Food & dining

The rise of the beer snob

Louie Chin for the Boston Globe

At this point in the beer snob’s ascendancy, it’s almost hard to remember, but there was a time when a beer was just . . . a beer.

In the movies, a guy would walk into a bar and say “gimme a beer” — any kind would do. There was no discussion of “mouth feel.” He did not take notes on what he was drinking. The tab didn’t hit 15 bucks.

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Beer was a symbol of just-folks-ness. Pollsters used it as a measure of likability. “Who would you rather have a beer with?” George W. Bush or John Kerry? Barack Obama or Mitt Romney?

But now? If they remade the 2004 film “Sideways,” the buddies would be on a craft brewery tour, and the cri de coeur of the Paul Giamatti character would sound like this: “I am not drinking any [expletive] Blue Moon.”

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Since 1980, when the Brewers Association counted a mere eight craft brewers in the US, small and independent brewers have grabbed ever larger segments of the market. In 2015, there were 4,225 craft brewers in the country, according to the group, and retail sales hit $22.3 billion — a 16 percent rise over 2014.

And, of course, beer festivals have become ever more popular. Eventbrite, the ticketing site, now counts more than 900 annually nationwide.

Along the way, the beer snob was born. He — and it’s usually a he, although craft-beer demographics are expanding — is picky about glassware. He makes a show of spitting out beer that doesn’t meet his standards. He has turned a drink that once symbolized camaraderie into a vehicle for one-upmanship.

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Jon Hazilla, a percussion professor at Berklee College of Music, admits to being one of them. “I try not to be judgmental,” he said by way of introduction, but then admitted that he is so disdainful of beers that “lack body” that a bandmate who likes Sapporo buys it behind his back.

“Why not expand your palate?” he said, sounding pained at his pal’s missed opportunity.

As for his own beer, needless to say, there are things he simply will not accept. “I would never buy [un-refrigerated] beer if it didn’t have a ‘canned’ date on it.”

Not everyone who lives a beer-centric life is a beer snob, of course. Many self-identify as “beer geeks” or “beer nerds.”

But no less a voice in the beer world than Todd Alström, founder of BeerAdvocate , says they’re just as bad as wine snobs (albeit with brewery baseball caps and neck beards, not berets).

“A snob is a snob,” he wrote in an e-mail to the Globe.

“We didn’t see many beer snobs in the ’90s or early ’00s,” he noted, “but as beer’s popularity increased over the years we’ve seen a proportional increase in beer snobbery.”

But whether they’re snobs or geeks or nerds, one thing is clear: Their intensity has been pumped up to a degree unimaginable to the non-beer-centric.

People wait in line outside of the Tree House Brewing Company for a beer release at high noon.

Jonathan WIggs/Globe Staff

People wait in line outside of the Tree House Brewing Company for a beer release at noon.

“People are driving five or six hours to stand in line [at a brewery] for a four-pack of 16-ounce cans,” Matt Maguire, the beer director of Social Wines in South Boston, said.

When word spreads that a prized brew — such as Founders’ Kentucky Breakfast Stout — is being delivered to stores, people will actually follow the truck, Maguire said. “They will try and hit up every store they can so they can trade it.”

In Monson, Dean Rohan, a cofounder of Tree House Brewing Company — the brewer behind Good Morning, the top-rated beer on BeerAdvocate’s much-studied list of the 250 best beers — has been surprised at beer festivals when people want to take selfies with him.

“I’m an ex-plumber from Ware, Mass.,” he responded when asked if he ever expected to have groupies.

On May 11, when the company released its Green and Alter Ego American IPAs — also high on BeerAdvocate’s list — nearly 2,000 people lined up for can sales, none of whom were beer “snobs,” Rohan emphasized. “The people who come to buy beer here are our friends.”

But the snobs are out there, and their presence is so annoying that a backlash is building.

Chris Lohring, the founder of Notch Brewing in Salem, likened beer snobs to music lovers who lose interest in any indie band once it’s been discovered.

“I’m not pointing fingers at the beer,” he said. “I’m pointing fingers at the activity of acquiring the beer” — and at the habit of some snobs who sit at a bar, their heads in their phones, and upload news about what they’re drinking to the “Untappd” app rather than talk to fellow patrons.

“That’s not what beer is about,” he said.

Meanwhile, the backlash against those obsessed with microbreweries has fueled a micro-industry of its own in the form of mocking articles.

Thrillist ran a story headlined “The 19 Types of Beer Snobs ”: “The Self-Important Home Brewer,” “The Glassware Obsessive,” and “Just an [Expletive]” among them.

That last type, the authors wrote, “was already an insufferable snob about his car, wardrobe, and frequent trips to Europe. Beer was just the next logical step in the progression. Why yes, he did just correct your pronunciation of ‘Cantillon.’ ”

Esquire headlined its story “The Most Mockable Things Beer Snobs Do: Advocating, drain-pouring, note-taking, and more ridiculous [stuff].”

“I can tell you, beer release parties are some of the most embarrassing events on planet Earth,” the author wrote. “Predominantly male gatherings of dorks squeezed into obscure brewery T-shirts . . . chatting for hours about adjuncts, yeast strains, and final gravities. . . . If a random pedestrian stumbled upon the scene, he’d surely guess the gathering was for a Jean-Luc Picard autograph session or the latest release of some role-playing video game.”

Meanwhile, the people who are perhaps the most surprised at beer’s new status as an object of obsession are the obsessives themselves.

Doug Morgan, director of engineering at Lola Travel Company, on Summer Street, says his college self would not have recognized his current self — a self that has risen quite early for beer pilgrimages.

“If I was up at 5 a.m.,” he said, “it was from the previous night.”

John Cole and William Estrada traveled from New Jersey to purchase cans of American IPAs Green and Alter Ego at Tree House Brewing Company in Monson.

Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

John Cole and William Estrada traveled from New Jersey to purchase cans of American IPAs Green and Alter Ego at Tree House Brewing Company in Monson.

Beth Teitell can be reached at bteitell@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @bethteitell.
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