"Beer geek" goes back a loooong way. I did a quick 'n' dirty Google search, and the earliest reference I found was 1992. That might surprise some of you -- some may think it's not that old, and some -- like me -- may be shocked to think that's the earliest reference. I'm suspicious of it, myself. There are references in USENET newsgroups and Homebrew Digest that make it plain that the term had been in use earlier; it was familiar to at least some of the people discussing it. Some of you remember Barleycorn, the first mid-Atlantic beerpaper: they had an "Ask the Beer Geek" column back as early as 1993, which argues an earlier familiarity.
"Geek," as numerous incensed beer...lovers have pointed out, is not exactly a term with a great history. Here's what the American Heritage Dictionary (4th ed.) has to say.
1. a. A person regarded as foolish, inept, or clumsy.
b. A person who is single-minded or accomplished in scientific or technical pursuits but is felt to be socially inept.
2. A carnival performer whose show consists of bizarre acts, such as biting the head off a live chicken.
[Perhaps alteration of dialectal geck, fool, from Low German gek, from Middle Low German.]
Hey, great, that's what I wanna be. Some "geeks" don't mind, they 'embrace their geek' and flaunt it. Some people who I think are completely comfortable socially will declare themselves "beer geeks" and don't give a hoot. I don't mind it myself. I've called myself a beer geek. (There are all sorts of 'geeks' these days, though it was kind of unsettling to find out that the Wikipedia entry on geek doesn't make any mention of "beer geeks." Why is that unsettling? Damn...) No big deal.
Maybe. Maybe it is a problem, though. It is an inherently denigrating term, given its history (though some have argued that, like "gay," the word has changed so thoroughly that it has left its origins behind. I don't agree), and it has that air of annoying dipshit about it, the kind of beer drinker who obsesses over note-taking and rarity and process to the point of missing the whole reason that the beer is in their glass. As one whisky-maker brilliantly commented to a rabid collector: "We make the stuff to drink, you know."
The term does damage to us. It separates us from a growing number of craft beer drinkers who just like to drink the stuff -- and, I believe, many of us mainly like to drink the stuff. We talk about it, here and other places, but I can't pretend that most of us do that because it's our job: the number of amateur sites by far out-numbers sites of guys like me and Stan and Jack and Stephen and Jay and Don and so on, who do this for a living, let alone all the brewers who have blogs and often think deeply about beer. There are enthusiasts who do that, who know the minutiae of beer, who travel constantly for new beers, who take their beer very damned seriously. Rightly so, for while beer isn't as important as world peace or economic recovery, it's certainly as worthy of one's time as watching sports or following bands.
I don't think they should be branded as "geeks" because of that. I know some of these people, and they are intelligent, personable, warm and friendly, good friends. But there is a class of these people -- most of you reading this blog belong to it -- and I often find myself looking for a label for that group, so I can refer to them briefly as a group. I don't want it to be too general -- "beer drinkers" -- or branded -- "BeerAdvocates" -- or inherently denigrating -- "beer geeks."
We don't have a good term, and that's why we're still using "beer geek." There have been suggestions: beer snob, beer aficionado, beer connoisseur, beer enthusiast, ale conner, beer lover, beer guy. All of them fail on various points: snob is no better than geek, connoisseur and aficionado are considered "hoity-toity" by many (and can be a bitch to spell for some), enthusiast is too dry, ale conner is too arcane, beer lover is too stupid, and beer guy, well, it doesn't do much for the women who like beer, does it?
I'm open to suggestions, although I'm not optimistic. Names thought up by committee rarely work too well. Please, no acronyms. It's got to be something that you wouldn't hesitate to anoint yourself with, something that doesn't denigrate, and something that doesn't need to be explained. Tall order, which is, of course, why we don't already have it. I just hope we're not stuck with "beer geek" the rest of our lives.
I'll throw out the first one: beer fan. It's an Americanism, "fan," originating in baseball, short for "fanatic." It's mellowed a bit over the years, to the point where a fanatic is referred to as "a true fan." Science fiction has fandom, the truly devoted, there are music fans, fans of television shows. What do you think?
How about a Beer Evangelist (or EvangALEist). A person marked by evangelical enthusiasm for or support of any cause - in this case it's for beer! A bringer of good news.
