“Two Ounce Culture” – Is Sampling Disrespectful of Art?

Blogging friend Rob Fulmer of Beer PHXation had an interesting post yesterday taking great issue with what he calls the “Two Ounce Culture.”  Stan Hieronymus was so enamored with the phrase that he implored Rob to run out and protect it.

The premise stems from an New Yorker article on art. More specifically, an article examining our distractions –  short attention spans, if you will – and the impact on our ability to appreciate incredible works of art. As the author notes, even when we are arrested or moved by a particular piece of art, there inevitably comes a moment when we stop thinking about the art and start thinking about what we’re going to make for dinner.  Art that is merely consumed, discarded and replaced with the next robs us of art’s power to remove us from our daily “shallower pleasures.”

Rob very astutely likens beer to art and decries those he knows whose experience with beer exists only in sampling form.  Two ounces at a time. Consume, discard, replace. To know a beer and appreciate the art the brewer has created, one must spend time with the beer.  I subscribe to this notion wholeheartedly.

To that idea Rob asks: “What was the last beer that you remember having three in a row of?”

Hmm . . . . . I don’t know the answer to that question.  I like to experiment. If I have three or four pints in an evening, you’d be smart to lay odds they will all be different. I don’t think that is contrary to Rob’s point.

I do remember the last time I had two pints in a row of the same beer.  It was Iron Goat Brewing Co.’s Goatmeal Stout, an oatmeal stout with very well balanced chocolate and coffee flavors in a somewhat creamy package and a surprisingly low 5.6% abv for the great depth of flavor.  In a word, it was fantastic.  We discovered it by getting a taster tray at the brewery in Spokane, WA – both of us enjoying about two ounces each of Iron Goat’s offerings.  We got to spend time with Heather, one of the owners, while chatting about the beer, the brewery and more.

That’s what Cheryl and I do.  When we head to a new town or a new brewery, we’ll get a taster tray or two at a couple of places to try a variety of beers we don’t have access to in Montana. We often use it as a way to figure out what we want a full pint of – i.e. to figure out what beer we want to spend some time with.  Some aren’t worth a whole pint. Some are worth getting lost in.

I do check all these beers into Untapped.  It lets me keep notes about beers and breweries to help overcome my faulty memory.  It’s also fun. Untapped has a nice social element to it, letting friends post comments, ask questions and take part virtually.  Hey, we can’t always drink together.

Yet, sometimes we do all drink together.  Friends new and old, that is. In Missoula, we have a loose knit tasting group with about six core members and many more who pop in and out. Sometimes there’s a theme, sometimes not.  We taste a variety of beers, two or so ounces at a time.

These tastings last three, four, even five hours.  The beer is the art which brings us together, but it definitely isn’t the sole value of the experience.  We talk about the beers, compare them to others we’ve had, and look forward to the next one. More importantly, we find out what’s going on in each others’ lives.  We tell stories. We laugh. We’ve been know to poke fun at each other.  We come away from these experiences enriched.  Enriched by the beer and enriched by the experience with one another.

We’ve tasted mythical beers which lived up to the hype and some that didn’t.  We’ve found hidden gems which have us scrambling for more.  For sure we’ve missed out on an artful experience by failing to spend enough time with a beer or two at times, but we’re not unappreciative of the art, the brewery or the brewer.

Rather, these experiences often remove us from our “shallower pleasures” a few hours at a time.  

I don’t happen to know anyone whose beer culture exists only in two ounce segments, but I suspect I would have the same reaction as Rob.  In my world, I relish the occasional chance to get lost in a pint (or more) of beer, both alone and with friends.  I also take great pleasure in two ounce pours when everyone knows it’s not all about the beer.