Why I Sniff My Beer

By now, most of you have seen Budweiser’s Super Bowl commercial, marketing to beer drinkers who enjoy beer that is “brewed the hard way.”

The commercial, I think, is really good. I mean, who doesn’t get excited about Beechwood getting chopped, Clydesdales running free, and cold bottles of beer being served to fun, everyday people “who like to drink beer”? Throw in a stadium-rock instrumental overlaid by some in-your-faceisms and you have a commercial that is as enjoyable to watch as, well, drinking a cold beer. Yet while the commercial mastered its appeal to its hard-working, America-loving, get-your-drink-on clientele, it purposefully slighted those kind folks who don’t drink Budweiser at all: people who actually like good beer.

In the commercial, these folks are portrayed as snooty, beer-sipping, out-of-touch hipsters who would rather dissect and fuss over beer than just guzzle it down. And the portrayal is not unfair. We craft beer drinkers have become an odd sort, a very different kind of beer drinker than the one who has committed to macro brews and their brands. The differences between how these two camps consume beer are so stark that it is comical. But after watching the commercial and recognizing the fact that less than 10% of beer sales in America are craft beer, I get the feeling it is really the craft beer drinker who is being laughed at. And like at a middle school dance when the big bully has just made fun of you and everyone is laughing, you either take it and go sip on some Coke alone or you reply with an equally witty retort and go dance with the pretty girls. Well I’m no Coke sipper. I’m a beer drinker.

First and foremost, I enjoy the flavor of beer. Just like I enjoy the flavor of a good steak, or pizza, or ribs. I don’t say things like, “these ribs are excellently warm” or “the steak is pretty good right at the moment I’m not chewing it anymore.” A cool, crisp finish is great but I can get that with damn Fresca. And once you’ve had a damn Fresca, life gets a little bit better when you have Dom Perignon. When presented with the two you sure as crap don’t want to go back to Fresca again. So, when you have a really excellent beer that tastes like all the other things you love like chocolate and melon and fresh bread, being offered “golden suds” suddenly sounds like “urine-filled bubble bath water.”

Budweiser brews beer “the hard way” and “not to be fussed over.” I don’t fuss over beer, but is it so wrong to talk about while drinking it? What if granny makes a delicious chili con carne? We’d probably say things like, “Yum Granny, how did you make this here con carne? What ingredients did you use?” Or do we blow through her chili like it’s an afterthought and say things like, “Granny, did you make this the hard way? I hope you’ve been chopping wood all day and cooked this slowly over a log fire. If you can tell me you really sweat for this chili, I’d be inclined to go for seconds.” Of course we don’t say that, because it’s ignorant and rude. We like things that taste good and want to know why they taste good. If a lumberjack and a welder were involved in the brewing of my beer that’s fine, but I doubt they made significant contributions to its flavor.

We have to also address the implication made that sniffing beer is pretentious. Generally, if you want to taste something, you have to use your nose. Aromas received by the nose account for 50 percent of taste. It’s science. So when I sniff my beer, I’m not trying to look clever. I’m just trying to fully appreciate the wonder of this amazing libation. I mean, do you get how incredible beer is? It’s water cooked with barley and hops that is placed in bacteria for a period a time only to magically become a delectable elixir that makes our bodies happy. Four ingredients, from flavorless to dull to harsh to disgusting, are combined to create a carbonated, flavorful drink that—but by the grace of God—really should not happen.

Perhaps I’ve made my case for the craft brew contingent among us, but today I stand for all beer drinkers. If you like craft brew, we will sniff and swish it together and discuss things like ideal head retention and alpha acid dry hopping. If you prefer the macros, we will pop the top, have a nice swig, and simultaneously say “ahhhhh.” Because when it comes to beer, it shouldn’t divide us.

It should bring us together.


  1. I must admit, when that Budweiser spot hit the airwaves on Super Bowl Sunday, I almost jumped to my feet in uproarious approval and barely avoided spilling my Miller Lite all over myself in the process.

    Your post has given me a better understanding of the craft-beer aficionado, Carson. I think that sometimes, as human beings, we tend to make fun of things we don’t understand. It’s easier than actually taking the time to try to understand those things–but that’s a pretty lousy excuse, isn’t it?

    There probably aren’t any good excuses for this sort of behavior (my soccer-bashing also comes to mind), but there are reasons, I suppose. One reason is barrier to entry. For example, in the realms of fine wine, fine food, craft beer, and nuanced sports such as soccer, the uninitiated would have to spend a good deal of time and energy just to be conversant on a very basic level. The knee-jerk reaction (“jerk” being the operative word here), is to simply dismiss these things out of hand. It’s easier than taking the time, effort, and in many cases the expense to educate oneself.

    We also have the “poseur” factor to consider. A certain percentage of so-called wine snobs, foodies, and beer sniffers are just putting on an act, and it can wear thin pretty fast. The problem is, the *actual* percentage of poseurs is probably much lower that the *perceived* percentage. That is, the more alienated one feels by the behavior, the higher the perceived percentage of poseurism.

    And even though admittedly, Budweiser did appeal to the baser instincts of its core audience, I have to give them points for identifying their Unique Selling Proposition and delivering an on-target message. Anheuser Busch is seeing its market share erode at a record pace, and perhaps for the first time in history finds itself in reactive mode. If their goal was to assure its customers that there’s nothing wrong with enjoying a macro beer, I think they succeeded.

    As someone who actually prefers the macro brews, I must say that I have experienced a certain kind of bullying behavior on the part of the craft-beer crowd. In recent years at after-work gatherings, I found myself being cowed into ordering a $6 lager or amber or ale when all I really wanted was the cold, crisp taste of the cheap American swill I had grown up with. Not that I should need it at this point in my life, but the Budweiser spot said to me that it’s all right to drink what you like and like what you drink.

    In the meantime, I will endeavor to keep an open mind with regard to new potent potables. Thanks for a great post.

    • Thanks Grant. Great comments and points well taken. The barrier-to-entry factor is a good one, yet I appreciate the fact that I can get absolutely one of the finest beers in the world at my local shop for not much more than a macro brew. I think there are fewer barriers to craft beer than many other delicacies.

      I find myself among pro-macro-brew fans often in my family and friend circles, who often seem to feel the need to make a case for their preferred libation, perhaps a sign that I’m judging their choice of refreshment. Of course, most of that is done lovingly and in jest, but truly I do not judge anyone by the beer they enjoy or whether they imbibe at all for that matter. I appreciate a good time with an enjoyable, adult beverage above all. And, I will stand up for new the next time anyone gives you a hard time with your beer choice. When it comes to beer, there is no place for bullying!

      Thanks for reading, my friend. Keep the comments coming.


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