i want you to
note the geography of this map.
it’s useful to think about alongside the beer scene right now
because it forms, in a generalized way, a historically-located pattern of distributions along several lines:
• first, alcohol content, which tends to increase as you move outward from the center of the map toward the corners;
• second, price, which tends to increase as you move diagonally, from left to right and bottom to top.
(& here’s where things get interesting for me)
this motion creates a rough binary that discloses how cultural capital resides in beer:
• in the corner of the bottom-left quadrant, american adjunct lagers and malt liquors, prized for their high alcohol content and low prices:
a cheap way to get fucked up fast if you’re a blue-collar worker looking for a quick buzz.
• on the other hand, in the corners of the upper-right quadrant, highly-fermented belgian beers and american wild ales, prized for their high alcohol content and often-exorbitant prices:
an expensive way to get fucked up fast if you’re a beer snob with some money to burn.
these two groups act kind of as extreme points on continuum, particularly in terms of price, class association, and flavor, which tends i think to be validated in beer communities such as those on beeradvocate.com or ratebeer.com, those spaces that create legitimized knowledge over beer as a category of objects.
it is important, i think, to note that this bottom left quadrant represents more than 80% of the beer market in the us right now (if i remember my stats from beer wars accurately). & as you might be able to infer, this bottom-left quadrant represents the lowest “class” of beers, and beers that tend to rank the lowest among self-proclaimed beer enthusiasts. i am part of this (admittedly elitist) category. they are widely available, inexpensive, and tend to be dismissed in terms of their flavor.
the upper-right extreme, on the other hand, tends to represent the highest “rank” of beer. these beers tend to be rare (limited releases, brewed infrequently, long fermentation periods), occupying only a very small portion of the beer market, are very expensive, and, in reviews/tasting notes, suggest careful, distinguished palates. “taste” here is most rarefied.
between the two exist beers as they have been normalized historically. again, as you move away from the corners of the map toward the center, alcohol content tends to decrease, as does price. availability and the amount of variety (market competition) increases, and the demands on the taster’s palate are construed as less extreme. this is the middle class of beer, where most craft breweries (still a privileged category) seem to operate.
as i mentioned before, i think this map represents a distribution of capital within the beer market as it is construed by “beer enthusiasts” at a particular historical moment (ie. right now, 2008-2010).
something to think about the next time you’re at bevmo.
All the many varieties of delicious, delicious beer.
Have a great weekend everybody!