The Battle Hymn of the Beer-public: There's No Room for Snobs in Craft Beer

558202_10151196926510751_1550519235_n.jpg
Photo courtesy of Petrol Station
Yes, the new growler design from Petrol Station -- which rips on fellow craft beer bar The Hay Merchant -- is tongue-in-cheek, but it still speaks to the snobbery that can easily find its way into tightly knit subsets of the food and beverage world.
When Mongoose versus Cobra first opened, one of my favorite things to do was sit outside on a busy Friday night and watch as the following scene played itself out over and over like some version of Groundhog Day with a different pack of confused Midtowners each time:

  • Group of snappily dressed men and women out for a night in Midtown approaches snazzy-looking bar.
  • Group walks inside.
  • Group cranes necks at boards displaying names of exotic beers, then attempts to engage in dialogue with bartender.
  • Group looks around at each other, confusion and angst dawning on their pretty faces as they realize that there are no "normal" beers in the bar.
  • Group has furrowed-brow discussion amongst themselves.
  • Group leaves in frustration.

There is no Miller or Budweiser for sale at Mongoose. There aren't even more familiar-looking options such as Shiner Bock or maybe a Blue Moon -- beers which the mainstream beer consumer would certainly denote as "craft beers." The most "mainstream" item for sale at Mongoose on its beer list is Southern Star's Bombshell Blonde, a light blonde ale that's easy to drink and increasingly familiar in Houston stores and bars.

And that's where Mongoose -- like many craft beer bars -- loses customers. But bear with me here.

Washington DC.jpg
Photo by Katharine Shilcutt
The easy-to-digest beer list at ChurchKey in Washington D.C. makes craft beer a friendlier, more accessible experience overall.
From our craft beer high horses, we might be quick to say two things about this situation:

  1. Who cares if a bunch of Midtown douchebags choose not to stay and frequent a craft beer bar? Good riddance!
  2. We don't want craft beer to become a commodity item that everyone drinks; I would die if I saw one of those douchenozzles with a Laughing Dog Anubis. He doesn't appreciate that stuff.

And that is where I so often find myself when in discussions about craft beer these days, although I'm reluctant to paint all craft beer lovers with the same brush. I'm especially guilty of the former statement, many times over. I don't want to drink my Poperings Hommel next to a girl in a too-short, sparkly dress who keeps my bartender overextended by ordering multiple cocktails at my craft beer bar. I admit that.

But more often than not, misbegotten attitudes like mine extend to the establishment itself. It's obviously perfectly fine not to offer Bud and Miller in a craft beer bar; that's the entire point. But I feel sometimes that places like Mongoose and Petrol make their craft beer lists purposefully obtuse and their service style abrupt in order to keep the "riffraff" out.

That sword cuts both ways, though: It can also make craft beer unnecessarily daunting and turn the entire thing into a patronizing, cliquish experience for the uninitiated. You don't know how to pronounce Klokke Roeland? You don't know the difference between an English Pale Ale and a Belgian Strong Ale? You don't like hops? We don't need your kind here.

When confronted with this kind of craft beer bar, newcomers can be left with a bitter taste in their mouth that has nothing to do with hops. It's especially odd considering the entire craft beer movement is taking place, ostensibly, to wean the American public off adjunct lagers and mega-beers like Miller and Bud.

"Let those Midtown douchefairies have their swill!" is not a battle cry; it is completely antithetical to the entire war on crappy beer. Beer is the great egalitarian beverage, meant to be enjoyed by the masses. So why don't we want the masses to drink good beer?


Location Info

Venue

Map

13 Celsius Wine Bar

3000 Caroline, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

BRC Gastropub

519 Shepherd, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

The Petrol Station

985 Wakefield, Houston, TX

Category: Music

Spec's Warehouse

2410 Smith St., Houston, TX

Category: General

D & Q Mini-Mart

806 Richmond Ave., Houston, TX

Category: General

Whole Foods

2955 Kirby Drive, Houston, TX

Category: General

Rudyard's

2010 Waugh, Houston, TX

Category: Music

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83 comments
Lucky333
Lucky333