I like "beer fan," and suggested it a couple of years back when I was on BA. I like "beer lover" better, because "wine lover" is used as an encompassing term for folks who enjoy wine but who aren't necessarilly connoisseurs or afficionados. I like "beer drinker" just fine, for that matter.
But I wonder whether there's really a need for such a term, and I think attempts to create one will be as stress-filled and unsatisfactory as attempts to define "craft beer." Even worse, because here you're/we're not simply deciding which beers are in or out -- you're/we're deciding which people are in or out.
Does the "us" that would be defined by the term you seek include folks who drink Sierra Nevada Pale Ale 95% of the time? Folks who go to brew pubs but always order the same style? Folks who understand different beers work at different times, but stick to the same 4-6 beers?
Maybe there's nothing wrong with "beer lovers" or "beer drinkers" -- that is, terms that include a wider variety of folks then you mean. Folks who are who you mean will see themselves as part of the group... and folks who _aren't_ who you mean may still themselves as part of the group. No harm done, and maybe some good will come from it.
But live chicken heads go so well with Imperial India Pale ale! ;-)
I went on and on and in the end, I had to come back to nerd.
The term "geek" has come to mean something other than those definitions you gave (though #2 is close). It's actually become quite hip to be a geek (bio, sci-fi, computer, music, book, movie... they all have geeks, I'm a few of those myself, in addition to being a beer geek).
Geeks are hip, nerds are not. At least we're not beer nerds. :)
How about "beer people?" Despite the fact that you rarely hear "music people" or "sports people," it doesn't have any negative connotations. Someone in that class may be a fan or an expert. There should be no judgment apart from one aligning that person's being with a love of beer.
To me, 'beer fan' is a term a little too precise much like 'beer geek' is. It describes someone whose behavior is a little off of the norm. Rating beers might be considered characteristic of a "fanatic" but what about the beer people out there that don't rate?
I didn't think about this very long and am sure there are good counterarguments to what I present here. Let's hear 'em!
I often use the term beervolk. Kinda Germanic, but hey, so's lager, and so am I. Same kind of thing.
Dunno: I think that geek is hip mainly to other geeks, much like it is in beer geekerie. From the outside, geek pretty much equals nerd. JMO, but there you are.
I do think there's...well, maybe not a need, but it would be a useful convenience. I like the idea of being more inclusive, because the geek elite has always made me...itchy. Far as I'm concerned, the alpha geeks can keep calling themselves that!
But yeah, good comparison to the search for a definition of "craft beer."
But I just want to drink it, and find more: do I HAVE to bring the good news? Er, other than for pay, that is!
One of it's many definitions is:
A person who is very interested in a particular subject.
There are history buffs and music buffs. Why not beer buffs?
Gotta say that I tend to give this such little thought. But pressed for a title, I usually would introduce myself as a 'beer guy' or occasionally a 'beer nerd.' For females, I've introduced ones before as 'beer girl' or 'beer chick' (if I know her well and feel comfortable using the slang).
Out of the three most common, I would favor in this order: nerd, geek, snob (a very very distant third). The others, newcomer Cicerone included, just seem to be trying too hard to come up with terminology that, at least to me, is not all that meaningful. A part of the allure of beer to me is the lack of need for style, titles, decorum, etc.
I've already gone on longer than I thought I would on this topic, lol!
I agree with runawayjim, the term has evolved past it's definition.
I still use geek because it "registers" with non-beer, um, geeks.
It's not denigrating (IMO), nor is it off-putting. The last thing I want to do is make beer sound like wine. Beer drinkers are cut from different cloth.
Not that I have anything against wine. Hell, I drink it by the box!
Well, Lew, I think you're thinking about this too much. Just as there isn't a certain type of nerd/geek, there isn't a certain type of beer drinker. Some nerds are techy, others are nerdy with history, comics or whatever their obsession. Really, geek is about the same. I agree that geek conjures up a distasteful image for those worried about self-image, I mean it's clear not everyone wants to be a nerd or a geek.
