A Confederacy of Dunkels

The Session, a.k.a. Beer Blogging Friday, is an opportunity once a month for beer bloggers from around the world to get together and write from their own unique perspective on a single topic. The following post is in response to Session 95, which asks: “What beer book which has yet to be written would you like to see published?”

There’s a document on my desktop titled “A Confederacy of Dunkels.” And while the title is just a joke, it does contain the first chapter of a beer-inspired novel I hope to one day write.

The title, you might have picked up on, was inspired by “A Confederacy of Dunces,” which I read for the first time this past year. This farcical work of fiction focuses on one Ignatius J. Reilly, a pompous, pretentious and out-of-touch slob of a man who lives with his mother in New Orleans. If you haven’t read it, do so: it’s one of the funniest books I’ve ever had the joy or reading.

During one part of the novel, Reilly gets a job at the Levy Pants factory. He somehow manages to impress his boss despite showing up late and doing practically no work at all. This provided a little seed of an idea: what if a newcomer to the craft beer industry proceeded to shoot up the ranks of the craft beer cognoscenti?

The main character as I envision him will be a guy from the South who eschews craft beer and instead drinks one of the many ubiquitous mass-market lagers out there. Let’s just call him Tim. Tim is forced to taste craft beer for the first time when he visits an out-of-town brewery with friends and family after attending a wake for his uncle, whom he soon discovers was a well-known homsession beer bloggingebrewer and beer personality in the area.

Of course, his uncle’s friends are shocked that the man’s nephew would be so vehemently opposed to the drink he loved. After Tim makes fun of the fancy beers at the brewery, the bartender proposes a challenge: try a flight, tell me what you taste.

Tim takes the challenge. He finds many of the beers vile, yet he nails the descriptions. A pumpkin beer calls to mind “chewin’ on a stick of Big Red,” IPAs taste like licking a pine tree, and a saison reminds him of an old musty barn. The bartender is shocked.

The next day, he’s called back to the brewery to pick up a binder brimming with his uncle’s homebrew recipes and beer tasting notes. The same bartender from the night before mentions that they’re leading Cicerone classes, and that he should consider taking them. He also notes that the brewery is looking to hire someone to wash kegs and clean out the mash tuns. It’s low-level work, but Tim is a landscaper back home, and the winter is his off-season anyway. He can stay in his uncle’s house while they’re trying to sell it, and spend more time with other friends and family in the process. Why not?

We’re fast entering TL;DR mode, so I’ll spare you more details. But the novel will basically focus on Tim’s rise in the beer industry, from someone tasting craft beer for the first time, to learning the history, to brewing it, to becoming something of a prodigy at a craft brewery, to being courted by the big guys and eventually joining their ranks. A naive and skeptical character like Tim would be the perfect mouthpiece to poke fun at all aspects of the beer industry — but don’t worry, there will be plenty of praise as well.

Though I’ve often read The Session, I’ve yet to contribute. It’s this bad habit of mine to have something on the backburner that I just keep putting off and putting off, until the idea is but a distant dot in my rearview mirror. Well, no more. It’s a new year, and so today I’m throwing out the idea in hopes sharing it inspires me to actually write the thing. I don’t know if there’s a market for a book like this, but it’s something I think I could have fun with. Would you read it?

Who Cares if David Chang Hates Fancy Beer?

David Chang isn’t the first person to crack wise about beer geeks with neck beards, and he sure won’t be the last. Still, the famous chef’s latest piece for GQ — “My Name Is David Chang, and I Hate Fancy Beer” — has struck a chord with many today.

Probably the most incendiary section of the article is this:

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 “fucking near water” every night of the week over combing out my neck beard while arguing about hop varieties.

A little self-deprecation can go a long way. Why can we laugh at “Shit Beer Geeks Say,” but not this? The tongue-in-cheek neck beard comment aside, it’s not like he truly railed against “tasty beer” and its proponents so much as he simply stated his own love for cheap beer, the badder the better.

It would be one thing if this was a brand loyalist who drank Bud Light and nothing but Bud Light. It’s his favorite, Chang makes that point clear, but he also states “there’s a time and place for imperial stouts and barrel-aged saisons,” and that he has “seen the sunrise from the bar at Mikkeller.” He knows what makes a beer good and bad from a taste standpoint, but he acknowledges that he’s not drinking for taste.

Does it strike you as hypocritical that a man who makes his living by slinging dishes of meticulously-crafted food would drink bad beer? Sure, I can see that. But people often don’t live up to our assumptions of them. And to paraphrase Walt Whitman: people contradict themselves, they contain multitudes.

I’m sure there are whiskey enthusiasts who balk at fancy beer, too, just as there are beer geeks content to drink cheap liquor on occasion.

We’re not going to convert everyone. David Chang liking cheap beer doesn’t diminish my love for “fancy beer.” Frankly I find Chang’s honesty about as refreshing as he finds his beloved cans of swill.

You can educate all you want and introduce people to the wide array of flavors present in craft beer across a myriad of styles — and really, please continue to fight the good fight. But at the end of the day you can’t argue with personal preference, especially with someone who has exposed their palate to many different beers. If David Chang has traversed the wild world of beer and is content to come back home to the beer that reminds him of Virginia and his childhood, who are we to stop him?

Because you’re not going to make a case for beer snobs by acting like one.