Yesterday, I had the pleasure of returning to the Holiday Ale Fest one last time, and spending it with a couple of newbies. I've known them well over a decade, and was rocked to learn they'd never been to any beer fests. At a certain point, one of them hollered, "I love this!" I nodded sagely. The Beer Sherpa was pleased.
The experience was pleasurable for another reason, too. These two friends are quite big beer fans, but they aren't beer geeks. They don't study the history and definitions of style, they don't care about the chemistry, and they don't have a burning interest in trying every weird beer there is. They have honed the critical faculties to identify a good beer within the styles they like, and they apply this to the simple joy of drinking a tasty pint.
It occurred to me that the interests of the "advanced amateurs" (for want of a better phrase) and beer geeks can often be quite a bit different. Beer geeks spend a huge amount of their time and energy--especially at beer fests--pursuing extremely esoteric beers. Sally and I were the first to arrive at HAF, and I had my first ale in hand--the Figgy Pudding Olde Stock. For some reason, that pour was quite a bit warmer than Thursday's and also expressed a great deal more brett character. It had a sharp, dry-leather quality that overwhelmed most of the more nuanced sugars and fruit flavors in the recipe. When my friends arrived, I had them sample it, and then had to go into a long song and dance trying to describe what Block 15 had been shooting for. They were polite but it was clear that their view about the bottom line wasn't going to change: not tasty.
Beer geeks, by dint of having tried hundreds or thousands of examples of certain styles, tend not to spend a lot of time seeking those styles out or discussing them. Our own Doc Wort has been on a years-long jihad against breweries who make only familiar styles. But spend a little time with the average drinker, and you are reminded how joyful the experience of drinking a great porter, say, really is. There's a perverse kind of focus beer geeks place on certain kinds of beers--the barrel aged, the sour, the experimental.
But, if you were to draw a Venn diagram showing the beers 'advanced amateurs' and beer geeks like, you'd see enormous overlap.
All of this is fine, of course. I'm not about to start passing up the wild and wonderful, and the truth is, given a choice between sampling a nobly failed experiment and a solid classic beer style, I'll go for the noble experiment. (I might learn something!) That doesn't alter the fact that it's a failure.
Almost all of my friends are beer fans but not beer geeks. They have no interest in the intellectual pleasure of beer--they want the pleasure pleasure of a good beer. Yesterday's experience reminded me that we do a disservice to most drinkers when we focus only on the exotica. (Hell, we do a disservice to ourselves. My brain had completely filtered out Hop Valley's Festeroo, and English old ale, when I saw the list of beers. Pssh, English old ale--show me something I haven't seen. But it was fantastic!)
Mostly, people shouldn't listen to beer geeks. We have our own thing going on. Toward the end of our time at the Fest yesterday, my friend had settled into Eel River's Climax Noel ('09). He was blissfully going back for pour after pour. It was a bit sweet for my taste--but he didn't care about my taste. He had discovered his bliss without me.