Some Thoughts About Being Mean

The other day a friend told me that I’m mean. His actual word was “cunty.”

My friend is not in the beer industry, but he has friends who are. Something I wrote or said – or maybe several things I have written or said – upset those friends. I am too negative. I am too hard to please. I’m never satisfied.

I had a similar experience after Facebook posting my thoughts about a brewery in another state. An owner messaged me with a long missive expressing surprise at my assessment of their ales. He left a phone number, so I called. I sat through a 20-minute harangue. He had no interest in hearing my thoughts. I could say nothing more than, “I stand by my experience of your beers.”

Maybe I am too negative. Maybe my words are sometimes harsh. It’s true that I have become a bit jaded about the beer scene. But part of my role in that scene is critic. When faced with obvious process flaws and off-flavors, it is my job to call it out. Indeed, I have heard increasing demand from consumers and long-time industry professionals to do more of that.

The criticism of my critique is often that I’m not giving brewers a chance. I’m too quick to name the problems. These brewers are young and passionate. They have dreams. I’m stepping on these dreams when all they need is time to work things out. It’s a difficult step to go from brewing ten gallons at a time to brewing ten barrels. Rather than publicly calling them out, I should go in and talk to them.

In what other industry do we say this? Imagine a newly minted ladder company led by young people with a passion for helping people climb. Their stepladders look great, but a manufacturing flaw prevents them from being unfolded. Would we say to those ladder makers, “You’re young. You’re passionate. You just need time to work it out. Until you do, I’ll keep buying your ladders.” If Consumer Reports tested such a ladder they would give a scathing review. They wouldn’t call the company to gently walk them through the product’s flaws.

Somehow though, we’ve decided that beer is different. Passion, dreams, and the difficulties of scaling up are reason enough to learn the craft on the drinker’s dime. Inexperienced brewers should be protected from the consequences of their inability to deliver a quality product.

I reject this. Like any other manufactured product – and beer is a manufactured product – it’s not impossible to get it right the first time. Sure some recipe tweaks might be needed. But there is no excuse for process flaws and obvious off-flavors. It’s simply a matter of knowing what you’re doing.

Perhaps before opening a brewery, make the effort to learn how to brew. Before making the leap from your five-gallon Igloo cooler to a state of the art rig, learn how all that fancy equipment works. Go to brewing school. Work in a brewery. Get down and dirty with the chemistry of beer making. Learn about water. Nibble on grains. Train yourself to recognize the flavors that should not be there. If you don’t want to develop that expertise yourself, hire someone who has it.

Get your shit together and I’ll stop being a cunt.