Beervana Derangement Syndrome

Over at The New School, Ben Edmunds describes a fascinating experience he had recently when Travel Oregon asked him to walk some travel writers through craft-brewed beer. He chose a list that would make any reader of this blog salivate:
I was asked to do a flight of beers from Portland breweries, so I chose six, well-respected beers that highlight the full range of the city’s offerings: Upright Brewing's Gose, Hopworks IPA, Laurelwood’s Portland Roast Espresso Stout, Cascade Apricot Ale, Hair of the Dog Adam, and Full Sail Top Sail.
You know what came next, right?
I couldn’t have misread my audience more. While these folks appreciated the unique flavors—their favorite word to describe the beers was “curious”—they were quick to say that they didn’t really enjoy any of the beers.
Ben reflects on a bunch of possibilities about why things went sideways, but he gets it exactly right with this comment: "This tasting’s failure to impress makes me question that approach and burst my beer geek bubble."

We do live in a bubble. And by "we" I mean humans. We tend to associate with people who share our values, interests, and backgrounds. The result is a misleading feedback loop that our views are mainstream. This isn't quite as obvious in the beer world, but in the other world I inhabit--politics--the truth is stark. Pollsters periodically ask people not only about their views, but about whether they believe others share their views--almost uniformly people do. Since everyone around us shares our views, we assume the rest of the country does, too. Classic sample bias.

With beer, what has happened to us is that our views have gradually changed, but since all the people we know are changing, too, we don't notice it. Another example. When I was in grad school, there was this wonderful professor of Indian religions named David Knipe. He was an American-born scholar, but had been studying Hinduism for over forty years and spent half his time in India. By increments, as his understanding of Indian religion deepened, he began to forget what it was like not to know. Concepts like karma and reincarnation became so natural they were like water to a fish. Because he was the resident India expert, the school asked him to teach an introductory religions course, but he was terrible at it. Eighteen-year-old farm kids from Fon du Lac sat with their mouths literally gaping while he spoke. He might have been lecturing in Telugu for all they knew.

Beer geeks in the Pacific Northwest suffer from this problem--call it Beervana Derangement Syndrome (BDS). We forget what it was like when Heineken was a challenging beer. When we think of "beer," the range goes all the way to Pliny the Younger and Boon Gueuze, but doesn't include Hamm's. When we think of a mild, approachable beer, we think of a light saison. Only under the influence of BDS could a person think of introducing a travel writer to beer via Upright Gose.

The truth, of course, is that less than five percent of the beer sold is craft beer. Soured ales and imperial IPAs? So little of these beers are sold that, statistically, they don't exist. We might as well be talking about quarks for all the rest of the world is concerned. In the bell curve of beer, we're so far out in the tail that most charts don't even go that far.

Ben probably should have chosen a list that went from the familiar and then took people gradually into the deep end of the pool. Something like Session --> Widmer Hefeweizen --> Black Butte Porter --> BridgePort IPA, and finishing up with the big shocker --> Hair of the Dog Adam. Next time.

On the other hand, there are a lot worse ailments the Beervana Derangement Syndrome. We suffer from a kind of zymurgic dysphasia, but it doesn't affect our lives unless we encounter outsiders. Even then, the worst symptoms are confusion, disbelief, and pity. Oh, and the medication is amazing.