So it is with beer drinking. There are some among us who want to know the craziest facts in beer, the obscure details that 95% of beer drinkers could care less about - they're clearly geeky about their beer. Then, as has been pointed out, there are just those who like something better than [fill in blank]. They're not nerdy about the beer, but just appreciate good tastes.
So, perhaps we make too much of this. Not everyone who loves music is an audiophile, nor is everyone who enjoys car repair a gear head. I suspect you knew that though.
Open note to everyone who thinks I'm too concerned about this: take a step back. I'm not. It's just a blog post.
If it weren't for the number of "beer people" who have complained to me about the use of the term beer geek, I'd have never said anything. It's not that big a deal...but it would be nice to stop calling each other "geek."
Okay? Just a Friday afternoon bull session, not a call to arms.
I like beer lover.
To me, beer people are those who make the stuff. Having said that, you've got an industry (albeit a cottage industry) surrounding them - the writers, the blogerati, the beer sellers, and the bar and shop owners, and the lines between are blurring. Maybe because craft brewers are so much more accessible to their drinkers.
Maybe you can't stop the slicing and dicing... Hmmm
I don't find it denigrating at all. For me, at least, it fits. I'm a geek about other things as well.
Wikipedia has more information on its origins and re-purposing than you can read over one beer.
I suspect the people who have a problem with it are, well, old.
I'm occasionally fond of "beer nut", perhaps more for the (clean) double-entendre than anything else. "Nut" isn't entirely kind in connotation, but these days it seems to have a gentle eccentricity to it, and less baggage than "geek".
Like Sid Boggle, "beer lovers" is usually the collective term I go for if the need arises. Aside from that... it's not an issue I think about.
Over here in the UK the idea of the crusty, bearded, usually old real ale drinker is in the public imagination, but "beer geek" isn't a recognised concept - apart from among beer geeks!
I did a piece about Beer Geeks for Beer Advocate magazine last year, and in the introduction I wrote the following:
"Beer Geeks. You probably know one of us. Hell, if you’re reading this you may be one, too. And even if you don’t or you aren’t, you probably know what we’re talking about. We’re the Trekkies — excuse me — Trekkers of the beer world. You can find us at our countless conventions — a.k.a. beer festivals — wearing the uniform: beer t-shirt (occasionally tie-dyed), denim, baseball cap with brewery logo and in winter a hoodie, ditto logo. We’ll go anywhere the world to find great beer.
We are also known by other names: snob, fanatic and hophead, among others. But fanatic never quite caught on, hophead is generally reserved for fans of IPAs and other hoppy beers, and snob never crossed over, retaining its mostly derogatory meaning. Originally, a snob was someone who made shoes, a cobbler, before migrating to a person of the lower classes who wants to move up and then on to its present meaning of a person who places too much emphasis on status or “a person who believes that their tastes in a particular area are superior to others.”
Occasionally kinder, gentler terms are employed like enthusiast or aficionado, but they never seem to strike the right chord for some reason. Most of us prefer to be known simply as beer geeks though, oddly enough, the word geek meant originally a fool and later referred to the lowest rung of circus performer, one who may even have bitten the heads off of live chickens, as popularized in a 1946 novel, “Nightmare Alley,” by William Gresham, about the seedy world of traveling carnivals. In that book, to be a "geek" was to be so down and out that you’d do virtually anything to get by, no matter how distasteful or vile.
Like many old words that were primarily derogatory, its meaning has now been turned on its head. Beginning probably with the original new nerd, the computer geek, it was taken back as a source of pride. So today there are band geeks, computer geeks, science geeks, film geeks, comics geeks, history geeks and Star Wars geeks, to name only a few, all of them proud to call themselves geek, because of the shared passion that is so central to its modern meaning. Today a geek is an obsessive enthusiast, often single-mindedly accomplished, yet with a lingering social awkwardness, at least outside the cocoon of their chosen form of geekdom."
I still don't bristle at the term "geek" as much as you do, Lew, but I agree that it's not ideal. It seems to me very few of the terms we use in the beer world are particularly well-suited, since they're usually borrowed from somewhere else, often from wine. No matter how much we try to make them our own, some of the original meaning still seems to leak over and taint their meaning.
