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Monday, June 17, 2013

150 Red Sox Pubs Don't Make NYC a Sox Town

I've got a saison in the mash tun right now, so this is a light blogging day.  I want to direct your attention to a fascinating inter-city dispute between DC and NYC, with the illustrious Garrett Oliver batting clean-up for the Big Apple (hat tip to Jacob Berg).  This weekend, New York hosted Savor, a Brewers Association fest to celebrate beer and food.  (We had several breweries in the house.)  It led to some trash-talking by DC bloggers, which led to the Garrett Rebuttal, which I quote here:
I've had the opportunity to travel all over the world, and I've yet to see anyplace with a better beer culture than NYC. I can walk out my front door in Brooklyn and within a 15-minute walking radius find not only hundreds of great American beers, but also more of the best beers of Belgium than you'd find in a 15-minute walk from Grande Place in Brussels. In a 15-minute walk from the brewery we have Brooklyn Bowl, Gutter, Torst, Spuyten Duyvil, The Diamond, Barcade, Radegast....  Eleven Madison Park has 140 beers on the list. I do not think anyplace else can compare.
And then later...
I think it's great that other city's newspapers have dedicated beer writers. But the best-read beer writer in the world, by far, is the NYT's Eric Asimov, who is the Times' chief wine critic. No one anywhere on the planet even comes close. 
And then even later still (it's amazing he was debating this on a blog)...
DC has its way (and few people love Churchkey more than I do - ask Greg), and we have our way. We find ours equally valid. There are all kinds of culture. I've expressed my respect for yours, so there it is. You don't have to respect ours, but one might expect a reaction when you diss it.
Now, I don't know New York at all--certainly not from a beer perspective.  But I have to say that Garrett's arguments aren't very convincing.  NYC has 8.3 million people--it has tons of everything.  Any member of any niche can say New York has the best culture if they wish to hammer you with stats--the best Thai food culture, the best wine culture, the best pet monkey culture.  Indeed, you could make the argument New York is the best Red Sox city outside of Boston--after all, they've got scores of Sox bars.  This is obviously absurd. 

It raises the question of what "culture" is and whether we should even bother trying to define it.  At least so far as the US is concerned, I think most places haven't gotten there yet, and even those that have (like Portland) need to acknowledge that it's new, unstable, and quite possible evanescent.  You don't have culture until you have generations of history to back it up.  Or at least a few decades.


  1. I work in New York City, and though I'm very happy with the state of beer here, I hesitate to say that it has a better beer culture than anywhere else in the world. Having a multitude of beer-centric pubs, bars and bottle shops doesn't make a great beer culture. It means that beer is embraced here. But I think the word "culture" relates to something with deeper roots than that.

  2. I can't stir up the will power to engage with the idea of which is a better beer city when two obviously excellent beer cities are the options.

    Maybe this proves we have run out of topics.

  3. Alan, I do think Americans are quick to conflate the presence of good beer and imports for culture. That's just commerce. (And by that definition, cities like Cologne lack culture.) Garrett, who travels more than any brewer I know, is definitely aware of this. Actual beer culture is particular behavior that revolves around beer. Being able to buy Cantillon in a store doesn't cut it.

    I think most American cities lack beer cultures, and we won't know if they have them for decades to come. "Culture" is my "community," if you take my meaning.

  4. OK, you bait me. You draw me in.

    Here is the problem with that argument. You have a beer culture. There have been premium exports into the US since at least the 1750s and beer made and drunk on a daily basis since the 1620s or before. Masses of people drink masses of beer as they have for coming on 400 years. When I cross the border, you see it all the time because beer is more in your stores and in a lot of places you can have a beer as you walk down the street. In most places now you can get craft beer and in many places you can sit in beer bars and hear people bragging about spending too much or going on and on about hoppiness. The US expresses itself through beer just as Canada does in a slightly different way.

    Just because you don't get a kick out of most of it doesn't mean it isn't your culture. Your suggestion about Cologne and the USA smacks a wee bit of "haute" culture. Or maybe just majoritarian culture. I like Belgian beer as much as the next guy but, having had a pal from there and having visited there, am pretty sure I am not moving there anytime soon. I am not getting into it but I am comfortable saying I like pluralistic states where the cops don't carry machine guns in the street. I like cultures.

    Up there you mention you can get anything in NYC. That is America, baby! Choice at a reasonable price, excess for only a little more and a whole hell of a lot at discount.

  5. You are not just going to dangle that bit about Eric Asimov and not take your own bait are you?

    C'mon man, I was eagerly anticipating a smack-down! What is the point of blogs if there 'aint some serious ad-hominym attacking going on?

    Surely he has soft spots to poke? Heck, you could skip the formalities and go directly to comparing him to Hitler! Sheesh, what has become of the blog-o-sphere?

  6. Yes, I envy NY. All those $9 pints.

  7. Alan,

    Not buying it for a second. The presence of a product does not equal culture. I was on board with this line of thinking until I traveled around a bit and saw actual expressions of culture elsewhere. I'm not sure what's "haute" about Cologne in your mind, but my point was that an entire city has decided to drink just one type of beer. I could go on with examples from Britain, Czech Republic, other places in Germany, and Belgium. (I confess I don't understand your point about Belgium.)

    It's true that it's a fixture of American culture that we have broad availability of products. You can easily get virgin olive oils, rare automobiles, and obscure Asturian ciders here, too. I don't think that says we have a particularly advanced olive oil or cider culture.

