Overhyped? That’s My Call to Make

Hardywood Christmas Morning
An excerpt from local beer/wine shop Arrowine’s newsletter promoting Hardywood Christmas Morning (a gingerbread stout with coffee), and addressing the reality of the hype around it.

We know the routine: every couple of months, a Big Time Beer gets its annual release. People line up around the block to get it, bottles — no matter the price — sell out in minutes, and unlucky folks beg for trades or hook-ups at their local shop. For every enthusiastic hyped beer hunter, though, there are several people ready to call out the hype, questioning if said beer is really worth all the hullabaloo, and offering less-hyped, “better” alternatives that they believe beer enthusiasts should focus on instead.

I believe in hype cynicism. It’s good to be discerning and to separate the beer we like from the beer that’s hyped. However, these are not always mutually exclusive. Sometimes a beer is hyped because it’s just that good. But even when a beer isn’t nearly as good as the cheerleading suggests, that’s still a distinction that should be left to individual beer drinkers to make for themselves.

While I believe in healthy cynicism, I do not believe in condescension. Even if a given beer is overhyped to high heaven, it’s never okay to treat people as if they are dumb or uninformed if they choose to buy and drink it. Have you ever taken a suggestion from someone who sneered at what you were currently drinking, or classified what you wanted as something only uninformed bandwagoners drink? I’m guessing no. It’s okay to have a different opinion, but it’s never okay to make someone feel inferior because they don’t share it.

The majority of hype cynics, though, are not jerks. I believe they mean well. They’ve likely done the hype song-and-dance before: they heard everyone crowing about a limited beer release, they searched high and low for it, they found it and probably paid too much for it, they were less than impressed, and they’ll never do it again. Now that they’ve gone through the experience, they want to make sure others don’t make the same mistake.

Bell's Hopslam
Bell’s Hopslam, one of the most hyped and sought-after beers on the market.

However, that thinking — as well-intentioned as it may be — is misguided. Following hype can be a mistake, but it’s a mistake that someone has to make themselves. Part of the craft beer experience is finding a beer that didn’t match the hype so we can learn from that. Giving an example of my own, I once paid way too much money for a six-pack of Hopslam. I found it in a convenience store and bought it, even though a) I’d had it before, b) I didn’t necessarily need a whole pack, and c) I knew they were charging extra with both convenience store mark-up and hype mark-up. But I bought it because I was convinced I wouldn’t find it anywhere else. I didn’t regret drinking this tasty beer, but I later regretted paying that price, as it appeared cheaper and in singles at another bottle shop. It was a mistake, but I know for the future to just be patient and wait for it to appear elsewhere at a more reasonable price tag. I am glad, though, that it was a lesson I learned firsthand.

There are ways to share healthy hype cynicism and make recommendations while not being rude or overbearing. I’ve seen some hype cynics responding to beer hype with “Don’t bother drinking (hyped beer), (less hyped beer) is so much better anyway.” It’s the beer equivalent of that music fan that never seems to like what you listen to and only likes stuff you’ve never heard of. When talking especially to people new to craft beer, though, I’ve found it better to recommend both. For instance, if someone were to ask me about Hopslam, I’d say, “Sure, I recommend trying it at least once. However, I’d also check out Firestone Walker Double Jack or Heavy Seas Double Cannon, which are both the same style, easier to find, cheaper, and delicious.” I believe suggestions should open doors, not close them.

I would feel the same even about a hyped beer I wasn’t as thrilled about. This may be where beer enthusiasts stop reading my post, but here it goes: I was not terribly impressed with Firestone Walker Velvet Merkin. It was delicious and well-made, but the hype around it made me think I was going to drink the stout equivalent of nirvana. I had a glass and thought, this is good, but not mind-blowing. I actually prefer the regular Velvet Merlin, which is more easily found and costs a lot less. If someone said they wanted to try it, though, I would not try to stop them. Tastes differ from person to person, and just because I didn’t think it lived up to the hype, that doesn’t mean that everyone will feel the same way. I might caution someone on the price (I paid $13 for my glass), and if asked, I would give my honest opinion on it. But I wouldn’t discourage people from trying it if they really wanted to, I wouldn’t disparage people who get excited for its release, and I certainly wouldn’t spend precious time ranting against the hype surrounding it. I’d rather use that energy to promote beers that I like.

Firestone Walker Velvet Merlin
Firestone Walker Velvet Merlin – my preference, but not my command.

I understand the desire to help people steer clear of overhyped beers, dishonest marketing, and exorbitant prices. However, there is a fine line between offering advice and telling people what to do. It’s okay to caution against hype, but it’s not okay to try to dictate someone’s choices, and it’s definitely not okay to insult people because they joined the hype train for a given beer. We are all adults — we can decide for ourselves what beers are worth the hype, and we can make and learn from our own mistakes. In the end, beer should be about personal enjoyment, not “doing it right” based on other people’s tastes. Do right by you, be it a hyped beer or a lesser-known favorite. Drink what you love. That’s all that matters.

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