When writing more formally, I tend to prefer enthusiast, but it doesn't work colloquially. I would never introduce myself as that. It sounds too, well, snobbish. When I was the beer buyer at BevMo, I once had my boss—one of the founders—introduce me as a beer god, but sadly it never really caught on.
Not to open a can of worms, but I really think there is a lot of borrowed terminology we use in the beer world that needs to be replaced by more original ones. But as this little exercise should convince even the most enthusiastic supporter of changing them, getting a consensus is all but impossible. You can't really get language to change that way, it has to happen organically for it to stick. Anybody remember that smooth transition to going metric?
But I still think we should work on this despite its Sisyphean nature, so look for another of my verbose seemingly unending diatribes about this one of these days soon. Good Friday topic, Lew, but now can we get to work on that world peace thing?
Cork Dork (oops)
Hop Fop (sorry)
Lew Bryson (a winner)
Beer Nuts sounds like a disease...
Do you only write for mags that pay by the word?
Again, I'm not overly torqued by this. But we have come up with some good beer-specific terms, not just borrowed: "craft brewer" was one, though there's some argument on who came up with it; "sixtel" is another. I'm just trying to jump-start the process.
The term "geek" has gotten old, for all of us, I think. Any charm it might have had was pretty much co-opted by Best Buy's "Geek Squad" branding. I never drank with geeks anyway, so good riddance to them.
Geeks love to label things and fret about labels Lew :)
Geeks label, classify, judge, fret, rate, and dissect - and they are committed to their holy and untouchable concept of their right to express "opinion". Opinions which don't need to be grounded in fact or knowledge.
There are loads of people out there that who are accurately described by the definition that you have posted.
I would not call you a geek.
I'd call you a beer-writer :)
I'll keep "Beer Geek" thanks.
i know its long but beer variety seeker . i can only tell you if a beer is good or not . i find beer geeks annoying who cares if you can pick out 10 aromas from one beer . just drink and enjoy
"Do you only write for mags that pay by the word? "
Don't I wish. Because otherwise, I am working cheap.
You are a geek Lew, there is no doubt about that!
Pisshead. Sums me up well.
I invented the word "zythophile" - ancient Greek for "beer lover" - as a parallel to "oenophile", to try to give some academic-sounding polish to what in the 17th and 18th centuries were called "malt worms", but it's probably too, er, "geeky" an expression to catch on. Personally I have to say I like "beer buff", it has a warm, friendly sound to it ...
I've no problem with "beer geek", probably because it has different overtones in the UK. As Stonch says, the standard stereotype of the CAMRA-type is much much worse.
"Geek", to me, implies that you take something seriously. Possibly too seriously, but, hey, we know that, right?
Beervolk -- or Biervolk, to not mix languages. I kinda' like that -- so long as we don't run into the whole pronunciation trouble. ;-)
Lew, I confront this same problem with a lot of fields with which I am involved or with which I work--radio and electronics folks (hams and computer geeks), folk music fans ("folkies"), sci-fi and Japanese animation enthusiasts (I need not say anything about "trekkies/trekkers", and there's been a "mockumentary" made about "otaku," which is a Japanese variation of "geek/enthuasiast/obsessed one"), and the like. Politics: Does anyone remember when "liberal" wasn't an insult or invective to be hurled? Similarly, "Christian" or "evangelist". (I refer STRICTLY to the *usage* of the words in popular discourse at the moment, not to any actual or perceived interpretation thereof.)
I've come to the overall conclusion that almost any term can start out as an acceptable designation for any enthusiast, but then get slowly mutated into a term used with derision and scorn--and furthermore, that the actions that create such derision are those of the enthusiasts themselves, not so much the reactions of others. (You can be a "liberal" without being a vegan member of Earth First, as one exaggerated example.)
