Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Class in a glass

There have recently been a few postings on beer blogs discussing the issue of when the appreciation of unusual and expensive beers turns from simple enthusiasm to beer snobbery, such as here, here and here.

A point that was made was that some of this was tied up with the British class system, and it wasn’t anywhere near so prevalent in other countries. However, I have certainly got the impression that food and drink snobbery was alive and well in the USA, and indeed was often accentuated by being tied up with the “culture wars” that are a much more pronounced feature of that country’s society. This was confirmed by this piece I unearthed about food snobbery, which has very clear echoes of the way many craft beer devotees enthuse about their favoured brews:
Whereas you’re keen on Granny Smiths, he insists that you haven’t even tasted an apple until you’ve sampled a Newtown Pippin...

...Artisanal. Adjective suggestive of handmade goods and old-fashioned craftsmanship. In the food world, a romantic epithet bestowed upon the cheesemaker, breadbaker, bacon-curer, etc., who labors in his or her integrity-steeped native locale, independent of the pressures and toxicities of Big Food, to produce exquisite high-end, SMALL-BATCH edibles available by mail-order.

“The farmstand’s shelves groaned with a dazzling array of
artisanal pickles.”
To my mind, anyone who ever uses the term “artisanal” in a food and drink context is unquestionably guilty of snobbery.

The pieces on the same site about rock snobbery and wine snobbery are also well worth reading.

Much of this modern snobbery is not driven by social-climbing affectation, as was often the case in the past, but by a genuine belief that one is being a champion of quality in food and drink, and indeed in other aspects of culture. But this can easily turn into a rancorous and patronising denigration of those – often from a working-class background – who do not share your heightened appreciation. Ironically this often comes from those who would consider themselves as having a left-wing political outlook. It’s far from uncommon to read denunciations in the columns of the Guardian and the Independent of people who swill Carling and eat Big Macs and pizzas from Iceland. If only we could have a society where everybody could afford to buy polenta from Waitrose!

In beer terms, I would say the key factor differentiating the snob from the mere enthusiast is whether you feel a sense of superiority over the unenlightened by choosing the expensive and exotic, or whether you just think “each to his own”.

I also came across this blog post about beer snobbery. Some of the “types of beer snobs”, particularly the “Beer Führer” and “Beer geek” are all too familiar.


  1. Polenta (serves 10) from Waitrose's online wing: £1.29

    Big mac (serves 1) ~£2.29

    Eating "snobbishly" well does not have to be expensive (though polenta is vile.)

    Snobbishness is usually high-information consumers being snobbish about low-information consumers, not high-spend consumers about low-spend consumers.

  2. I agree with zatytom about snobbishness being a result of high-information consumers vs. low, but there are consumers who may have a large amount of information and still choose not to be snobbish.

    A snob isn't snobbish because he has information, he's snobbish because he's an ass hole.

  3. I would say that, particularly in the current age of "information overload", that most consumers don't make decisions because of poor information, but because they make a different trade-off of price/value/consistency/perceived utility from that which the enthusiast would make.

    There may be "old granny" consumers who buy things because they always have, but when it comes to beer or any food products your typical working-class guy/gal is actually pretty savvy.

    To suggest otherwise is patronising.

  4. I was agreeing with you until you brought in a spurious reference to left wing politics, not because of my own politics, but because it's wrong. I have come across right-wingers who can be just as snobby about beer and food as some lefties. Besides, The Guardian and The Independent aren't really left-wing; well-meaning liberal at best. More Nick Clegg than Tony Benn.

    The hallmark of the snob, as opposed to the discerning consumer, is their inability to appreciate that other people can be as choosy as they are about something completely different. Thus the beer snob who just regards food as a pit stop may mock foodies and the foodie and/or wine lover looks down on the beer drinker as uncouth. And so on. The snobbery is in the attitude rather than the enthusiasm.