Methinks the charge of gender bias against two of my Houston faves, Spec's and BRC, must be answered. I am a professional woman 50+ so not expecting to get any special treatment due to my sex appeal, but I have always found both establishments respectful and engaging when I ask a question or for a new suggestion. In addition BRC recently added to their already-sophisticated craft beer selection, their avant-gard, seafood-laden Chandleresque menu. Chandler is their new chef, and the food actually drove my husband and I to order food FIRST. If you haven't been to BRC in the pas few weeks, now is the time to go! Trust a seasoned beer goddess...

brutusale
brutusale

So the Mongoose has the same attitude as 99% of the drinking establishments in America--in reverse!  When I can go to the average place and find something other than domestic lagers and maybe a Heineken or Guinness as "craft" brews, I'll worry about the great unwashed being able to find domestic lagers at a place already identifying itself as a craft brew hall.

janydots
janydots

Thanks for doing thoughtful pieces like this Ms Shilky. EOW is the only place I'm finding it nowadays; CM and Eater have gone to recycling press releases and pretending it's news, and Alison Cook is too busy tweeting or venting.

XXXX
XXXX

sorry, trying not piss myself after seeing a foodie call out others for snobbery.

onetruegrits
onetruegrits

Well said. I haven't been back to Petrol Station (which makes me sad) since nasty treatment by one of the staff. Hay Merchant crew are great with info and remember my name. Guess who gets my beer dollars?

SirRon
SirRon topcommenter

I think you may be over thinking this whole thing. Relax, drink hedonistically.

BobJ
BobJ

Looks like they stole the menu from Brooklyn Bowl ....

gossamersixteen
gossamersixteen topcommenter

Pretension be damned, if it tastes good and doesn't leave you praying to the porcelain god(s) then I'm all for it. Seriously go overly intellectual about beer, only shows your own insecurities. Just drink what you like.

 

CraftGuy
CraftGuy

I love craft beer, I brew... and I also like Budweiser.  I've been in a number of these craft bars and received downright shitty/snobby service; both in professional clothes and clothes that fit the craft scene.  Being a prick to your customers is generally a poor business model.  Also, I know I'm not the only craft drinker that likes to follow up the latest imperial IPA with a refreshing, full flavored domestic like Budweiser.  Don't dictate to me what I should drink and treat me like a prick if you want me to spend my money at your bar.  Oh, and by the way, not all of my friends like craft beer, so not giving them a Bud / Miller / Coors option keeps our whole group away.  

 

Also, I started tipping based on service again.  The way its supposed to be.  No more obligatory +20% or +$1 drink rules for me any more. If you are a bartender who feels entitled and provides shitty service, I will tip you poorly.  I encourage others to do the same.  Don't be the snob you claim to hate, don't judge another's tastes, one love.

 

 

Anse
Anse

Let me add that the solution to all of this nonsense is for us to become reacquainted with the primary purpose of the pub: 1) to drink and 2) to engage in meaningful conversation with your fellow man. Back when the King Biscuit closed down, I lamented the loss of my neighborhood joint of choice. I loved that place, crappy food and all. But it was never the same after Tommy the bartender left and that tattooed gal (I forget her name), nice as she was, took over. Tommy was the best bartender I've ever encountered. I have no idea if he knew how to make a proper Manhatten or could tell you the difference between a porter and a stout; I'm inclined to say that he could, but the Biscuit wasn't that kind of joint anyway. The dude just knew what I liked. I could walk in the door, and before I even sat down, Tommy would have a pint waiting for me. And if it was something I'd never had before, I didn't mind, because Tommy always seemed to know what I liked. Fresh beers would come before I even asked for them, and more than a few were on the house. If I and my drinking partners stayed long enough, he'd pull out a bottle of Jameson and share a shot with us. So the Biscuit had Bud Light on tap and quite a few regulars who ordered it. So the hell what? The one time I went to Hay Merchant, it was so damned loud I couldn't carry on a conversation with my buddy right across the table. The food was great, the beer outstanding, but it's not a good happy hour place. Petrol Station is wonderful, and now that I live in Oak Forest, it's always my first choice. But as much as I love trying new things, I don't really go to bars to learn stuff. I don't go to exercise my knowledge of esoteric beer styles and whatnot. I don't hold up my glass and ponder its finer qualities. Mind you, I drink good beer because the mass produced Buttwiper/Coors/Miller stuff gives me a tummy ache and tastes like ditch water. But I don't hold it against folks who drink it. Beer is--or should be--the working man and woman's sustainer, our daily bread, our Staff of Life. While we're celebrating this craft beer golden age, let's not forget that.

