips and hurts your ears while sharing your own uncompressed version that sounds crisp; hacking your apartment oven to making Neapolitan pizza. I have found so much information and help from these hyper-focused subject matter snobs. This is information we would never find before the internet, like-minded obsessive communities we would never have found, without prohibitively high time and resource investment.
I agree with your premise that the bespoke-interest-rabbit-holes have generally improved things for the rest of us. They are grass roots endeavors that have pushed for better choices and quality, from the ground up. How can you not love that?
Of course, going to a Beer Forum On The Internet is going to subject oneself to cask-strength Internet Fandom Shitheadery but, at least here in Chicago, I've gone to incredibly specialized taprooms and never felt put down upon because my beer tastes run to "I'll take whatever Pilsner you got that I can drink 10 of without getting blind 'cuz I wanna drink all day". And I live within walking distance of Brewery Row here, and those dudes are fucking NUTS about their beer.
It's nice. One can enjoy the beers and the booze without the cult aspects. I've absolutely refused to so much as look up a beer rating online and I think I've missed out on not a thing and absolutely benefitted from not doing so.
This was a good take, but if I may digress... given the references to Boris, Big|Brave, and Baroness in different posts, I believe I'd subscribe just for the music takes. I'll give Bell Witch a shot, because I have no idea how "doom metal without a guitar" is supposed to work.
“to drink a different good beer of a different variety every night. (Well, a six pack every weekend, these days. Things change, when you get older.)“
Impressed that you’ve gone from 7 beers/week to 6. =)
Great piece, like always.
As a professional coffee snob, I highly recommend Ruby Coffee Roasters in Wisconsin!
Great article! But as a hardcore dumbass (I’m literally wearing a youth of today t-shirt right now), I mostly wanted to say: very good straight edge joke up top!
"And the more Joe Sixpack drank IPAs and sours, the more he wanted options and alternatives."
I can relate to this. Every time I drink an IPA, I find myself wanting an alternative.