Episode V: The Beer Geek Strikes Back

By Kellan Bartosch

With so many beer nerds and beer geeks causing a ruckus these days, it begs the question…will The Real Slim Shady please stand up? Lost in a sea of self-appropriation where craft beer knowledge often falls on untrained ears, there is a question of what terms like beer geek really mean. Craft beer is a world with vast exposure on a surface level, but one that takes time and some true digging to arrive at the cherry-filled center. But is there ever an arrival?

Much like George Harrison sang in the Beatles hidden gem “The Inner Light:” The farther one travels, the less one knows. Brewers Association Craft Beer Program Director Julia Herz echoes this sentiment as she considers herself “a beer beginner on an unending journey to learn more about craft beer.”

We pledge to follow your lead master beer Jedi Herz. Let’s take the nerdiness to another level as we compare the tactics of a few intergalactic beer ninjas using analogies from Star Wars to discuss today’s craft beer geek!

Aren’t You a Little Short for a Storm Trooper?

In the prequels of Star Wars, we learn the back story of Darth Vader. He was once a promising young Jedi that failed to assimilate, choosing to use his knowledge and power to alienate and harm the virtuous Jedi ways. Unfortunately, there are many similar stories in the craft beer world.

I recently came across a beer review from a “beer geek” that said something like this: “Wheat beer, ugh! Belgium yeast astringency, ugh! Bad beer.”

Well, it’s “Belgian” yeast, which tends to have lemony, apple or pear-like esters (fruity flavors), with black peppery phenols (spicy notes). Astringency is a dry or rough mouthfeel that in beer is generally associated with intense or harsh characteristics, while most hefeweizens are thought to be thirst-quenching. To quote my beer peer Jenner Costello, this beer geek’s review sounds like “the Cascadian dark ale calling the black IPA black.”

These Are Not the Droids You Are Looking For

Too often there is the simple “good” or “bad” description of a craft beer. A beer Jedi more advanced than myself recently used the Force to inform someone: “Don’t say it’s a bad beer; say you don’t like it.” That’s a Jedi mind trick, son! Don’t be a Beer Vader! The dark side only brings negativity and discord.

Craft Beer Vader

American craft beer is currently experiencing a huge surge, but a lot of us were raised in a post prohibition world where drinking anything besides an American light lager was unheard of for most of our lives.

Luke had to endure the backwards syntax of Yoda and get his arm chopped off by his evil dad before becoming a Jedi. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither are beer geeks!

You’ve Never Heard of the Millennium Falcon?

As beer drinkers, we must be aware of our tone. I may or may not have heard someone once say: “I’m a total beer nerd. You talk to Bill Gates about computers; you talk to me about beer.”

Oh snap! That’s a Death Star beam of narcissism! Emperor Palpatine was a megalomaniac who made cat hissy faces while shooting lightning bolts from his fingers, estranging others as he attempted to take over the galaxy, but inside I’m sure the inner child of this lonely dictator was a sad panda.

Beer snobs are in danger of alienating people by flaunting their power as well. No one likes to be talked down to or made to feel dumb because of their lack of experience. It’s important to keep in mind the regionality of craft beer—just because Russian River’s Damnation Batch 23 is available at your local shop, doesn’t mean that’s the case for the majority of craft beer drinkers—take the opportunity to learn about someone else’s regional favorites.

The Force is Strong in This One: Recognition of the Craft Beer Jedi

After Luke Skywalker defeated the Empire in laser tag and realized having a crush on his sister Leia was messed up, he has a vision of Yoda—the friendly ghost of his once evil dad Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker—while Obi Won Kenobi sheepishly smiles at him from the swinging bridges of Ewok Village. As younglings growing to use the craft beer Force, I’d like to offer up my version of who those three might be if pint glasses took the place of light sabers.

Grossman Star WarsKen Grossman as Obi Won Kenobi

The founder of Sierra Nevada Brewing Company (SNBC) is a pioneer and legend in the American craft beer movement. Full transparency here—I’m a former SNBC employee—but to me, their Pale Ale is the quintessential American beer and a big reason IPAs are all the rage these days. Bigfoot, Celebration and their underrated Stout and Porter also existed in the 80s and were great contributors to what we know of American beer styles today. Sierra Nevada tied for the most medals at the 2012 World Beer Cup showing their great versatility, timeless relevance and Mr.Grossman’s Obi Won Kenobi status.