rwfishbu1
rwfishbu1

@CraftyBrewnette Thanks for all the RTs! Isn't paper.li awesome?

whitepunkondope
whitepunkondope

craft beer is not the problem. it's the people that blog and tweet about it are the problem. fuck hay merchant

Anse
Anse

In the bar of my dreams, there are only a dozen taps, all good quality brews, with a few rotating selections; wine that isn't too marked up; and spirits, too, so we can have a spot of whiskey to celebrate the changing of the seasons. And a small food menu that doesn't depend on crappy nachos and deep-fried-whatever-the-hell. When I enter a bar with 500 different beers, I don't get excited, I just get a little overwhelmed.

Denver
Denver

You should move to Denver. Texas is about 20 years behind the craft beer scene. Here, everyone drinks craft beer. It's all over the place, and it's certainly not viewed as a manly thing. Texas needs to catch up. 

slacker853
slacker853

(tl;dr version: my background; knowledge is power; d&q awesome; hay merchant meh; petrol cool; learn, try, and enjoy!)

 

as someone who didn't ever get into drinking beer for partying or whatever, i've never viewed beer as a means to an end (that's why liquour exists ;).  but my knowledge of the making of beer, styles of beer, etc. was pretty much nil.  (growing up in a very conservative church in small town Texas, i didn't exactly have access to this kind of knowledge.)  once i stopped thinking alcohol was inherently stupid, i always viewed the variety of beer as something exotic to try.  my first steps were at double dave's in college station, drinking a beer from some other country on sundays during the all-you-can-eat buffets.  my next steps involved going to the free st. arnold brewery tours years ago, then flying saucer, petrol, etc.  as time has gone on, i also read stuff online, talk to people who are home brewers or more knowledgable than me, ask questions, etc.  there's still plenty i don't know, but i'm always willing to offer what i do know to people who don't.  being a geek/nerd/lover/specialist/expert/whatever toward anything (in this case, beer, but also philosophy, law, medicine, mechanics, art, etc.) leads to two paths - enjoying sharing what you are learning, or hoarding knowledge and using it as a weapon/ego-builder.  this is true of any knowledge.  also note that there is a difference between passion - loving something specific and going overboard about it's virtues (say, for instance, ipa's - or your favorite football team) - and being a snob.  sometimes passion can seem like snobbery. (for the record, i don't like ipa's. i'm a stouts/porters kind of guy. and i still go to petrol. ;)

 

i can't more highly recommend going to d&q mini mart (on richmond near montrose).  for the size of the store, his selection is wonderful. he gets new stuff frequently, and will even try to get requests.  he's also been more than happy every time i go in to talk with me, mention what's new/interesting, talk about what's coming in soon, make recommendations (he's knowledgable and always gaining new info/knowledge), etc.  hopefully he'll get the taps back at some point, but his bottle and glassware selection is great.  you may pay a bit more than spec's, but in my opinion it's so worth it.

 

hay merchant has a good selection, but it hasn't gelled with me.  i'm not a big fan of the gastro/foodie/clever-food phenomenon, and the people there don't usually feel like they align with my character class.  

 

i've been going to petrol for years (back when it was a coffee house - and the later tadpole phase like the pic in the article, and kaveh kane's downtown before that), and i prefer the vibe/clientele there.  yes, they can be snarky - it's a personality style of the place.  if you enjoy that, or you can break through it once, it's all good.  most of the patrons at petrol are laid back, casual, and friendly in my experience - and many are more than happy to discuss beer and what petrol has available.  so don't just rely on the staff, especially during busy times.  if you'd like to sit down and discuss or brain-pick the staff some, i'd suggest going during off hours.  let them know you're interested but don't know a lot - as long as they aren't preoccupied or having a bad day, i bet they'd be willing to talk you through some stuff (troy, who just posted a comment on this article a bit ago, is a great guy there).  going in with an attitude, not wanting to admit you're not familiar with this stuff, or expecting to find whatever common thing you like to drink and acting annoyed when they don't have it - that's not a recipe for success.  this is an adventure, you're trying new things, taking some risk. enjoy that aspect of it! learn something new, find something new. people looking for the familiar and comfortable, not happy to pay a bit more to try something new...maybe a craft beer bar isn't the right place. maybe next time.

nbblondie
nbblondie

Loved the article... and wanted to let you know HEB Bunker Hill and Central Market have awesome, friendly and very knowledgeable beer guys who have never made me feel bad for being female or asking questions about many different beers.

