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Why are beer people so outraged?

Beer people are pissed off, especially online. Might cooler heads eventually prevail?
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D58 -llustration-Trend

Illustration by Pablo Iglesias

When this magazine posted its top 25 Beers of the Year list last year, a Facebook commenter, enraged that some of his favorite beers didn’t make the cut, referred to us editors as “a bunch of inbred morons.” I didn’t lose any sleep over the ad hominem attack, because I read posts like that all the time. They’re directed toward breweries, other beer drinkers, beer publications, you name it—and they appear on social media and beer blogs regularly. But … why? And didn’t beer used to be fun? It’s easy to entirely blame the Internet for creating an anonymous place where beer drinkers shake their fists and hurl insults without consequence. But there are more complicated group dynamics at work. As the craft beer world draws in new, vocal fans every day, it’s time to get to the root of the collective indignation.

It’s useful to go back in time and visit the online beer scene in its infancy. In 2000, a website called RateBeer, primarily a beer rating website that also has discussion forums, was founded. Sixteen years ago, with fewer people interested in craft beer and even fewer interested in joining communities on the Internet, RateBeer users were primarily global beer fans who, generally, were civil to each other. (Joe Tucker, who began working with RateBeer in 2001 and now owns the site, also notes that many of the first users were Danish and British, and “those cultures tend to be a lot more reserved.”) Today, RateBeer turns over approximately 10,000,000 page views each month.

Todd Alström and his brother Jason founded Brewguide in 1996; it’s been known as BeerAdvocate since 2000 and is another popular beer rating and forum website which today has 564,000-plus registered users. The Alströms, as well as other site moderators, closely monitor members, and reports of users banned for misconduct or, some claim, simple dissent, are easy to find. But tempers certainly still flare. On a recent forum thread about infections in some of Goose Island’s 2015 Bourbon County Brand Stout variations, a Savant user (which designates a person who has accrued a lot of experience on BeerAdvocate) posts: “If this is how Goose Island repays their veterans and hardcore supporters of what USED to be one of the GREATEST products on the market than the Geese need to be SHOT DOWN AND BUTCHERED.” To which another savant user responded: “I do love to see the calm, measured responses, made when all evidence is in, that we have grown used to seeing here on B.A.”

The tensions aren’t limited to just RateBeer and BeerAdvocate. Even smaller, localized websites like St. Louis’ STL Hops forums have seen numbers grow from 2009’s base of 30 to 40 users, who nearly all knew each other offline, to 2,000 members today who may not even know each other’s real names. That increase can lead to, euphemistically, differences of opinion.

That’s because with a larger crowd, individuals have to shout louder to be heard. “The more stable a group is over time in terms of its membership, the more it can work out conflicts. When more people enter the group, that creates a Wild West atmosphere,” says John Suler, professor of psychology at Rider University and author of “Psychology of the Digital Age.” “When people are talking about something that is so intrinsic to their identity, like religion or politics, or in this case, beer, they can become very defensive and unwilling to hear other opinions.”

So in 2016, we’ve come to a place where beer ranks alongside religion and politics as no-go dinner table conversation topics? Will Gordon, a Boston-based freelance beer and food writer who regularly reviews beers for the Gawker-affiliated site Drunkspin, sees beer as so central to some people’s lifestyles that they’re unable to tolerate opposing views.

“There is a peculiar, loud 1 percent of craft beer fans who are people with an absurd lifestyle that they want validated,” he says. “If you make fun of driving up a dirt road in Vermont at 7 in the morning to get a bottle of Hill Farmstead, what those people hear is their wife’s voice saying they should have gone to the kid’s soccer game that morning instead.”

Some see the divide—and its attendant posturing—as a schism between the old guard of beer and its newer fans.

“As craft beer becomes more mainstream, people who have been really into beer for years are wanting to differentiate themselves,” says Jeremy Danner, ambassador brewer for Boulevard Brewing Co. in Kansas City, Missouri. “Because there are so many ‘regular people’ that are into beer now, people who feel like beer has been their precious thing see that it’s getting crowded by consumers and it’s making lines longer, beer bars busier, and certain beers harder to get…”

Bringing more people into the fold creates competition. The scarcity of once-available bottles is certainly another cause of hand-wringing and online teeth gnashing.

“I see this on Facebook, where people are enraged that they can’t get a bottle of a beer when there were only 150 bottles made. They can’t fathom why a top brewer in the world or a beer brewed by monks isn’t converted into a gigantic industrial brewery to supply the world,” says Tucker.

But heaven forbid that same small brewery sell to a larger corporation like Anheuser Busch-InBev and ramp up production, as some have over the past few years. The online community is then apoplectic for the opposite reason, fearing that once-artisan beers will be watered down, mass marketed, and for sale in a highway gas station.

Case in point: When Duvel bought Boulevard in 2014, Danner felt the backlash.

“Especially in K.C., we’re very much their brewery. It would be weird if people didn’t freak out [over the sale] a little bit. There was some negativity, people posting ‘Sellouts!’ on Facebook, dudes saying they’re going to pour our beer out in their driveway,” he says.

