Becoming a Beer Snob

Beer - that simple yet magical elixir derived from water, barley, hops and yeast - has never had the same cachet as wineNote1 Like all sweeping generalizations, this one isn't entirely true. The preferred epithet for the prone inebriate in the alleyway is, after all, not "beero" but "wino", which doesn't exactly reflect well on wine. On the other hand, the name used to invoke the average, typical and (presumably) pretension-free workaday member of the proletariat is "Joe Sixpack", not, say, "Willie Winebox", the latter being, most likely, more petit bourgeoisie, whereas those who drink wine from bottles are probably upper class elites. My overall point here being that wine, in general, is viewed as being classier than beer.. At least not here in the United States.

Wrong Hops
Until relatively recently, that is.

There was, truth be told, good reason for the Dangerfieldian-level of disrespect American beer used to get:

The US Constitution's 18th Amendment, which went into effect in 1920, prohibited "the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all the territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes". Hence, for over thirteen years, until this amendment was repealed via the ratification of the 21st Amendment in 1933Note2 It is interesting to contrast the tortured syntax and gratuitously complex sentence structure of the 18th Amendment (see above) with the bluntly straightforward language of the 21st, which begins: "The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed." This is the pithy, no-nonsense, get-to-the-point-already linguistic construct of a Congress, and a populace, with no time to waste and in desperate need of a beer.
Note2aOne other interesting thing to note about the 18th Amendment is that it did not outlaw the private possession and imbibing of alcoholic beverages. Citizens of Jazz Age America could legally drink as much beer as they liked. They just couldn't buy it. Or import it. Or transport it. Or make it. But the passage of the 18th Amendment in no way infringed upon citizens' right to stop, tap and drink the contents of any stray keg that might miraculously appear out of the aether and roll on by. (Alas, no historical record tallying the number of times these miracle kegs appeared has survived.), there was no beer to be had in the USNote3 No other alcoholic beverages, either, obviously. But for the purposes of this (beer) post, who cares? . Not legally, anyway.

Not Barley
The 18th Amendment had the deleterious effect of killing off what had been a relatively robust and varied beer industry in the United States. When brewing and selling beer once again became legal in the US, large-scale production of one particular beer style (namely, Pilsner-style lager) became the rule. In post-Prohibition America, it was next-to-impossible to find anything other than mass-produced lagerNote4 N.B.: There is nothing wrong with or inherently inferior about the lager style - though mass-produced lagers made by brewing behemoths tend to be unremarkable, to put it as politely as possible. A well-made lager is a fine beer indeed, in the same way that a well-made vanilla ice cream is a really good ice cream. It's just that there are so many more flavors out there, so why should ice cream lovers be restricted to consuming only vanilla? It's the same with beer. Beer styles run the gamut from lager to stout (and that's just the color gamut; there are tons of other beer gamuts; you could say there is a gamut of gamuts, though I would advise against it). But the post-Prohibition US market knew, for the most part, only (mass-produced) lager and, consequently, most American beer-drinkers literally did not know what they were missing..

All of that changed (albeit slowly) starting in the late 1970s with the emergence of smaller, so-called "craft" brewers in America, who initiated a beer renaissance that started on the west coast (for the most part) and slowly and fitfully made its way across the United States - aided, in part, by a 1978 federal law legalizing home brewing. Today, there are craft micro-breweries in every single state.

Ned's the Yeast of our Problems
So now it is as easy to find a good stout in America as it is in Ireland. You don't need to go to Yorkshire to find a tasty British bitter - you can get one on-tap at your favorite pub or restaurant, or, failing that, find a variety of the bottled kind at your nearest beer distributor.

But what if you feel you don't know enough about beer to, say, order the perfect beer style to go with your meal of poached salmon? Well, that is where the the Mercer County Library's vast resources can come to your aid. To wit:

The Beer Book edited by Tim Hampson.
Beers of the World by David Kenning.
World Beer by Tim Hampson.
Brew Masters [dvd].
The Complete Beer Course: Boot Camp for Beer Geeks: From Novice to Expert in Twelve Tasting Classes by Joshua M. Bernstein.

These are just a few of the items available at the library that can get you started on the road to becoming a genuine beer snob. Or, to put it more politely, they can help you become more knowledgeably about beer and beer cultureNote5"Beer culture" being no longer an oxymoron..

For instance, if you've ever overheard beer snobs discussing their favorite IPAs, you may have felt too intimidated to join the discussion because, well ... what exactly is an IPA?

The resources listed above would teach you that ...

IPA stands for India Pale Ale and it got its name partly because of its pale copper hue but also because it was the style of beer that British brewers developed to send overseas to colonists and troops in India during the era of the British Empire (late-18th and 19th centuries). IPAs are characterized by their pronounced bitterness, which is the result of the use of a lot of hops in the recipe. The hops not only imparted a pleasantly sharp bitter flavor to the ale, but, because hops have a preservative quality, they kept the beer from spoiling on the long sea voyage from the UK to India, a trip that, in the 19th century, could take months.

And incidentally: A pale ale's "delicate, bitter flavor[...] work[s] well with mild seafood dishes" (World Beer, p. 21) – such as, for example, poached salmon.

Having read this far, you have, whether you know it or not, taken your first tentative step toward becoming a Beer Snob. Finish the journey by coming in to the library and checking out our resources on that classy beverage, beer.
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Kangaroo courtesy of Best Clip Art
Charles Barkley courtesy DeadSpin
Ned Yost courtesy Baseball Almanac

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