Jessie Groetsch
Jessie Groetsch

Yep. Ever been to Brews Brothers in Galveston? Snootiness is oozing from the seams, right next to all the hipster-ness. Gross. Great beer selection but will never go back. It's too bad.

Brew_Don
Brew_Don

I agree with the point of the article, but not with the examples used.  About 90% of the time that I go to Petrol, I sit at the bar.  And I would say that at least half a dozen times during my 2 or so hour stay, I see people walk up to the bar, looking overwhelmed and whether they ask or not, the bartenders always try to help them find a beer they will like.  They offer suggestions and give samples to make sure that people are walking away with a beer they will enjoy.  Obviously, its tough to do that all the time, especially when the place is slammed, but even on a crowded Thursday night, I see this happen with regularity. 

 

And I don't think that refusing to carry BMC products is an attempt to steer away certain crowds, but rather more of a f*ck you to those companies for using their deep pockets to create an uneven playing field in the beer world.  Bars like Petrol and Hay Merchant do a good job of carrying beers that still appeal to all crowds.  Petrol even has a section of their beer list noted as "gateway beers".  Beers that aren't going to scare away the non beer nerds, if you will, but will help bridge the gap from bud light to hopsickle (if they wanted to go that far). 

 

I think the perception is way off here.  A lot of people assume that things are a certain way, but never really test the waters to find out that it couldn't be further from the truth.

SurfOpie
SurfOpie

@EatingOurWords Awesome article. Nothing bothers me more than an snobby bartender full blown describing a beer wrong to an unassuming patron

craftbeergal
craftbeergal

@EatingOurWords where can you get hitachino in TX??

Steve
Steve

How old is that picture of Petrol? :)

Terry Cloth
Terry Cloth

Just because I know bud light is shit does not mean I'm a snob. It prolly means youre amateurs. Now, go be mad about my comment.

moosecack
moosecack

 People are inherently lazy.  If you want to expand your beer horizons (and consequently, maybe your waistline) with delicious craft beers, do some homework before you go.  A little web-surfing to educate yourself will help you make a quicker decision at the bar, or at least point you in the right direction.

  Most places have updated menu selections on their website...just read the descriptions, match to your predilections and personal tastes, and/or investigate their properties (IBU, ABV, style, etc) at sites such as Beer Advocate. And by all means, ask for a small taste to verify your hypothesis that "I should like this beer according to my homework!"

 

Cheers...........

craftfoodandbeer
craftfoodandbeer

Some of you know me as the guy with the beard at petrol. While i agree with many points made in this article, I personally try to take my time with every guest. I scan the faces of our customers looking for those perplexed faces standing a few feet back from the bar, staring glazed eyed at the list of odd names on the wall. These are tomorrows regulars and my chance to be an advocate for the beer im so passionate about. I want to find you the perfect beer and i truly want you to enjoy it. I know that i am not perfect and have been guilty of beer snobbery. I know Ben appears to be all about big beer and can seem non challant at times as well. I can assure you that he cares very much as has spoken to all of his staff about these attitudes. He has put on lighter, fruity, sour beers that some of our guests are looking for. We call them gateway beers. The beers that open up the gate to a world of amazing flavours. Come see me, let me help find you the perfect pint.

BeerAndSoulBlog
BeerAndSoulBlog

@Cicerone_org @kevin417 Writer needs to come to the Bay!

epikwhite
epikwhite

As a beer nerd who cut his teeth several years ago in a measurably smaller Houston beer scene, I'm not sure that I agree with your all of the sentiments expressed in this piece. The most glaring omission is the lack of inclusion of both @flyingsaucerhou  and @haymerchant , establishments whose entire focus is this process of easing the macro consumer into craft beer, and onward, should they choose, to the more niche and nuanced levels of craft beer drinking. I've sat in on training at both locations, and although they have radically different approaches to the matter of staff training, I would say that both value the ability to connect with and educate the average consumer base over any other aspect of service or beer knowledge. I learned a hell of a lot from Saucer Downtown, and still regularly get an education from Hay Merchant.