As another example, the term "railfan" was coined somewhere in the ancient past (perhaps the early 1950's or so) to refer to a railroad industry enthusiast. It grew to an extent that one magazine in the field called itself Railfan when it started in 1974; it merged with Railroad Magazine (founded in 1906) in 1979 and has since been called Railfan & Railroad. Now, the term "railfan" started as just another term for anyone who had an interest in railroading as a hobby or interest, but it soon got lumped with the baggage of a stereotype similar to the portly, obnoxious, loudly-dressed American tourist overseas: a generously-sized white male, wearing a vest with 100 embroidered patches on it (and he's ridden on trackage of all those railroads, tourist or real), a minimum of two cameras around the neck, engineer's hickory-striped cap, railroad-channel-tuned radio scanner in the back pocket, and in extreme cases an oversized railroad-themed belt buckle and maybe a red kerchief. The extremes, much like the "hopheads" or cellar compilers of beer, are referred to as "foamers," for the figurative propensity to foam at the mouth at particular locomotives, steam trains, or the like. Extreme cases may involve painting the van/SUV in the color scheme of a former railroad's locomotives and equipping it with a railroad air horn and bell, or buying your own steam locomotive or railroad. (The world's most famous card-carrying rail enthusiast: Walt Disney, who personally picked up the locomotives for Disneyland and Disney World, and whose key animator had a full-sized railroad on his estate.)
Now, it is not mandatory for anyone interested in railroads to abide by these stereotypes, any more than it is for, say, an African-American male to like rap culture or play basketball, or a Japanese person to eat sushi. But there's JUST enough truth to the stereotypes, largely driven by the most egregious examples, that railroad management and rank-and-file these days don't dare identify themselves as "railfans" lest they face derision or worse (suspicion of stealing company property, for one). Furthermore, the extreme examples of the field are very small in number, but by the very nature of their (perceived) actions and behavior, attract the limelight (and thus the media attention, etc.) far out of proportion to the "normal" folks.
Back to beer (that is, if you haven't already zoned out): beer enthusiasts of every stripe are crucial to the survival of craft beer--without them, any brewpub might as well be a martini bar, and any microbrewery lasts just as long as everyone tries the beer once. But, yes, there are certain participants in the beer scene, just as with any other field, that can (and likely do) give the overall "scene" a bad name. We all know various traits: they can tell you exactly how many beers they've consumed in their lives; they can spout IBUs, Platos, and ABVs like there's no tomorrow; they post their reviews to beer websites from their Blackberries to avoid having to get home first; they're in the race for the 500 Beer Club at the local beer bar; etc. Most importantly, YOU know it--because they make the point of telling you and everyone else within earshot if possible.
Much of this revolves around the projection of a certain attitude. I see it in other fields as well--the person seeking "validation" because he worked for Microsoft or the almighty Pennsylvania Railroad. Unfortunately, such attitude literally saturates what I've seen of a certain beer advocacy website and publication. I used to call myself either a beer geek (around fellow geeks) or a beer advocate (to the non-geeks); at this point I'm reduced to shrugging my shoulders and saying that, technically, I'm a "professional beer writer"--because I DO get paid for my writings. (I then always point out that the 15-year "apprenticeship" was at my own expense.) In pure truth, at times I'm either attending events or drinking certain beers out of a sense of obligation, and at times I'm viewing it as work, just as you might at times. (Ever attended a beer festival when you were technically sick and would have called off a regular job? I have.)
The prevailing problem is that, just as with any avocation, any term selected by the "elite"--the academics, the professionals, the trend-setters--to describe their avocation or enthusiasm runs the risk of being then similarly co-opted, corrupted, and contaminated by the poseurs, the "wannabes," and the posterior-orifices of said field, leaving the intelligentsia once again in search of a term as yet unafflicted by the bad apples of the cider.
No, Lew, this is hardly the first time this kind of discussion has erupted, and as long as there are certain folks hard-wired to be idiots, we will face this. I'm at a loss to try and suggest any solution, other than your very own tag-line, "It's all about the beer."
Why, yes, I *am* wearing as I type an Otter Creek t-shirt and a keystone-shaped red-and-brass "1361" belt buckle made with actual brass from "Pennsylvania's Official Steam Locomotive," PRR K4s 1361, which I helped restore in 1986..... why do you ask? <:-)
Lew, I think I tend to favour "beer buff" over any other term should such a term be required. Certainly when I used to be quoted in the local newspaper, far more than I am now, they always said "local beer buff Peter A said etc.
I just normally describe myself as a beer man, CAMRA man, or whatever the circumstance requires. But beer buff or beer lover isn't so bad.
Typical first time exchange with a brewer:
Brewer: "Are you a beer geek?".
Me: [sigh] "Nah...I just love beer."
