I’ve had a number of conversations recently about the craft beer hype cycle, where certain breweries and beer styles get an inordinate amount of attention on social media, beer rating sites and in trading circles. The hype around these breweries results in long lines and big money for these select establishments, while other breweries that produce a high quality product are just scraping by. The hype becomes a cycle, people are more likely to give the beers high ratings and brag about them on social media when they are rare or expensive, which feeds the hype for the breweries in question. It also leads to ridiculous views by a segment of the craft beer community that these hype beers/breweries are vastly superior and the only beers worth drinking. A great example of this trend in action is showcased in this story from Doochie of Beer Kulture. I wish this was just a singular tale about an isolated jerk, but I bet every person who works in the beer industry or spends time on beer-related social media has a similar tale to tell
A recent article on Good Beer Hunting also highlighted some of the worst parts of craft beer culture and the hype cycle for me. Being passionate and knowledgeable about beer is a great thing, but far too many people are taking this passion too far, often to the point that they come across as jerks. It’s the difference between being a geek and being a snob. While geeks can absolutely get caught up in the hype cycle and chase after rare beers, it’s usually because they are interested in trying everything. Snobs care more about the status associated with the rare beer than how it tastes, and look down on people who aren’t in the know or just don’t care to spend their free time standing in line to buy beer.
For the non-snobs it is easy to just try to ignore the hype, find the beers you love and form your own opinions, but I don’t think that is enough. When I was in my early 20’s I was dating a girl who wanted to learn about wine, so I bought a few books and attended some tastings with her (she didn’t like beer, the relationship was probably doomed from the start). I was immediately put off by the snobby reactions I got at wine events, and never developed a passion for wine. When I started attending beer events and visiting breweries the culture was much more welcoming, but I worry that we are losing that. People who are new to beer see the hype cycle and typically do one of two things, they either buy in and start chasing whalez to fit in or say that craft beer is crazy and stick to Bud Light. I don’t love either option.
The hype cycle also effects breweries. While it’s easy to romanticize brewers as artisans who would brew beer regardless of the finances behind the brewery, these are businesses and they have to make money to remain viable. They also see the hype breweries making crazy cash and inevitably want a piece. This leads to a ton of breweries making the same beer styles (hello hazy IPAs and pastry stouts) and hoping to become the next brewery with lines out the door. This move towards a mono-culture with a few places leading and everyone else trying to follow isn’t good for the majority of breweries or consumers.
Hopefully these first few paragraphs have sold you on the problems with the craft beer hype cycle. I think it is on all of us who love the great things about craft beer to help fight to keep the hype cycle from taking over beer. Here are a few simple things you can do to help break the craft beer hype cycle:
1. Vote with your dollars. I am sure you can all think of some breweries that you love but don’t have the hype engine behind them. Buy their beer. Buy it regularly. Give it away as gifts.
Before someone else points this out, I know that I have spent a lot of time over the past month writing/posting about beers from one of the biggest local hype breweries. Most of this was tied to writing and promoting my latest article for The Full Pint. I am not asking anyone to stop visiting these breweries, most of them make awesome beer. My suggestion in point number 1 is just to mix it up, maybe avoid a big bottle release that is going to draw a line and instead try a new release at a quality establishment where you can walk in and out with no hassle. I hope to spend way more time going forward writing about a variety of other places that deserve some praise, which leads into my next point:
2. Be an influencer. I hate the term influencer, it makes me think of people who are famous despite the fact that they have minimal real skills and contribute little or nothing to society outside of the stupid things they do online. That being said, lots of interest in specific beers and breweries is driven by online interaction. I get great recommendations from fellow beer geeks every week, and hope that Hoppy Boston has been an informative source of recommendations to my readers. Everyone can do this. Spend a little extra time talking up that underrated local place you love. It doesn’t even have to be online, you could do it in real-life interactions with other human beings!
3. Make FRIENDLY recommendations. Here is a template for a conversation I’ve had many times: Comment: “Hey, I just tracked down a couple cans of *insert name of beer from hype brewery*? It has to be the best beer in the state!” Potential reply 1: “Love that beer. Have you ever tried *insert name of beer in similar style from less hyped brewery*? It is really good too, you should give it a shot”. Potential reply 2: “That beer is horribly overrated. Did you really wait in a line to get that? What a waste of time. You should really drink *insert name of beer in similar style from less hyped brewery*, it is way better.” Which reply is going to get the person to give your recommendation a try? Remember the #1 rule of life: Don’t be an asshole.
4. Ignore the trolls. There are some people who are not worth trying to reason with, they are so far removed from reality that they should just be ignored. For example, I once had someone tell me that “Bissell Brothers is the ONLY brewery in Maine worth visiting.” I love Bissell Brothers, but that comment was so idiotic I just chose not to even engage. Make recommendations to people who are interested, but ignore those who are that far gone into hypeland.
5. Don’t use the lingo. I hate the terms “shelfie” “shelf beer” and especially “shelf turd”. A beer that is only sold at a brewery and not distributed is not inherently better. Obviously you need to be careful about freshness and proper storage with hoppy beers, but these terms are derisive and fuel an incorrect stereotype.
6. Drink a variety of styles. The biggest issue I have with the hype cycle is related to specific breweries, but there is also a big issue with hype around specific beer styles. It is not a coincidence that nearly every brewery launches with a bunch of hoppy beers, or if they don’t they will quickly move into hoppy beers when their other styles don’t sell well. I love IPAs, but I make an active effort to drink and highlight other styles of beer that I enjoy. Style diversity is one of the best parts of craft beer, we don’t want a hops-only mono culture.
7. Host a blind tasting. Do you have friends who insist that the best beers come from a couple local hyped up places and nothing else stacks up? Have a blind tasting and pit the whalez against a few readily available beers in a similar style (if you are doing hoppy beers please make sure they are fresh). I think everyone will be surprised by what they prefer when the labels are removed. Need suggestions of awesome beers to include? Ask your friendly neighborhood beer writer!
I think the craft beer hype cycle will always exist to some degree, there will always be people who go overboard with any hobby they are passionate about and there will always be people who care more about the trophy can/bottle than the liquid inside. I also feel that it’s critical for the health of the industry that we mitigate the effects of the hype cycle as much as possible, and I am happy to hear any other ideas that will help accomplish that goal!