The Session No. 90: Criticism

This month’s Session* topic is hosted by Jake Scholan at Hipster Brewfus.  He names his topic “Beer Fight Club” though  I’m renaming it “Criticism” to better reflect the theme of his entire post.  Jake’s title comes from the following premise:

Have you ever drank a beer that became a battle, more than an enjoyable experience? Maybe a beer that was far bigger than you had anticipated? Something you felt determined to drink, just so you can say you conquered that son of a bitch, and you are all that is powerful. Or perhaps it is something that is just so bad, all you want to do is slap it around a bit. Or maybe you were on the verge of passing out, but you just wanted that one last beer, and the valiant struggle between taste bud fulfillment and the velvety embrace of sleep that ensued.

No. And I have no idea why anyone would. It’s a ridiculous proposition and the idea glorifies alcohol consumption merely for consumption’s sake.

Overall, I had to resist the urge to pull out my red pen as I do when grading one of my student’s exams whose attempts at humor and sarcasm are nothing more than a poor attempt to cover up an obvious lack of preparation.

In my tortured attempt to find the silver lining, however, Jake does present a topic worth discussing: Criticism. In fact, Jake appears to agree.  He did not address his specific question either, choosing instead to take on a valuable topic, albeit in a style many might not enjoy.

That topic has been growing over the past couple of years: the recognition that beer writing – in all its forms – has taken it too easy on “craft beer.”

But criticism for criticism’s sake is as useless and boring as click-bait cheer leading.

What’s really missing is not so much criticism, but critical thinking.  Challenging someone’s premise. Pointing out where “data” is code for “just take our word for it.” Using research to prove a point.

Those take time and effort.

Opinions are easy to dispense and require no knowledge of the particular subject. They might even be “right.”  But professionalism still matters.  Credibility and influence require it, along with a healthy dose of actual knowledge.

Personalities are fun.  Strong ones, even.  They can really shine in one’s writing. Make us laugh.  Challenge us.  We certainly don’t need homogeneity in writing styles and personalities any more than we need it with our beer.  But having an agreeable point is rendered useless if the means employed result in a lack of audience.

You want to create an “in-your-face” schtick? Go for it.  But you’d better be damn good at it.  Take Thug Kitchen.  It’s loud, obnoxious and right up in your face.  And entertaining. And useful.  More importantly, it does all this without the need for personal attacks and empty criticism.

The angry, constantly critical, “don’t give a damn” beer market has already been cornered.  Ding has been doing it for years.  He’s even occasionally right.

There will continue to be all manner of beer writing. And should be. No doubt many a beer blog will be filled with uninspired beer reviews and, unfortunately, personal ridicule.

But you can also count on Stan Hieronymus to continue his discussion about beer’s sense of place. Jeff Alworth certainly has more commentary, news and occasional criticism in store – the kind that comes from being better connected to the beer world than most of us.  Oliver Gray will hopefully continue to create his literary imagery, possible only because he puts so much effort into each word.  Expect Pete Brown, Max Bahnson, and Boak and Bailey to continue to provide beer history, travel, news, notes and insightful commentary from distant lands. To name but a few.

Every one of them has exercised the power of careful thought to levy criticism when needed. Even better, it’s usually provided from a base of critical thought.  Not always right, sometimes quite wrong, but typically presented in a form which invites discussion.

Discussion.  That’s why I’m in this game. That’s why you’re here.
*Today is the first Friday in August which means it’s time to take part in The Session, a collective effort of beer bloggers around the world to write on a common topic once each month.

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