I normally reserve my words for the factual rather than the emotive or sociological facets of the beer scene, but something struck a chord recently where I noticed some very unpleasant parallels from an earlier chapter in my life and felt like I might be able to put some words down to maybe help me make sense of it, but also to maybe try and make a difference for other people.
The current beer scene is fizzingly alive at the moment, not just from the perspectives of Twitter and Facebook, but in pubs, bars, microbreweries, bottle shops and other forums. People love discussing the ins and outs of new beers, new or rediscovered styles and events that can be made from them where we get to meet likeminded people and thus fuel the proliferation of the thing we love. There is much to be proud about up and down the UK and indeed in other cities across the world where brewing has caught the imagination of some brilliant people, talented people who get the magic yeast workforce to perform for them. It doesn’t stop there, there are people out there who contribute through their insightful natures, manipulation of the written and spoken word and there are those that are just really decent people who form the foundation of all of this, drinking, talking and encouraging.
There is, however a caveat to all of the above. As with any other scene, social movement or ‘thing’ which generates opinion and emotional response, it gets contaminated with a hefty dose of humanity. It’s trick, nay, impossible to not be human and with that comes some baggage which invariably itself can contain negativity.
Making sense of things is not easy at the best of times via social media, with inordinate threads coming away from initial posts tracking down and understanding every piece of information would be tricky. However, following some minor storms recently, a variety of put-downs (it’s the internet, these things are tricky to read without hearing tone or seeing other cues) through to mud-flinging, he-said-she-said and people becoming pretty upset. These things happen and they will probably continue to happen wherever people’s opinions are involved. For a scene which (to my mind) has been quite progressive with a lot of writers posting in a startling candid fashion about their own personal struggles with mental health, writing vividly and heartbreakingly educationally at times, there has been a growing undercurrent seeded and propagated in some circles and beery corners of the internet with an unpleasant ‘elitist’ tang to it. To mildly veer back to a reference earlier in this post, this is what brought things to align with prior experiences over a decade ago.
I have always been into beer, since I was old enough to sneak a mouthful of my Dad’s can of Stone’s Bitter, pull a face at his homebrew attempts or drink a bitter shandy when out of a pub meal, later on seeking out pubs with nifty new beers or at least a few cask lines. But there was a period in the late 1990s and a few years after where music and clubbing were at the forefront of my social consciousness. For a few years, it was vibrant, with the advent of message boards and various other forums, likeminded people could interact on a daily basis and arrange to meet up – people could actually go out to a nightclub on their own, meet new and friendly people and make new friends to share the fun with. It was great. However, a combination of factors eventually kicked in and as with many scenes and social circles, familiarity can breed contempt. Some people and newer members of the group were not made to feel as welcome as others, this in turn grew to be active persecution and ostracization of some less ‘savvy’ individuals, those not deemed to be as ‘cool’ or ‘knowledgeable’ about the scene they were out to enjoy and share. It was frankly horrible and witnessing people (and then falling foul of it myself) being treated so badly for no real reason made me fall out of love of the scene for a few years. Bullying, no matter what form it takes is a shithouses’ trick. The coincidence of this memory being piqued during what is supposed to be #AntiBullyingWeek is not lost on me either.
Fast forward back to a night earlier in 2017 and I found myself coming away from a small brewer event after taking photos and having a great chat, pitching up at another drinking establishment to have a few beers before catching my bus back home. I started to engage in conversation with some people at the bar and before too long I felt myself being dragged into a pissing contest about what beers I had tried. Nothing was overtly stated (albeit neither was it too subtle), but I found myself feeling like I had to defend why I hadn’t tried Beer [X] and Beer [Y] to the people I was talking to (the usual being up early for day job/demanding day job/funds stretching so far/etc). Being one of the few pretty active beer writers (and a comment was made on such) on Merseyside meant I got some extra sneer. It is highly likely that the pair didn’t mean to be insulting or rude, but after a few beers, it wasn’t exactly pleasant.
I finished the beer I was on and moved along feeling pretty peeved about the whole thing, as it wasn’t the first time this kind of thing had happened to me; ‘But you’re a beer writer/blogger – SURELY you’ve tried this one’ [subtext – if you’ve not tried it, you’re not REALLY an enthusiast are you?!]. I’ve brushed it off before and this sort of stuff won’t stop me writing or being involved in the scene, as I’ve also had worse from some of Liverpool’s ‘old guard’ when I first started writing with some heavy-duty patronising shit (people looking at my fresh notebook, for example and going ‘Awwww’, commenting on the blank pages it contained at length and told that I’d find cask is best whatever I try).
We’ve seen some real progress over the last few years in terms of less of the sexist pump clips, more people calling out unacceptable behaviour, especially sexist and homophobic stuff. For all the times I’ve heard the adage ‘Beer people are good people’, I still can’t really agree on the back of some of the observations I have made lately – it’s almost the same as most other cross sections of society. There are some wonderful, brilliant people out there, people who I would go as far as to say are much better human beings than I. But at the end of the day, the scene is made up of human beings, all of whom have their faults and some of whom are in varying quantities sometimes insecure, aggressively opinionated, egotistical and arrogant, of course all in measure with many better qualities of which we are all capable. It is something that we are probably just going to have to accept as more people come round to the beer scene that these things will become apparent within the beer scene and on associated social media.
There really is room enough for everyone on the beer scene, it should be something seen as open, enjoyable and for all. Beer isn’t seen on the same level as for example, wine, where some people who have never really had the curiosity (or in some cases, sadly indulge in inverse snobbery) to consider how things work believe it to be some form of impenetrable alchemy where a whole new language is pervasive. Surely this can be used to beer’s advantage, as it has a more accessible slant to it to begin with? Whilst things will probably never be perfect and harmonious, there is definitely no reason for them to get any worse and the responsibility for ensuring that lies with all of us.