While this blogger is soaking up the cask ales of England and sour beers of Belgium for a couple of weeks, please enjoy these “Best Of” posts. This was originally posted on July 23rd, 2012.
Imagine a Venn diagram with two sets, one labeled “Foodies” and one “Beer Geeks.” The intersection is considerable. My guess would be that at least half of the “Beer Geeks” would also be “Foodies” of some ilk, which is not surprising. Drinking craft beer is all similar to being a devoted lover of food – we strive for flavour, love local, crave the rare and seek out that which is new. This is not a new comparison, but I’m always curious to see how the world of foodies mirrors or overlaps the growing number of craft beer lovers. I was reading the latest issue of Lucky Peach (yes, I am one of the many worshippers to the throne of David Chang) and was surprised to find the yeasts Lactobacillus and Pediococcus mentioned in regards to the microbial terroir of cured meats (the article didn’t sound crazy until I had to type that sentence). Not being a science-y guy, my naive assumption was that these yeasts were mainly important for turning beer deliciously sour and funky. Turns out they also help add a lactic tang to sausages. (On a side note, makers of cured meats would do well to advertise that these bacteria are present and cater to beer geeks, though presumably these are different strains of the yeast.) This little piece of trivia made of think of other ways that foodies and beer geeks are similar.
As I continued to read the magazine I was continually struck by the way foodies operate at the polar opposites of the culinary spectrum. On one hand, you have the modern American chefs trying to remake what it means to be a fine dining restaurant, using molecular gastronomy while blaring 100 decibel music for customers paying $150 for your tasting menu that is booked solid for the next two months. Then you have the other end, where taco shacks and fried chicken truck stops are anointed as the true American culinary experience. These concepts exist mutually within foodies, which is not necessarily a bad thing even if it seems contradictory. An expensive dinner out can be as equally enjoyable as fried food that explodes with grease.
Mass-produced beer is often compared to fast food – it’s cheap, made in large quantities and meant to taste inoffensive. Foodies generally hate most fast food and beer geeks generally hate most mass-produced beer. This is an easy comparison that most people would likely get correct on an IQ test. If we were to extrapolate the foodie/beer-geek comparison, the high-end culinary experience would be equatable to most big, bold beers that are favoured by beer geeks – IPAs, sours, imperial stouts, heavy duty Belgians. These beers can be expensive and rare, often soliciting the biggest drools and the silent anger of fellow beer drinkers that have not shared in your good fortune.
Then I got to wonder if there was a comparison between the truck stop/diner version of the foodie and a sub-genre of beer geek. As foodies search for the most “authentic” tacos, southern BBQ or burger, is there a beer geek equivalent to this foodie spectrum? Do beer geeks care for a well crafted, easy drinking lager? Not really, unless it’s a super-hopped Victory Prima Pils. I would argue that we solely operate in that high-end spectrum, not appreciating the simple, clean flavours of a Beau’s Lug Tread or King Pilsner – the beer world equivalent to the truck stop. That is not meant to be insulting, though it might sound like a backhanded compliment. These beers have their own unique profiles that deserve respect, not to be cast aside as gateway beers for those working their way up to IPAs. (And no, IPAs, pale ales or British ales are not comparable to the truck stop/diner foodie. Every sane person loves that kind of food, but hops really only appeal to a small group of us.) The highlight of the Garrison brewery feature way back in February was the Pils in my opinion, yet everyone wanted to talk about every beer but that one. To me it was an incredibly well made pilsner, one that transported me to the beer gardens of Munich (the German equivalent to the truck stop, where lagers are very much appreciated).
Beer geeks can learn something from foodies – enjoy the finer things, but sometimes enjoy beer just for what it is. It is possible to enjoy a beer as just that, rather than making tasting notes to put online or analyzing the beer past the point of enjoyment. Yes, that hoppy beer would probably go well with your taco, but so would a cold lager, maybe with a slice of lime if you’re feeling really unpretentious. It’s just a taco. It’s just a beer.