By Julia Burke, Beer Editor
What wasn’t on the list? The couple’s favorite local beer. Why not? I’ll back up.
When my friend called me to announce that she was engaged, I was thrilled to help her plan the wine and beer list for her wedding. Staunch locavores, the couple wanted to showcase great California wines and beers without breaking the bank, and I came up with a list of specific recommendations based on my favorite Cali producers.
But since I don’t live in LA, I encouraged the couple to try some of their smaller local breweries and explore more close-to-home options which may not be available to me in New York. I did some research and gave them the names of a couple of small breweries right in LA with good reputations.
Based on my experience in the beer community, I was confident that they’d have a great time taste-testing possibilities despite their relative “newbie” status in the craft beer world.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t quite the case.
While I was out of the country and thus unable to make calls to breweries on their behalf (to check on prices, ordering options and procedure, etc.), my friends checked out one of the local breweries, and were really impressed with the delicious, well-priced beers. The groom-to-be emailed the brewery to rave about the beer and inquire as to whether they might be able to order a keg or two for the wedding.
The owner, who answered the email, said to give him a call. "He seemed somewhat interested in working with me," said my friend.
On the phone, my friend began asking a few basic questions about the process for ordering beer for the wedding. The owner then said, “Look, I don't want to offend you or anything; I've been doing this for 17 years, and you don't really sound like a craftsman beer freak. I just don't want to waste an hour of my time to work with someone who isn't really into craftsman beers."
Apparently, they could've provided beer for my friend's wedding—if he had been less of a newbie.
I don’t know about you, but I’m a little horrified. The groom-to-be, whom I've known for five years, is not a jerk. He is not rude, pushy or ignorant. He is actually a really nice guy, with a passion for all things local and a genuine interest in craft beer (he nominated Deschutes Black Butte Porter for one of the wedding beers, which is hardly what I'd call an "entry-level" choice). No, he’s not a connoisseur—but if the time has come for craft beer to be about snobbery and exclusivity, to the point that well-meaning folks looking to broaden their beer horizons are treated like a Coors van at San Francisco Beer Week, well, hand me a Bud Lite Lime, ’cause I’m going on strike.
How much of a craft beer enthusiast do you need to be to get good service? Is this a California thing? A Los Angeles thing? Is it specific to this brewery, which is remaining nameless at the request of the groom (who didn’t want to “cause trouble”)? As he put it, "I'm not a craftsman connoisseur or anything, but I was a little surprised he didn't just lie and say he didn't have the time to do transactions with non-commercial clients. I mean, I can understand not wanting to deal with individuals/one-off transactions, but you don't need to put me down."
When I think of the breweries I’ve worked with in New York, I can’t imagine a single one showing a bad attitude to a new customer. The staff of every brewery I’ve visited in this state has been friendly, open, down-to-earth, and welcoming to newbies as far as I can tell. But would I have the same experience if I wasn’t in the industry?
Don’t get me wrong; I’ve been called a snob once or twice (albeit only in jest, by bar patrons who are forced to at least sample the craft pilsner on tap before they go macro). I judge lite beer drinkers, always choose restaurants and bars based on tap list, and insist on proper glassware (I’ve got two cabinets’ worth in my tiny kitchen). But I’ve also been known to enjoy a Molson with wings, a Blue at a baseball game, and a Guinness when I’m hungry and low on cash (you can take the girl out of Ireland, but…). And for me, nothing compares to the joy of introducing a new friend or bar patron to craft beer.
We all got into beer because it’s fun and relaxing, and as soon as respect for beer gets in the way of enjoyment, we’ve missed the point entirely. Insulting new customers because they’re not already certified geeks is ludicrous. We all started somewhere.
Is the concern that there are already too many people in the craft beer fold? Are we worried about losing our “tribe” vibe? If so, is this purely ego, or are we afraid that too large a craft scene will compromise quality?
I’d like readers to weigh in: how are New York breweries treating newbies?
Has craft beer become too snobby?