  5. No political viewpoint has a monopoly on snobbery. But one expects it from Lord Snooty. It is particularly rich when Hampstead Socialists start banging on about the burger-guzzling and lager-swilling antics of the lower orders.

  6. I should mention it was left wing
    and liberal pontificating snobbish
    MPs who voted for the carnage in theworking class pub sector whilst
    waving death shrouds supplied by
    nauseating middle class health freaks.

    Dying pub counter

  7. Hi Anon. Still not in the real world, I see. Loads of your Tory chums, Anon, voted for the smoking ban too, and I notice they haven't changed it they got into government, but you probably see the Tory party as Commies anyway.

    I'm going to let you into a secret that even Curmudgeon doesn't know: I'm a non-smoker but I supported the ventilated, enclosed room option for the smoking ban. But, like you, I had no vote in the matter, so in reality it made no difference what I thought.

    Keep 'em coming, Anon; your delusions are always good for a laugh.

  8. Hmm. Think it's unfair to dismiss Tom's comment there. His point, I think, is that snobbishness arises in any situation where there are layers of expertise (geekery). Bet the same happens in a lot of hobbies where there is no strong benefit to being rich, and cachet attached to obscure knowledge, e.g. train spotting or supporting non-league football.

    In fact, you could argue that there's a certain snobbery in "sneering" (as everyone seems to like that word) at upstarts who know so little about beer they waste their money on flashy imports and limited editions. It's 'lording it' based on experience and time served -- just as exclusive, in it's own way.

  9. I'm sure we're all vulnerable to having our our buying choices influenced by those influencers that we choose to pay attention to. Broadsheet readers are liable to be persuaded that polenta (yuk) and artisanal products are necessarily delish, consumers of commercial television that the offering from McD or Iceland is a good buy. It's just a matter of who's pulling what wool over whose eyes. I'm not convinced that it's just the middle classes who are deluded, or that "your typical working-class guy/gal" is making perfectly rational decisions.

  10. Snobbery...a subject you could devote a whole lifetime to. It is no respecter of class, age, politics, race or any other (arbitrary) human distinction you could make. It seems to me that it is inbuilt into some people who want to be superior. Most of the time it is harmless, fortunately.

    However, you've reminded me of the time I accused a friend of mine of being a snob. He replied, "I'm not a snob, I just have standards!"

  11. I see much of this as a consequence of the smoking ban (sorry Nev). Ban comes in. Child-friendly new pubs which are essentially restaurants serving beer necessarily spring up as drinking pubs go to the wall. Comfortably off middle class families with children patronise them because of the clean air and less boisterous atmosphere. Middle class daddy decides to amuse himself by getting interested in beer. He's either grown out of, never wanted to, or his wife won't let him get trolleyed. In any case his precious children are often with him so he can't. He also takes notice of health scares. Consequently he drinks small amounts of "craft" beers whose cost is of little consequence to him.

    There is a parallel with football. All seater stadia came in as did the Premiership and SKY TV money. The seats attracted the middle classes and the middle aged. The working classes were priced out. Middle class literature and phone-ins appeared (Nick Hornby about supporting Arsenal and David Mellor on R5). People started leaving before the end to avoid the traffic jams. The middle classes began to call Stamford Bridge, "The Bridge" and White Hart Lane, "The Lane". Pass the sick bag. Swearing was banned, as was smoking. The pre Premiership supporters now sit at home watching TV, drinking cheap beer and smoking (hopefully Belgian cigarettes and tobacco - they owe nothing).

    BTW, I'm middle class and was a beer snob back in 1990, when Brendan Dobbin had the Kings Arms, way before these arrivistes discovered great beer. Some of your older readers might have drunk the beer from the Muller (of Munster) brewery which I imported in the early nineties.


Comments, especially on older posts, may require prior approval by the blog owner. See here for details of my comment policy.

Please register an account to comment. To combat persistent trolling, unregistered comments are liable to be deleted unless I recognise the author. If you intend to make more than the occasional comment using an unregistered ID, you will need to tell me something about yourself.