Wednesday, May 9, 2007

"It's Like I Don't Even Know You..."

I don't know Natalie MacLean. I've never met her. But I thoroughly enjoyed her book "Red & White & Drunk All Over," and I've enjoyed her website writing. We've exchanged e-mails and links, and that was enjoyable, too; Natalie's quite personable.

But something she wrote is hitting the blogwaves, and I'm baffled. Uncle Jack's already posted the text at his site; go read it and come back.

So...are you pissed off? Yeah, me too, but not by the beer v. wine thing. There are bored wine writers facing deadlines all the time, and this kind of thing has been done to death. That's what pisses me off: the "done to death" part. I like MacLean's wine writing because it's honest and fresh and very much not "same-old same-old," and this piece of dreck is nothing but.

Three years ago I might have taken it apart, point by point, but you know, I've done that. I am no longer trying to educate wine writers who refuse to get it unless they're paying me for the lessons. I am happy to share beer and whiskey knowledge with Eric Asimov at the NYT, a wine writer who most certainly does get it. I'm learning about wine myself, the fun way: I'm drinking a variety of it.

The thing that's most painful about this screed that MacLean slopped out is that it's so obviously an attempt to stir things up. She has not only turned her blind eye to craft beers, artisanal beers, the huge spectrum of beers beyond mainstream...she's telling us that she is as she does it. "Oh sure, you can talk about your craft ales and your artisanal brews, but most beer..." Right, we get it, you're deliberately avoiding the rocks that hole your argument, just as you're avoiding box wine, jug wine, fortified wine. It's not about a real argument, or creating a serious discussion. It's all about the bandwidth, baby: drive the traffic.

Well, that's why I cited Uncle Jack's website, not hers. I'm driving what meager traffic I influence to him. He deserves it.


And to all you wine-bibers who are chortling over your back. You were thought to be every bit as nasty, pathetic, and drunk-oriented fifty years ago. A dedicated band of small, smart, passionate producers turned things around. Sound familiar? Okay, I'll spell it out for you: that's what's happening in beer right now. So why not lighten up and check out the good stuff? You might find something you really like, and a bottle of La Chouffe is a lot less than a comparable bottle of pinot noir.


Steven said...

How many times have we read that beer, good beer, is actually more complex in aroma and flavor than any wine? Or is that just another silly fallacy concocted by we silly beer drinkers?

Lew Bryson said...

You know...I've repeated that myself, or at least something similar. Her point that there are thousands of types of grapes vs. only barley and wheat only displays an ignorance -- willful or no -- of what can be done with barley, wheat, and all the other cereal grains, sugars, honeys, juices, etc.; with hop strains; with yeast strains.

But the main point here is...who knows? It's just something we say vs. something she says. It's not like either is something that can be proven. But to claim it for wine, based on comparison with only one type of beer, is indeed ignorant. And I have to believe it's willful.

Anonymous said...

"but most beer..."
She avoids the simple fact that most of the wine produced in the world isn't very good....I'm sure she doesn't drink '2 buck chuck' regularly. My guess is she's tasted it and appreciates it for what it is: cheap wine. Just as many beer afficionados have tasted AB Budweiser and appreciate it for what it is: well made flavorless beer.
I'm a wine snob, coffee snob, beer geek and liquor lover (I'm also heavy into tea right now and am appreciating how complex that beverage is) and and am tired of the exclusivity of most advocates of a particular product.
Anyway, keep the faith...and beer in your glass.
cheers, scamborn

Anonymous said...

Wow, besides being totally uninformed, her article also reeks of a somewhat unsettling class-ism. Working-class Americans, please don't approach Ms. MacClean; she loathes you.

root said...

Riuniti on ice, nuff said!

Loren said...

This regurgitated us-vs-them rant of hers was only sent to her newsletter subscribers, right? And not directly link-able via her website? So it's not about "traffic".

I think she wants all you beer writers to dissect and trounce her piece, again, just so she can summarize all the reactions in yet another elitist "closure" type column to finalize her stance.

Or does she have other motives with this?

And people like to call me a crap stirrer? HA!

Lew Bryson said...

If that was the motive, so far I think it's been a disappointing response...yay.

And are a crap-stirrer! Don't deny it, it's a calling.

Loren said...

Just scanned Queen Xenophilia's site and this "is" available as a Podcast that you can listen to now via the 'Net, or download to your iPod?

Anyone listen to it? I'm not stopping my current iTunes selections to bother. Plus I just barfed in my mouth a little.

james said...

well, she got people to react to it like she wanted. though i like her writing, her argument is insane and unfounded and filled with holes and absent of logic. i am a wine lover, but not just that i am a lover of all acoholic beverages and look for the same in all, quality, pleasure, memories, pleasent aromas and just good stuff to drink. i find these qualities in beer, wine, whiskey, vodka, etc. while we are all entitled to our opinions, i think it is rediculous to compare wine to beer and what try to deem which is best and why, because even though you can describe them with the same adjectives and words, in the end they are different beverages each expressing what makes it the beverage it is

Jim L said...

When I read the following on Jack's post I assumed she was writing the post intentionally to stir the pot in a humorous way: "Dear Jack, Here's a topic to start a pub brawl: is wine better than beer? You know my bias, but I had fun with this tongue-in-cheek topic recently. So bring on the beer advocates: provoking debate is the writer's job (when not drinking)." I didn't take it seriously at all.

