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99 Bottles

Hopping into craft beer debate

What happens when a beer snob and a food snob debate the merits of each other’s hauteur?

We got our answer last week, when famed chef David Chang, he of the Momofuku restaurants and your television, penned an article for GQ titled, “My Name Is David Chang, and I Hate Fancy Beer.” Chang, who has done for Asian cuisine in New York what Tom Brady has done for football in Foxborough, didn’t hold back on his criticism of expensive beer.

Chang writes, “95 percent of the time, I don’t want something that tastes delicious. I want a Bud Light. I am not being falsely contrarian or ironic in a hipsterish way. This is something that I genuinely feel: I do not want a tasty beer.”


At another point in the piece, Chang digs deeply into the hearts of craft beer enthusiasts, writing, “Beer snobs are the worst of the bunch. You know the old joke about cheap beer being like having sex in a canoe? I will take a beer that’s ‘[expletive] near water’ every night of the week over combing out my neck beard while arguing about hop varieties.”

Shots, fired.

Chang’s words didn’t escape criticism from a beer community that trends toward too serious. Brooklyn Brewery’s Garrett Oliver, as famous in his discipline as Chang is in his, responded in as rough-and-tumble a debate as can appear in the pages of GQ. Brooklyn’s head brewer cried foul on the chef’s critique of craft beer culture, pointing out that the snobs Chang despises are one and the same with those who frequent his restaurant, and defending good beer in the process.

“We don’t come telling you how we love pink slime more than your Berkshire pork, or Cup O’ Soup more than your ramen, or a foil packet of carcinogens more than your tonkotsu,” Oliver writes. “Why? Because that would be boring, that’s why.”


The debate that followed was anything but boring. Craft beer aficionados predictably took offense to Chang’s rant, despite the obviously click-bait-driven headline. A Beer Advocate forum post dedicated to Chang’s article elicited eight pages worth of replies. What craft-lovers were saying, essentially, is that you mess with craft beer, you mess with me.

There is good beer and there is bad beer. This is not subjective, not up to the whims of celebrity chefs or brewers. There’s no valid argument that National Bohemian, one of Chang’s favorites, is in any way better than Brooklyn Lager. We’ve all seen the digs of 1:30 a.m., scratched the walls of some hideous night club or sports bar, and
ordered another Bud Light. Depravity does not equal good beer. A celebrated chef should
recognize that, without being scolded by a celebrated brewer.

Chang’s musings don’t lend credence to bad beer. Oliver’s defense doesn’t do much, either, besides fortify the notion that craft beer drinkers are overly sensitive. Drink what you like, not what you think you should.

Night Shift Brewing Renaissance

Night Shift Brewing is doing big things. The Everett brewery is in the midst of an expansion, having moved into a larger space on Santilli Highway earlier this year. Founders Michael Oxton, Mike O’Mara, and Rob Burns are using 14,000 square feet to at least double their output this year, if not triple it.

Night Shift owes part of its expansion to its barrel society program. Two years ago, patrons agreed to pay up front for access to the best of what Night Shift had to offer. Currently, $150 buys you one bottle each of seven beers never released to the public; $250 gets you two bottles of each, or $450 for four bottles.


Seven beers were part of the series last year as well, and I recently popped open a bottle of the final release of 2013. Renaissance is a high-gravity sour rye ale, aged in wine barrels and on black cherries. The recipe was at least partially crowd-sourced, with barrel society members suggesting ingredients. Mine was bottled on Dec. 11, 2013, and aged for almost a year in a cool, dark cellar.

Renaissance appears chestnut-colored in the glass. It smells sour, like a Belgian lambic. While the cherries are prevalent in the nose, this beer is more spicy than tart. It’s peppery up front, chased by tannic notes of leather and licorice. As the beer warms, it moonlights as a Belgian quad, starting sweet and finishing dry. This is a well-balanced beer, nothing like anything else I’ve had, and worth the anticipation the barrel society brings. Night Shift plans to double its membership into the program in 2015. Signups are available now at www.nsbeer.com/nsbs.

Gary Dzen can be reached at gary.dzen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GaryDzen