I love beer. Despite my personal and professional obsession with wine, beer is often a more honest and satisfying beverage. It’s like Jay-Z said: “Got a project chick, that plays her part / And if it goes down y’all that’s my heart.” Parades of Burgundies and Bordeaux and Wachaus and Riojas are fine for a hot night at the club, but if the shit hits the fan, man– a Guinness, Pabst, Hite, Lagunitas IPA–well damn.
But it’s still just fucking beer.
I was at a big trade wine tasting a while back and overheard a dumpy white dude in a suit (who wears a suit to a trade tasting in LA?) telling (bragging?) to a not-quite-as-dumpy white chick in jeans and a strappy top that he was a “Certified Beer Educator.”
Being a “Certified Wine Educator” is muddy enough since, largely, certifying organizations are just self-perpetuating bureaucracies at best and pyramid schemes at worst/in most cases.
But at least with wine there is an enormous breadth of distinct product to cover. There are 2000+ different varietals of wine grapes, plus geometric expansion of those varietals into blends. And there are nearly infinite variations in the soil where the grapes are grown. Then throw in an hour seminar on winemaking. So right there you have at least a semester-long course in the basics.
A beer class would have none of the above, except for maybe a two hour seminar on brewing techniques. Most beers have the same ingredients: barley and/or wheat (and in cheaper beers, other cereal grains); one (or several) of about eight major hop varietals; one of a handful of yeasts; water. By virtue of the brewing process, wherein all of the above are cooked together (except for the yeast and sometimes the hops) terroir expressiveness is eliminated.
What you have instead is an expressiveness of a cultural history, which is fantastic and awesome, but it’s not something that can be transported, it’s something to be experienced on location. If you drink a well-made wine from the Rheingau in Los Angeles you’re experiencing a small part of the actual Rheingau. Drinking a Belgian beer in Los Angeles you’re not experiencing Belgium. Having a Belgian beer in Bruges you’re experiencing Belgium to a higher degree.
Throwing beer up on a pedestal is in the same class of disingenuous foodie douchebaggery as “gourmet” burgers and academic discussions about pizza. Beer, burgers, and pizza are all delicious and can be made really really well. But you can’t really fail at beer, burgers and pizza either–I mean really fail. They can be disappointing or mediocre, but they can’t fail.
Or, more accurately, beer, burgers and pizza only fail when ambition overshoots their humble purpose. A $16 burger is more likely to fail than a $3 burger. So it is with beer. I’ve yet to have a cheap beer that was bad. Mostly, cheap beer just tastes like dirty water–often water that tastes better than the Zone 7 shit I grew up with. But sometimes expensive beers served in wine bottles aggro-ed out with four separate hop treatments, a fistful of wormwood, and some cardamom, can fail spectacularly.
Let’s all just calm down and like what we like because we like it. It’s just food, it’s just beer, hell it’s just wine. It’s meant to make our lives more pleasurable and more interesting. Don’t turn that crucial, personal right over to some shlub who shelled out $200 for a few classes so he can get piece of paper. Great! Now he can make $14.75/hr. assistant managing at the Yard House instead of $14.15.
A certified beer expert is about as interesting to me as a certified handjob expert. And just about as hard to become.