If the push-pull between supply (“Keep it small!”) and demand (“But I want a bottle!”) sounds like a catch-22, it is. It’s a product of people feeling like they deserve to own every awesome beer, says Mike Sweeney, creator and editor of STL Hops and an employee of Lohr Distributing, a family-owned Anheuser-Busch and craft beer wholesaler. “There’s a level of entitlement that people have. I don’t know if it’s a generational thing or it’s just new beer versus old beer,” he says. “I don’t concern myself with having to get XYZ beer. Beer should be about making friends. Then, even if you don’t get to own a bottle, if you’re a cool person and not a jerk, you’ll get to try it at a bottle share.”

But many don’t see it as a desire to consume every beer under the sun. Their emotional response to beer comes from passion, they say. And if beer consumers are passionate, that emotional response will sometimes be negative.

“I have a very different relationship with craft beer as a product than other goods,” says Bill DeBaun, one of the editors of and the author of a sometimes snarky personal Twitter account, @dcbeerbill. “I don’t tweet like this about ketchup. I haven’t spent one-hundredth the time with any other kind of product that I have with craft beer. It’s not just going home to a six-pack in the fridge; a lot of my social life is tied up in this product. People understand that ketchup is a business, but do not want to accept that beer is a business. And I’m guilty of that, too.”

So while some bemoan beer drinkers’ indignation, that individual emotional connection positively translates into sales of not just beer but merchandise, event tickets and bottle subscriptions from breweries.

DeBaun equates his passion with a license to give feedback to breweries, both positive and negative.

“If people start fucking up in craft beer, it’s more than just ‘Oh, you made an ugly six-pack holder,’” he says. “This is a product that a lot of us care about and spend time debating and arguing about.”

Danner, who spends much of his time responding to social media for Boulevard and his personal accounts, says that when tempers flare and discussions get nasty, he has to remember that, at best, it’s a product of hardcore fandom. Best-case scenario, the positive voices in the beer community—online or otherwise—step in to calm tempers. In forums, website moderators can place an overheated commenter in a temporary sort of “time out” that blocks them from posting.

“How a user responds to moderation comes into play,” says BeerAdvocate’s Todd Alström. “Most deal with it and move on, others throw temper tantrums worse than a child.”

If there’s no moderator, though, as in the world of social media, anger and even threats can go unchecked. Drunkspin writer Gordon is adept at deflecting online criticism (he credits his Boston sports fandom for his acclimation to conflict), but says the hostility is worst when he pans a regionally beloved beer from a brewery like Yuengling or Harpoon.

“Those classic regional beers, people will get up in arms about. It’s heartwarming in a way, before it gets insane and violent, which usually takes about two tweets,” he says. “Then suddenly someone’s threatening to rape my cat.”

Ad hominem attacks reached their highest point when Gordon wrote about sexism in the beer industry (citing offensive label art and a 2015 beer week event held at a strip club) for Slate Magazine, sparking “anti-P.C.” backlash. One of the 500-plus comments on his article reads: “I hope this article helped you get laid, but if not, maybe you should drink more. So you aren’t so uptight, eh?” Gordon could follow the adage “Don’t read the comments,” but it was harder to ignore social media attacks directed straight to him.

“That was a shitty 36 hours of my life,” he says. “When the article came out, I was on an Amtrak train, and I spent the ride blocking dozens, possibly hundreds of people on Twitter.”

In rare cases, offensive bad apples can nearly spoil a community. According to professor Suler, that’s when a group is tested to see whether it can survive the bickering.

“You need a critical mass of people who are sane and don’t want to perpetuate the hostilities,” he says. “It’s also good for the overall group to remember the higher purpose, which in this case is to promote good beer.”

Perspective, moderation, mutual respect. These are the tenets are well-functioning community, whether it’s based on beer or anything other interest.

It’s something I keep in mind when I read Facebook attacks and name-calling on forums. It’s helped me not take criticism personally. Boulevard’s Danner offered another bit of perspective. When he has an especially tough day on beer social media, he remembers: “We’re lucky that people take the time to give us feedback, and we’re lucky that we don’t do social media for an airline.”


  • Dave says:

    There is absolutely nothing unusual or remarkable about the flame warrior culture of any large message board community, whether the forum subject is beer, wine, politics, Star Wars, miscellaneous comic book characters, etc.

    Anybody can visit CBR right now and watch members threaten each other because of a disagreement over whether Batman could take Captain America.

  • Lew Bryson says:

    We’re seeing this exact same situation with whiskey: rare bottle releases, rising prices, small distillers being bought, and a whole lot of “passionate” screaming about it. As someone with a foot solidly in both worlds, I think the whiskey people are more angry. On top of everything else, they’re going through the kind of anger/discovery phase about contract bottling that craft beer went through in the mid-90s, so that’s an additional layer of perceived betrayal.

    Speaking as someone who’s been at this longer than most — drinking non-mainstream beer since 1981, writing about it since 1994 — I’m actually seeing a large number of people in my ‘generation’ not angry at all, or feeling a need to prove anything. Most of us are pretty relaxed, and we drink what we like (which is just as often something solid, fresh, and easily available). About the only thing I get mad about anymore is 5.5% “session beers.”

