Thursday, June 22, 2006

IS BEER SNOBBERY THE WHITEST HOBBY SINCE LACROSSE?

Pull up a stool at a 40+-taphouse in the US, attend a domestic microbrewed beer festival, look at the faces shown partying in any Celebrator, Northwest Brewing News or Ale Street News, and you’ll see the biggest collection of pasty white faces this side of the Kennebunkport High girls’ field hockey squad. I should know – I have one myself. But to broach the delicate subject of race and craft beer consumption, one must be willing to ask if there are indeed subtle palate differences between the races that make it so, or if it’s just something of an unfortunate outreach issue that the microbreweries haven’t tackled yet. I don’t know. Asian friends are the first to tell me that Asians often don’t do too well with too many drinks – and yet in Japan, beer culture and especially sake culture are rampant. Every salaryman is out on the town with his co-workers 5 nights a week slamming the alcohol down, and sure, it might be Sapporo or Kirin or Asahi or whatever, but it’s beer just the same. Anyway, microbrewery culture is not about the quantity consumed but the quality & craft of the 1-2 or 3 pints taken in on any given evening. So where are the Asian faces at said bars and events? I dunno.

Folks of a Middle Eastern persuasion, I can understand. They’re typically not at the cocktail bars or wine bars in droves either. Latin Americans? Not sure – could be a clinging love for the cold, refreshing beers of their hot, blast furnace of a homeland, rather than the complex and often acquired taste of a microbrew. What about African-Americans? Well, let’s think about it this way. The beer that I and those of you reading this blog have fallen for has its roots in Germany, Belgium, the UK and surrounding areas. European areas. White areas. Black people did not live in those areas 100-700 years ago (those that did were certainly not there of their own accord), and thus had no wide exposure to it until it popped up and started to spread quickly in America around – jeez, what, 15-20 years ago? Those of us with English, German, Dutch etc. roots, well, I’d be hard-pressed to say that there’s a natural inborn palate for the stuff – otherwise Australians would be cranking out great beer now, and Americans would have done so far earlier than we did – but maybe drinking European-style craft beer is a sort of solidarity with the motherland in some sort of semi-conscious way. African-Americans, lacking said inborn connection, stick to drinking something closer to home for them personally. There are undoubtedly class issues at play (below-poverty-line white Americans aren’t buying Anchor Steam any more than below poverty-line black Americans), and who knows, maybe some physiological ones as well. I just know that in a diverse state like California, being in a room with 100 people, with 99 of them typically being whiter than white, is a pretty goddamn jarring thing. Sounds like some clever marketers have some untapped market issues to think about.

4 comments:

chris said...

Great article, this is a marketers dream, although there are accessibility hurdles. I think you need to think about this as whole crafted movements. Wine, food, cheese, jellies, farmer's markets, etc. The education and opportunity for someone living in an inner city ghetto is just not there.
You did discuss some economic issues, which will be a huge hurdle. Getting Garret Oliver's opinion on this subject would be interesting.

Donavan said...

No answers here. I have the same questions. Being on the progressive side of the social spectrum, I'm a little uncomfortable with the white-maleness of my chosen avocation. Our local beer club has zero diversity in race and only about a 1% diversity in gender. I know there are African-American brewers. It would be nice to hear from them .

Greg Clow said...

Your thoughts were echoed by an article in yesterday's Toronto Star. They devoted a large portion of the paper to various features on immigrants in Toronto, and the business section had a story about how companies are marketing their products to different ethnic communities. The bit about beer featured the following stats:

"[T]he fastest-growing segments of the population — Asians and blacks — aren't big on beer, according to extensive targeted polling conducted by Solutions Research Group Inc., which produced a report examining diversity in Canada.

Only 12 per cent of South Asian respondents, 14 per cent of Chinese and 16 per cent of blacks — a category that includes African and Caribbean respondents — said they drank a beer at home in the prior week, compared with 27 per cent for the general population."

tom said...

"African-American brewers" sounds almost hilarious (which of course proves your point). I think beer cult (as opposed to mere consumption) is a matter of both heritage and class like you say (and in the European countries of origin also of local brands and brewing traditions). From this perspective, I would say beer isn't big among African-Americans in general because it's mostly a middle class thing, and the black middle-class in America isn't big on beer because it isn't part of their African heritage (with "heritage" and especially the whole cult surrounding that being another mostly middle-class concern...). Paradoxically, beer seems to do well in black Africa, as it's still a bit of a luxury product, or at least has some social status attached to it. I happened to end up on some kind of open-air beer festival in Cotonou, Benin last year, in the middle of the afternoon, where beer flowed fast and freely (maybe because it was exceptionally cheap even to local standards), with four brands to choose from: the local "Flag" beer, one called "Castel" (which seems to be pretty common in all of West-Africa), a Congolese beer I can't remember the name of (all three very nice!), and of course Guinness, which was sold out by the time I got there... Unfortunately I missed the bands that were going to play later in the afternoon/evening as I had to catch my plane back to dear old Belgistan...