    I do think we might develop beer culture. The presence of all this beer is a good first sign. Not to invoke my old troll Mike from the Netherlands, but I think there's a bit of egocentrism combined with a lack of what real beer culture looks like that allows us to make these claims so blithely.

  8. Patrick, don't you admire my restraint?

    I felt that was an especially weak point and didn't want to distract from it. "We have the NYT so we have beer culture."


  9. Oliver's statement isn't and American statement or for that matter a beer statement. It's a typical statement by a denizen of NYC. Allow me to explain the culture of NYC—as a New Yorker who lives 150 miles north of the Harlem River. NYCers (I don't use New Yorker, because that implies that those who live in the rest of New York—which 99.999999% of New York State by the way, are not from New York) have convinced themselves that because they're are so many of them living so close to each other that, that somehow NYC has become the cultural hub of the world. Nowhere else could possibly compete with NYC. If you don't believe them, just ask them and they will tell you it's true.

  10. Sounds like you have a beer culture but want another one. One like someone else's. Most likely you have beer cultures in regions and specific cities. You likely also have overlapping sports fan cultures, political hack cultures and teenage music sub-cultures ad infinitum. Who the hell wants a over-riding beer culture anyway? I prefer one based on democratic rights, social justice, marketplace choice, creativity, vast open spaces and a plentiful food supply. Visigoths in 400 AD had a beer culture. Screw that.

    PS: Belgian cops, baby. Just watch out at closing time. Not really interested in Belgian beer culture. That's all I am saying.

    PPS: You may want to note that NYC is one of the cultural hubs of western civilization. Sure it may be irritating sometimes to be close to it but excluded but fact is you are and they are.

  11. I was going to let that last one sit there, but I can't. In past conversations, you've defended an extremely restrictive sense of the word "community." For me the word has broader applications, but I understand where you're headed with the critique.

    I'm not sure you're acknowledging my critique of the use of the word culture here. I don't mind that we disagree--I understand that most Americans will disagree with my definition. I don't want the beer culture(s) of Germany, but I am fascinated by them. Cologne, to go back to that example, is amazing because it's a city in the middle of one of the freest markets in the world, and by cultural agreement, everyone drinks just one type of beer. I would find that intolerable if I lived there, but it's a deeply cultural phenomenon. (It's way too pedantic, but we could go into the elements that compose the cultures in Britain, Belgium, and the Czech Republic--and I'm sure you're familiar with them.)

    So far, the main thing I have heard people say is: America has a beer culture because you can buy a lot of different beers here and there are now a few beer bars in big cities. I have a more restrictive definition. I think there have to be actual aspects of culture there, not just commerce. I am not actually arguing that you should accept this definition, but it would be a satisfying conclusion to know that you at least understood the distinction I'm making--whether or not you agree.

  12. Yes, I probably do not know what you mean by beer culture. Just for clarity, for me, culture is bigger than community. I like "local scene" meaning a sub-culture which is, oddly, itself smaller than community. "Culture" is what peoples have. Community is a mixed local. Scene or sub-culture is niche local. Communities or scenes are found in cities or regions. I think you can have a southern Maine banjo scene but likely not a Maine-wide one. You can have American banjo culture. Canada has no banjo culture but it may have local banjo scenes.

  13. "PPS: You may want to note that NYC is one of the cultural hubs of western civilization. Sure it may be irritating sometimes to be close to it but excluded but fact is you are and they are."

    You are right—and in fact, no doubt about it. Except, you and I perceive it as one of the cultural hubs of the world. The difference is that many NYC'ers see it as "the" (rather than one of the) cultural hubs of the world. The distinction is subtle, but important.

  14. To be honest I don't know if London has a "beer culture" or not - it most certainly has a pub culture - but I can tell you that there is NO FAHKIN' WAY you would sell out a beer event in London with tickets at £110 a pop.

  15. Stephen Beaumont5:42 AM, June 20, 2013

    Jesus! That damn Mr. McL lured me first to the NYC-DC dust-up, and thence to here, and now almost an hour of my morning has been consumed by the reading of diatribes and comments and diatribes about the comments and comments on those diatribes. And still, I find myself unable to let the whole thing rest...

    First, as has been observed, Mr. Oliver's reaction to the DC post was both over-the-top and consummately NYC-ish. He should know as well as anyone that: a) Jeff is right that availability of beer is not equal to beer culture; b) NYC was very, very late to the party where craft beer is concerned, and although it has since done a fine job of catching up, is still not close to the top three of American beer cities; and c) It is preposterous in the extreme to suggest that NYC boasts a better beer culture than anywhere else in the world.

    Second point, one I've made many times before, is that Americans are riotously, almost laughably regional in their approach to just about anything, and especially craft beer. "Best Beer City," "East Coast vs. West Coast," "My City Can Beat Up Your City," and such like are constant themes in US beer circles. It surprises me only that a global traveller like Mr. Oliver would get caught up in such tomfoolery.

    And finally -- only because I really do have to get to work -- in my many, many visits to Belgium, I have received only a single harsh word from a Belgian policeman, chastising me for jaywalking in Antwerp. No threats, intimidation or machine guns were involved.

  16. I much preferred the machine gun toters in Paris in '86 even if they did open my jacket with the barrel in that subway station and found only the wine bottle. Far better sense of humour than the guy in the Grand Place. Fortunately.