If you are really, really ‘into’ beer and live in the USA, there’s no way in the world that you don’t know what the (beer) abbreviation ‘CBS’ stands for. If you are really, really ‘into’ beer but live outside of the USA, there’s a pretty strong probability that you won’t have even heard of Canadian Breakfast Stout, or indeed of the brewery that makes this beer (Founders), here in Michigan. Trust me, you are infinitely better off remaining devoid of that knowledge. Here’s why;
By all accounts (I have never tried it), Founders CBS is a monumentally delicious and profoundly fantastic beer. People are saying that it will surpass any beer experience than you have ever had in the past, and that your beer ‘completeness’ is totally dependent upon acquiring some and consuming it. Most accounts of the experiences surrounding drinking it, have barely stopped short of suggesting that it is some kind of elixir and that eternal life may follow its consumption – I’m only slightly exaggerating.
Why bring this up right now? Well, a few days ago Founder’s released this beer for the first time in bottles. Prior to this event, CBS had only been available at a few locations on draught. At these previously, draught only releases, we (those of us paying close attention), had heard stories of people smuggling glasses into the toilet facilities of bars that were serving it in order to hand-bottle a few fluid ounces of the beer in the hope of effecting stunning trades in the grey/black market that exists for highly sought after beer. Utterly, utterly preposterous you say? Sure, but absolutely true. So, when the bottles were released earlier this week in the USA it just wouldn’t be possible for things to get any worse, right? WRONG.
beeradvocate.com, many other beer web sites and electronic discussion groups have been awash with tale after tale of insane price gouging, accusations of theft, juvenile and imbecilic behavior surrounding attempts to procure a bottle, stores lying to customers, the beer selling out BEFORE it was taken off the delivery truck, store employees hoarding it, an EMPTY bottle being sold on ebay for $50, people reserving bottles weeks/months in advance and a whole host of astonishingly bad behavior. A bar here in Atlanta had some that sold out within 15 minutes.
Unbelievably there are some that are pointing to this moronic and embarrassing behavior as ‘evidence’ that craft beer is gaining a stronger and stronger foothold in the US, and that it can only mean good things for us in the future. I see it in exactly the opposite terms. This is an unhealthy, unsustainable, sad and totally laughable ‘pant-wetting’ geek syndrome that should be shunned, vilified and rejected by all sane individuals. This puts beer in a TERRIBLE light, and the loss of perspective that is being exhibited by those that purport to ‘know’ beer is truly stunning, if for no other reason than by acting in this way they are proving that knowing beer is the last thing on earth that they can lay claim to.
Anyone that knows anything about the American beer scene and how it has developed in the last decade or so will know that it is really unfair to single out Founders and CBS for this criticism. There are scores of other offenders (and beers), with The Bruery, Three Floyds, Cigar City etc. being equally culpable. We’ve seen extraordinary angst, ridiculous arrangements (taking days off work to fly to Dark Lord Day to acquire a bottle), bizarre allocation measures necessary (including lotteries, the sale of ‘golden tickets’ and, LITERALLY as I type, this nonsense), egregious displays of entitlement and all manner of other disgusting, reprehensible, uncivilized actions in relation to the release of BEER.; YES, it’s BEER people, you are losing your minds.
It has always been my contention that the breweries, despite their protestations, are deliberately fueling this nonsense by the way they choose to promote and release this type of limited supply beer. They are reaping the benefits of hyped events far exaggerating the quality of what’s IN the bottle, and are delighted that they are doing so. I have tasted some of these beers (in most cases quite accidentally and through complete serendipity), and the fact of the matter is that in the overwhelming majority of cases they are simply NOT better than scores and scores of other beers that are sitting on shelves in beer stores which are (obviously), infinitely more accessible. The American beer ticker, beer collector and beer geek is being FOOLED by these emperors new clothes.
Why is all of this bad for beer? Why not let everyone simply get on with it without comment? Well, ALL of this behavior is anti-beer and anti-beer culture. It’s breeding a whole generation of American geeks that will literally miss out on the very ESSENCE of what beer culture and beer consumption is, i.e., that of a relaxed, non-competitive, UNwinding of angst, rather than the exact opposite traits that the modern, American beer revolution is promoting. In the long term it will hurt the beer industry by alienating the rank and file that really DO understand beer and beer culture, and the current growth of the beer industry in the US will prove to be unsustainable with its associated casualties.
I’ve heard a few people being envious of the US situation but that’s horribly misguided. I suggest that any place outside of the US that is hoping for a beer revolution needs to think long and hard about what they wish for. Luckily, beer cultures like those in England, Belgium, Germany and the Czech Republic are unlikely to suffer from such extraordinary madness for more than one reason but here’s a couple. Firstly they have well established beer cultures that have existed for centuries and so do not need such ridiculous behavior to fill a vacuum (which is certainly part of the problem in the US). Secondly the fact that there exists in those other countries, a ubiquitous, and ‘non-sensational’ role that beer plays in everyday life on a daily basis. Those fundamental truths mean that such crass behavior is unlikely to ever penetrate those beer culture strongholds.