I can forgive most hipster sins. The beards. The preference for vinyl records in an era when you can have a million songs on a gadget in the arse pocket of your jeans. Even that cereal café. But so long as I live I will never forgive the hip for what they’ve done to beer.
They’ve spiked this most democratic drink with snobbery. The craft-beer movement, manned by middle-class pseudo-blokes who would rather go to Raqqa than step foot in a Wetherspoon’s, has brought the fussiness of the wine-sipper into the unfussy world of the beer-drinker.
Beer snobs are easy to spot. They might use the word ‘balletic’ to describe footballers. They will convulse if you say, ‘Let’s have a Bud.’ And they’ll bore you stiff with tales of their experiments in home-brewing.
Microbreweries, defined in the US as producing fewer than 15,000 barrels of beer a year, first emerged in Britain in the 1970s and spread to America in the 1980s. They’re generally a good thing: the more beer humanity makes, the better. But hip haters of anything inauthentic have now moved into microbrewing and made it ‘artisan’. Which used to mean ‘things made by hand’ but now means ‘things plebs don’t buy that are therefore good’.
There’s been an explosion in wackily named craft beers. Arrogant Bastard Ale, anyone? A bottle of Hoptimus Prime? Because what’s the point in having a beer if you can’t Instagram its zany name, with the hashtag #craftbeer, natch, so that other likeminded loathers of mass-produced booze can chortle over it between sips of their lovingly fermented tipple. (They really do sip their beer. It’s the most annoying thing about them.)
As for the flavours. The basic combo of starch, yeast and hops that kept humans happy for centuries isn’t enough for the beer snob. His beer has to be fruit-flavoured or nutty. There’s a Doughnut Chocolate, Banana and Peanut Butter Ale. Not making this up. Imagine ordering such a poncy concoction in a normal pub — your face would be as likely as your Instagram feed to be decorated with a bottle.
As with so much hip consumerism, the craft-beer irritant really wants to distinguish himself from Them: ‘ordinary people’ who eat at Maccy D’s, shop at Primark and — brace yourselves — drink Stella Artois. That Stella is referred to as ‘wife beater’ tells you all you need to know about beer snobbery: we clever consumers of micro-beer just want to satisfy our super-alert palates; they, the downers of pints of yellow slosh churned out by a corporation, are made mad by their chosen poison.
It’s not authenticity these weirdly consumerist critics of consumer society seek — it’s exclusivity, the feeling of belonging to a switched-on gang who, unlike the rest of us, can resist the lure of the chain pub and its cheap pish. To drink Maple Bacon Coffee Porter (seriously) is to say: ‘I’m better than you.’
I hate this snootiness because beer is the everyman drink; after water and tea the most popular drink on earth. Prince and pauper alike neck it. In the Middle Ages, when water wasn’t always safe, peasants turned to cheap, trusty beer for hydration. Now there’s a beer called The End of History costing £500 a bottle. Probably because the bottle is inside a dead weasel. Really. These people.
Microbreweries, micro-restaurants (a restaurant with one table): why the obsession with smallness? Big is more beautiful. Here are three mass-produced beers far better than any craft beer I’ve tried: ‘Wife beater’ itself; it may have a fast-disappearing head and look like urine but it delivers a beautiful kick of malt. Samuel Adams, a malty and sweet vision in amber. (First brewed by one bloke in his Boston kitchen in 1984, now churning out five million litres a year. To the purist, it’s a sellout.)
And finally Brooklyn Lager. This fancies itself as a hip beer, and is drunk by people who love hip beer. But, considering it now produces 250,000 barrels a year and is available in more than 20 countries, it’s well and truly one of the big boys. Made to a pre-Prohibition recipe, it’s smooth, caramel-ish, and you can almost taste the bustle of early 20th-century Brooklyn, when beer exactly like this was being guzzled, not sipped, by all: the great classless social lubricant.