Beer Snobs Are Missing The Point

Last week, I was the unwitting victim of an April Fool's joke.

A fun brewery in my Los Angeles neighborhood posts all its latest beer releases to Instagram. On Monday, it posted a great-looking, glowing-orange beer, with the caption, "Say hello to our new year round offering, The Haze is Right! A 6.5% Hazy NE-Style IPA with notes of papaya and mango and loads of Citra and El Dorado hops!"

I'm a casual but enthusiastic beer fan who, while far from book-smart about such things, knows she loves hazy IPAs that pour opaque into a glass, so I walked straight over to the taproom to try this new offering. Not finding it on their chalkboard, I asked, "Could I have a pint of the one you posted on your Instagram today?"

Stone-faced, the two men behind the counter exchanged a look, then looked back at me. "Yeah, uh, that was an April Fool's joke?" There was no kindness or amusement or jocular apology behind the clarification, just an impatience with me for not clocking the prank. If you are as confused as I was: This self-respecting West Coast brewery would never brew a New England–style beer! Much less would they deign to brew a hazy IPA! Are you out of your puny mind? Perish the thought!

I survived this prank with minimal public humiliation, and simply ordered my usual IPA. But days later, this moment still stung a little. If I, a patron who visits their taproom almost weekly, is sorted into a stark outgroup by such a gag, how much beer knowledge do you need before that joke is even a little rewarding? In a small boost to my ego, I saw via Instagram comments that I was not the only person not picking up on the "humor."

There's nothing new about beer snobbery, of course; the tiredest punchlines feature men with handlebar mustaches proclaiming fealty to the most obscure of styles. But this nerdery is only the latest flavor of what Takeout writer Allison Shoemaker astutely called out as "food industry gatekeeping": the idea that you don't really know which beer or whiskey or burger you enjoy, because you haven't conducted a complete and empirical assessment of the options available to you as, implicitly, the snobs have. By liking the things you like, you are merely settling for inferiority.

Even putting aside the myriad class, social, and cultural issues bound up in telling people to "give a fuck" about their food, and the conflation of diet and morality found in the rise of "clean" eating trends, food and beverage snobbery just fails to make a case for itself on the most basic, practical level. If a fan of Coors Light is completely uninterested in giving Pliny The Elder a try, what exactly has been lost? It's not a concern to the Coors Light drinker that they might be missing out on some great new beer—that concern exists entirely in the mind of the snob. There is no morally absolute appeal to be made for one product versus another, nor (usually) an economical one, since a snob's suggestion is often the more expensive alternative. Lacking such supports, gatekeepers must find other ways to reify their own standing in the hierarchy they've built for themselves, hence the proliferation of in-jokes, memes, and yes, crappy April Fool's jokes that chiefly serve to remind everyone who's got the wider knowledge base here.

My neighborhood brewery is not staffed with assholes or anything; it's a wonderful place that I'll continue to patronize. This was just a good illustration of what it looks like when jokes better suited to the break room spill over and make excited consumers their punchline.

None of this is to castigate people with a deep interest in food or beer; there's great joy to be found in tasting everything you can and developing nuanced opinions about it. But prescribing those preferences to others as if they're empirical truths, laws of nature, is almost never useful or successful. Perhaps when our nation's craft breweries were first rising up against the monopolized behemoths, a passionate defense had to be mounted to keep those small operations alive. But snobs' gatekeeping serves the opposite purpose: It can keep curious newbies out of the very realm these snobs claim to love. Maybe, with craft beer now safely in the mainstream, snobs of all stripes can, at last, retire.