It's to the point where most brewers don't even want to bother with "geeks" anymore...so...
But "we" built this up so now "we" have to live with it.
Would I ever denounce being a "beer geek" though?
You know...I'm looking at this and thinking, "buff, I'm no damned buff" and realizing it's because I was training to be a historian at one point, and "history buffs" were the annoying civilians who often just wanted the same things the geekiest of beer geeks did: numbers, dates, the minutiae that really meant nothing compared to the sweep and the lessons of history. "Buff" to me is no different than geek...but I can relate that my feelings are not those of most folks.
I wouldn't argue with you -- as SF fans say, "It is a proud and lonely thing to be a fan." But really, isn't the thing you're proud of -- leaving the lonely out -- the internal knowledge and experience and passion, not the external tag? I can see "geek nostalgia," but I can also see a new generation taking up a different term.
Or maybe not. This is, after all, a playful discussion thread, not a cry for action.
"This is, after all, a playful discussion thread, not a cry for action."
Maybe true...but...calling a spade a spade may not keep this playful. You know?
It's times like these, when "beer" gets taken too seriously, that you have to just step back and watch from afar.
And maybe laugh a little too.
Wait a sec, let me get this large mirror to hold up...
I took a cooler of interesting beers along this weekend (we went up to my brother-in-law's after the forensics tournament was over, celebrated his birthday (which is actually today, happy birthday, Chris!) and watched my niece Sara perform in her school play, Seussical Jr.), and we cracked them open, and we drank them. They were good. We said things like "Damn, that one's good" and "That's stupid hopped" and "Mmmmm, thanks, good." No geeking, just drinking. Were we taking beer too seriously because we even had the beers in question (half of which aren't available for sale in NY, some quite expensive and special bottlings), should we have just been drinking Saranac? Gets tough to slice real fine sometimes, which is some of the issue already discussed: what makes a geek?
More playful discussion.
Lew, Someone mentioned 'beer evang-ale-ist', that is the term the AHA uses for it's club liaison members.
People who know me and my affinity for beer refer to me as "the beer guy" so I kinda like that.
Personally, I am not too upset or disturbed by the use of Beer Geek, but some of the OTHER folk who describe themselves as Beer Geeks can be rather disturbing and I don't like to be lumped together with them!
I like some of the other suggestions: Beer-ophile, Beer Lover, Beer Person.
But why not just simplify things and tell it like it is: "I'm a Beer Drinker!"
Bob R in OKC
How about FOB?
Friend Of Beer?
I mean, beer and I have had a long, friendly relationship. And no matter which brand or style I'm trying, I go in with high hopes and best of intentions.
Sometimes it works to perfection, other times it can be a disappointment. But we remain friends throughout the process.
I'm all for retiring beer geek. How about just "brewer" for everybody? Brew can mean 'to bring about.' Even novice bloggers like me 'bring about' some notice of beer.
Or, there's beer mavin, or beerist or zymer (that last one's not a real word, by the way). Zymer sounds and looks cool.
I like tabellion's "'zythophile' - ancient Greek for 'beer lover' - as a parallel to 'oenophile'." It has the advantage of not coming pre-loaded with connotations. Beyond that, though, we usually don't mean anything derogatory when we call ourselves or each other geeks, and people who are being derogatory will be regardless of the term they use.
ok this may be played out, but what about the term uber in front of the word geek..uber has two dots over the u, but I don't know how to type it that way. Everyone will know you are referring to beer if they are reading this site anyway.
personally I kinda like 'crafthead'...I just made it up.
Lets not use pocket protectors for the bottle openers in our shirt pockets.
That is what makes a geek.
Well, maybe opening bottles of beer with your glasses too...
I vote to also do away with "Foodie". Let's have a funeral for it too!
I realise I'm entering the deabte rather late. I describe myself as a beer obsessive.
I don't like this 'beer drinker' bit. Yes, I love to drink beer but it's GOOD beer that I love to drink. A Bud guy is a beer drinker. I'm a beer snob. I refuse to drink mass-produced factory swill. I'm not efforting to identify all the different flavours and aromas that come wafting out of the bottle when I open it. I just want a beer that tastes good from my pint glass.
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