 

I don't know that @barmvsc  aspires to educate the Fri/Sat Midtowner explosion. Nor do I think they should, or even can. How do you talk someone through craft beer when there's a 5-deep line at the counter? It's the beer equivalent of going into Anvil on a Saturday night and trying to pick the bartender's brain about amaro while a crowd builds up behind you. Even so, I've still seen them make spot-on recommendations. The fact that they carry lesser-known brands (many of which I represent with my company, many of which I don't) isn't to be purposefully obscure. It's for the sake of variety, and to champion lesser-known breweries. As someone who must be aware of the macro-brew politics (and monetary interest) that landed Leinenkeugels, Sam Adams and Blue Moon in every bar under the sun, I think you can appreciate that.

 

How can you make every beer bar feel welcoming and accessible when the reality is, there is a huge segment of the population that doesn't care at all what they're consuming, so long as it gets them drunk? I'm all for bridging the gap with the uninitiated - it's my job and occupies most of my life - but it's a hard sell to weekend warriors who'd rather get throw'd on Jager bombs and pitchers of Bud Light.

PhileasFoggs
PhileasFoggs

@Cicerone_org @kevin417 - best line in there... "bartenders should know the product they're pouring" - most "snobbery" comes from ignorance.

ISOBoz
ISOBoz

@Brewgasm thanks great article have to sayI haven't run int to that in AVL but the bartender is hard to chat up in a couple of places

Carlitos Way
Carlitos Way

There are some snobs in Houston when it comes the social scene. Doesn't matter whether its clubs, beers, bars, etc. I'm a Houston native and we're not all that. Take it down a notch Houston. We're a long ways from being Milwaukee or Chicago when it comes to going out for a beer.

Philip Bennett
Philip Bennett

When I first started going to Petrol and was pretty new to the craft brew scene I thought the guys were great. Not once did I get the snobb vibe. If anything they were more than happy to give me samples of brew and suggestions of what they thought I would like. I love that place, the brews, and the good times.

mike.cook
mike.cook

why limit this to craft beer?  snobs certainly prevail in the wine industry as well.   The reality is service across all industries comes with an air...it up to you as a patron to decide if you are willing to put up with it, or not! 

mykochuk
mykochuk

Honestly, I don't see the case. Mongooseversuscobra has good choices for every taste. If someone misses BlueMoon - they have three belgian style wits. If someone needs easy drinkable beer, the Bombshell is not the only option, just look at the list more carefully. If someone needs Hefe beer (like me) they have only one but very good and unique for Houston. I guess when someone leaves the bar it is because the prices are higher than the average. Not  because they can't find anything to drink.  

HoustonOTL
HoustonOTL

Such a timely post since I had a similar experience recently at Hay Merchant. I'm not a craft beer novice and I go to places like Hay Merchant specifically to try new brews, yet the bartender took one look at me and immediately dismissed me as a suburban noob and went back to talking to his regulars. I didn't realize this was an across-the-board trend.

GirthBrooks
GirthBrooks

 @Anse No. Shit.  I couldn't agree more.  I love Hay Merchant, Petrol Station, I'm a brewer, etc.   However, the great thing about those places is being able to choose from a great selection of amazing beers.  If someone else's choice is a BMC beer, who gives a damn?  Enjoy your beer and shut up!

ILikeBeer
ILikeBeer

 @Denver While Denver has it's own charm, no place in the United States has the flourishing craft scene Texas does at the moment. Google that and get back to me. 

Source: I travel extensively and only eat and drink local products.

Spatenator
Spatenator

 @Denver We've got 10-15 new craft breweries in the last year alone. We're fine.

Colorado beer snobs in my article?

It's more likely than you think.

kshilcutt
kshilcutt moderator editor

 @slacker853 I just wanted to say that I love you for starting this comment with the tl;dr version.

EatingOurWords
EatingOurWords

@craftbeergal Nowhere. It was just my personal example of an awesome Witbier. :)

kshilcutt
kshilcutt moderator editor

 @Steve Very old. It's the only one I had offhand. Heh.

Anse
Anse

@moosecack I get what you're saying, but really, who wants to do homework just to go to a bar? I think we're losing the point here. Most of the time, I go to a bar precisely because I don't want to think. I want to drink, engage in quality conversation, maybe have a snack, and go home feeling a little better than I did when I left work.

GirthBrooks
GirthBrooks

 @ILikeBeer  @Denver Yup.  Much like Northern CA, it's just about impossible to go anywhere in TX without finding someone making damn good beer and farm-to-table eats....

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