Michael Jackson as Yoda

The smooth criminal? No, not that MJ…however this MJ was just as revolutionary as the moonwalk! The late beer writer Michael Jackson’s books on beer in the 70s were a catalyst for the American craft beer renaissance that was soon to follow. Jackson’s works on beer history, categorization of styles, and the ensuing inspiration caused Fritz Maytag (Anchor Brewing Company) to consider him the greatest influence on the world of beer since Louis Pasteur’s microbiology brought an understanding to fermentation. His books and videos sparked the interest of consumers and brewers alike, including this beer wookiee. I used to practice my crotch grabs and high pitched “woos” in the mirror, but now I want to be able to taste barley pops like this beer Yoda.

Randy Mosher Star WarsRandy Mosher as Anakin Skywalker

There are many who could fill the Anakin Skywalker slot on the aforementioned hologram, but Randy Mosher fits the bill for me. His book Radical Brewing helped bring brewing methodology to the potential lawlessness of “extreme beers,” while Tasting Beer is a benchmark for terminology and taste buds. In addition, he is an accomplished graphic designer and his work has been visually telling the story of craft beer for over 20 years.

Others Worthy of Jedi Status

  • Garret Oliver | Brooklyn Brewery: he wears medieval fireman outfits and Jedi robes normally.
  • Fred Eckhart | beer guru and writer: possibly the best mustache in the business!
  • Charlie Papazian | founder of the American Homebrewers Association and Association of Brewers: a.k.a the gypsum god.
  • Fritz Maytag | Anchor Brewing Company
  • Sam Calagione | Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Ales
  • Louis Pasteur | French chemist and microbiologist: the man wrote the book on fermentation, literally.
  • William IV | Duke of Bavaria: initiated the Reinheitsgebot (German Beer Purity Law) in 1516.
  • Ninkasi | Sumerian goddess of beer

Whether you claim beer geek, snob, connoisseur or otherwise, the words and humility of beer gurus like these should be your guide as you aspire to beer nerd status.

Ready are You? What Know You of Ready? – How to Train on Your Own

Yoda was the teacher Luke needed, but Luke trained extensively on Dagobah before a true Jedi he was. For starters, the authorities mentioned above have written many books to help establish a great foundation or take you to galaxies far, far away in the beer universe. Here are some programs and activities that could act as a good training ground as well:

Beer Judge Certification Program

The purpose of the Beer Judge Certification Program is to promote beer literacy and the appreciation of real beer, and to recognize beer tasting and evaluation skills. They certify and rank beer judges through an examination and monitoring process and have a great mobile app to help learn styles.

Cicerone Certification Program

The Cicerone® Certification Program was established by all-around beer veteran Ray Daniels, covering five major categories in beer. The word Cicerone has been chosen to designate those with proven expertise in selecting, acquiring and serving today’s wide range of craft beers, much like a sommelier is to wine.

Homebrewing

Learning the steps and science of designing beers, dedicating the time and space for the hobby, and making sense of the minutia and care needed to make even a decent product, brings a unique understanding to craft beer. The American Homebrewers Association is a great starting place for anyone interested in in the hobby.

May The Force Be With You

Beer VaderNone of the above makes you the end all be all when it comes to craft beer, and I say all of this knowing that I have been that divisive snob too many times already.

Becoming a beer geek is a journey, not a destination, and there is probably always someone who knows more than you. Connoisseur status doesn’t happen with a few mix six-packs from the supermarket, but that’s a sip in the right direction.

Worst of all, claiming to be a beer nerd and looking down your nose at others does nothing to promote the product, culture and craft breweries we love! Otherwise, we are in danger of going to the dark side and banishing others to the desert of lite beer with our condescending fingers.

The words “geek” or “snob” imply some haughty, contemptuous angle out of the gate. What if we called ourselves beer “lovers” or “enthusiasts” or “enjoyers” instead? I’m am personally guilty of thinking too much about a beer while I’m drinking, but beer is a social beverage meant to be enjoyed in the company of others, not constantly analyzed and inspected.

There is a time to discuss IBUs and ABVs, but recognizing when to pull back the reigns and just be a fan will help the industry and our beloved craft beer move forward.

Just as Han Solo once advised a droid on a scheme that would benefit the good of the whole by saying, “I suggest a new strategy, R2. Let the wookiee win.” May the Force be with you on your craft beer journey!

Bibliography: GeeksOfDoom.com/starwars – I’d like to thank this Star Wars geek website of quotes for helping me write this article!

Images © Brewers Association and Shutterstock.

Kellan BartoschKellan Bartosch is a Certified Cicerone® with 6+ years experience in the beer industry split between a distributor and craft beer pioneers Sierra Nevada Brewing Company. Kellan hopes that through his writing he can help educate craft beer fans on the many facets of the beer world while landing a few laughs along the way. Find Kellan on Twitter at @KellanB and Facebook.