Stan Hieronymus said...

Plus I just barfed in my mouth a little.

An image we may not have needed, Loren.

Steven said...

Queen Xenophilia, heh.

It would be interesting to hear her tone and inflection while spouting this bile, or if she sounds as antagonistic as a 6 year old.

Ron Pattinson said...

It's easy to dismiss all sorts of drinks through ignorance (wilfull or just lazy).

Beer, wine, cider, whisky, rum. All have wonderful complex examples. But the majority of all of them is industrial swill.

Personally, I would hate to have to stick with just one alcoholic drink to drink for the rest of my life. Beer may be muy first love, but it doesn't blind me to the joys of everything else. How sad to consciously limit your pleasure in such a way.

Talking of undervalued drinks, what about jenever? But oh yes, most of it is like paint-stripper, so mocking it and ignoring it is the best option. I encourage all of you to so the same. Then the prices will stay reasonable for me.

Stonch said...

I think what she's doing - by advancing such a knowingly flawed argument - is inviting an obvious riposte. She wants a point/counterpoint where she gets a leading U.S. beer writer to write something equally polarised. You have all done well to steer clear!

As you've said, it is lazy, it is an attempt to get bandwidth, and I'm tempted to say it isn't worth getting upset about.

However, I've been thinking a bit more about this, bearing in mind some of the interesting articles I've read and on the other US-based blogsites recently.

As I understand it, in the States there's a very strong "anti-alcohol" lobby, and beer seems to be hit hard in certain states by foolish laws, that equate a love for beer with alcoholic tendencies.

This lady's article plays into the hands of people who make such foolish attacks beer culture. As someone writing about alcohol herself, she should know better. It's like one oppressed minority that's gained a modicum of respect sniping at another that hasn't.

So having initially thought this article was just a bit of fun, I now see it differently.

We're not immune to this kind of thinking in the UK, by the way, not by a long stretch. Our government may not have ever toyed with prohibition, but beer is taxed to high heaven, and in the latest annual budget, another penny was put on beer duty. Meanwhile, duties on spirits remained frozed for the tenth year in a row.

When are people going to wake up to the fact that beer (especially traditional session beer, I might add!) is a sociable beverage that can be enjoyed in moderate quantities without ill effect.

Therefore, anything that stigmatises or discourages the consumption of beer in favour of stronger, less social drinks should be shunned.

thename said...

Agreed on the bandwagon nature of her article. Cheap stunt to bump hit counts capitalizing on beer zealots' wont to come down hard on anyone questioning their beverage. Bah.

Re: varieties and complexity. We could do a sort of back of the envelope combinatoric calculation that shows beer's 3 typical ingredients yield a greater variety of flavors.

Limit us--in theory--to 1000 types of grapes, 100 hop varieties, 20 malt varieties, 100 yeasts, and a prohibition on mixing more than two of each ingredient e.g., max two types of grape per wine to two types of hop per beer. One is far bigger than the other (about 9300 times bigger). Definitive? Not even slightly. But fun for folks like me to think about and submitted for your consideration.

Lew Bryson said...


Please don't taunt me with talk of jenever, okay? It's hard enough to get any at all here, let alone have choices!

Stonch said...

Jenever - when I'm in Belgium, I never make time for it, what with all the beer being quaffed. Perhaps I'll try some next time I'm in Amsterdam, where the siren voice of the next beer (though loud and persistent) might be slightly easier to ignore for more than about 15 seconds.

Stephen Beaumont said...

Stonch, not Amsterdam, unless you go to visit Janssens. Take a break from the beer and pay a visit to De Vagant in Antwerp, 't Dreupelhuisje in Brugges or 't Dreupelkot in Gent. Those are the places when you go to explore jenever.

As for my fellow Canuck, Ms. MacLean, her screed is entirely out of character and thoroughly bizarre, and deserves nothing else than to be ignored.

Ron Pattinson said...

Hey, don't diss Amsterdam as a Jenever destination. We have a couple of pretty good jenever bars: Wijnand Fockink, Olofspoort, Ooievaar, amongst others. But many of the beer bars also have good jenever - you get Villiers (a personal favourite) in Cafe Belgique and Janssens in Wildeman.

In Belgium, Hasselt is the place to go. The bar in the National Jenever Museum is amazing - they seem to sell every single Belgian example, by the shot or by the bottle. And it's still stupidly cheap - I got a bottle of 18 year old Villiers for around 20 euros.

If I weren't so busy, I would cover jenever more. But then I think - is this really in my financial interest?

Lew, Stonch, Stephen - I would love to show you what Amsterdam's spirit world has to offer.

bill mc said...

aw she's probably french..what can you expect from a cheese-eating surrnder money(forgive me Groundskeeper Willie) :)

wine is viewed as a pretentious as a blue collar drink...

well i like my blue collar and i like the flavor and complexities i've discovered since i've learned about all the different beers out there. guess what, I like it.

shoot give me a Pabst Blue Ribbon (and a shot) over a fine Pinot Grigiot (sp) anyday.

Here's to Beer!!!

p.s. what is jenever???

Eric Asimov said...


I'm stunned. Natalie has always struck me as open-minded and receptive. Must've been a dull day at Nat Decants.