‘Wine-ification’ of Beer Article Just Sour Grapes

By Andy Sparhawk

Originally posted to the Brewers Association Member Forum, the following letter has been adjusted for CraftBeer.com readers with the permission of the author and the Brewers Association.


Craft brewers take issue with NYT article portraying large format bottles as trying to be like wine

By Garrett Oliver

The New York Times recently published an article “Craft Beer’s Larger Aspirations Cause A Stir.” In this article, The New York Times (NYT), usually a fount of very good beer writing, essentially posits that craft beer producers are money-grubbing elitists trying to drag humble beer away from its populist roots. The writer says that 22 oz. and 750 ml bottles are “getting a chilly reception from many drinkers” and that “many beer drinkers are uncomfortable with the notion of drinking beer like wine, to be split among several people.” Here’s another quote for you:

“The trend toward large bottles is part of what is being called the “wine-ification” of beer, the push by many brewers to make their product as respectable to pair with braised short ribs as is a nice Chateauneuf-du-Pape, and at a price to match.”

Let me be clear. I love The New York Times—half the internet would disappear tomorrow if it ceased to exist. But this article is so replete with omissions and chock-full of inaccuracies that I feel we [craft brewers] cannot give it a pass. It is know-nothing opinion masquerading as reporting. I am not hearing from my customer saying that they don’t want more big bottles of interesting barrel-aged beers. We can’t even keep up.

Aside from this, wine itself is not “wine-ified.” About 90 percent of the American wine market is bag-in-box or jug wine in a big bottle with a finger loop. This is the “true” American wine market, which looks exactly like the beer market—10 percent at the top, and 90 percent at the bottom. And it was always so. Museums in Europe are filled with ornate gold and silver beer vessels, and beer has always been on the tables of kings and peasants alike—just like wine. The large bottle with the mushroom cork is original to beer, not to wine. So why is the “paper of record” telling us what beer ought to be? And our [brewers] traditions and history? And what my customers are asking for? It seems that the writer wants us back at the kid’s table. And keep in mind that many, many other papers copy what the NYT does.

I don’t know about you, but I’m very, very tired of this. If you think I dost protest too much, I suggest you think again. The NYT is massively influential, it’s read world-wide, and this article will be read by many more people, I suspect, than reads the entirety of the dedicated beer press.

To their credit, when I complained to an editor, the NYT decided to open the online article for comments. As of this hour, there are 42. I want to see 400. Please let them hear from the rest of you. Comments and “top emailed” is how they keep score. Tell them the truth. Tell them what you’ve seen out there, what you’re here to do, and what your customers are telling you. We need to send this sort of “journalism” packing. Please go to the NYT website and weigh in.

Cheers,

Garrett Oliver
Brewmaster, The Brooklyn Brewery
Editor-in-Chief, The Oxford Companion to Beer

 

Andy Sparhawk, the Brewers Association's craft beer program coordinator, is a Certified Cicerone® and BJCP Beer Judge. He lives in Arvada, Colorado where he is a homebrewer and avid craft beer enthusiast. On occasion, Andy is inspired to write on his experiences with craft beer, and if they are not too ridiculous, you might see the results here on CraftBeer.com.

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