    • Brian Y says:

      Then I won’t tell you that for their own Oregon Beer Awards, alt-weekly Willamette Week had a category for “Sessionable Hoppy Beers” that defined them as “6% ABV or lower.” If that makes you angry, don’t shoot me I’m just the messenger.

  • Bob says:

    Sooooo tired of hearing Danner quotes. Especially for an article like this. That dude has flamed me on twitter before because I had a different opinion than his. He’s not even a real brewer…

    • Steve Cook says:

      Ever think there’s a reason why he flamed on you. While you’re certainly entitled to your own opinion, that doesn’t automatically validate it, nor do you get to grace with world with your own set of facts. He is indeed a “real brewer,” and what are your bona fides? Why not actually start a dialogue with the guy?

      You validate the point the article was making by your own post.

  • Wilby Jackson says:

    I’m sure alcohol has nothing to do with the advent of increased trolling on beer social sites. :)

  • […] the craft beer movement grows, online discussions and rating sites are getting a little nutty.  And sour.  And […]

  • J Homer says:

    Part of the problem can be pinned to the fact that when you rate beers you have to realize that MANY beers aren’t available to everyone allowed to vote. Therefore they either vote based on preconceived notion of it’s popularity, or they vote for their local favorites, not having had a chance to taste the beer they don’t have access to.

    This is why I simply don’t read Rating articles, or vote tallies. They aren’t accurate in ANY way. Local population, distribution reach, and fanaticism all equate to meaningless results. Sorry.

    On top of that when people complain online, on Twitter, on a Website, via Email – whatever, they aren’t “discussing” anything as they might have a chance in a conversational situation. Generally those kinds of responses are knee-jerk reactions from people who don’t understand the difficulties in choosing “winners” (and the impossibility of actually doing so in almost all cases.) They simply respond as they would in any other online forum, with an angry diatribe.

    At least be assured that there are plenty of people who are very passionate about their beer. Those are the kind of people who drive the industry, and support your publication.

  • BeerMeBudbutnotaBud says:

    “infections in some of Goose Island’s 2015 Bourbon County Brand Stout variations” ?!?

    Why am I just now reading of this?!? (Oh, cuz I didn’t research it. Okay)


  • Denny says:

    It’s quite hilarious that articles like this even exist, Now we have “session” beers, some made up marketing term
    that is now used by beer drinkers who have been brainwashed by hype and advertisers. Who really gives a sh*t
    about all of this ridiculous talk? The list of absurdities continues to grow. Just shut the *%$# up and go brew your own beer.

  • Natalie Rauworth says:

    This saddens me. However, this is the world we live in. Craft beer has become a social hobby and even vacation destination theme for myself and my husband. We use RB and BA ratings and reviews as guides for tasting, but not as the end-all. I have truly enjoyed some lower rated beers, and not liked some higher rated. But to get mad about anything craft beer-related (aside from bad service/attitude at a Tap room), is simply infantile. As far as the “best beer lists”, or “best brewery lists” I just look at that as an opportunity to add more beer on my “wish list” or a destination on my vacation bucket list.


  • Kari says:

    The confusion of disrespectful and insolent comments with authority. Simmer down, and have another beer. Perhaps one of the “terrible” ones. you may like it a lil better the next time around.

  • Candlou. says:

    I don’t get upset. My favorite ale is Genesee Cream Ale. The Brewery has changed hands at least three times that I can remember. I love their Cream Ale and the price is right. I think they are now owned by a Canadian brewery. thats OK keep up the good work..

  • Alan Haggard says:

    Some people just need to relax, and have a (or another) beer. And FFS: Stop feeding the trolls. Giving them free publicity doesn’t exactly help matters..

  • Hey Now Holly says:

    Great article! I fully agree with all of it. No online bashing here :)

  • Phil Sharp says:

    I subscribe to a number of brewing publications. I do not belong to a brew club. I prefer to brew on my own with two other friends. I subscribe to magazines so I can learn new techniques, get recipes, and drool over equipment I cannot afford. Neither do I do any social media so when I saw this conversation about irresponsible people and their comments attached to this magazine I was totally surprised.
    One of the major reasons why I do not do social media is it is usually trivia based, folks showing pictures of rugrats, and those that are spouting a cause. Get a life folks. You like a beer so much get the recipe and try it yourself.

  • Mikey Mike says:

    This was uncomfortable to read knowing that Jeremy Danner is one of, if not the, worst offender of negative Tweets and trolling aimed at beer geeks. How Boulevard/Duvel lets him near their social media is astounding.

    • I’m happy to discuss any concerns or address any questions you may have if you’d like to tweet at me. I’m @Jeremy_Danner.

    • Jake says:

      Jeremey Danner flew into Baltimore when I had my baby, and paid for her future college education, then cooked my wife and I some meals that we could freeze and reheat later down the road. He also brought me a 6 pack of the ginger radler, because I have had trouble finding it in my local beer market.

      Once in a while, he texts me inspirational quotes when he knows I am having a rough day. Jeremy Danner is a saint, and a national treasure.

  • […] Why are beer people so outraged? by Kate Bernot […]

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