The Session #70: Don’t Believe the Hype

The SessionI drank The Best Beer in the World tonight. No lie.

Before I reveal what it was, take a moment and think about that phrase—“the best beer in the world.” There’s no doubt that it’s a loaded statement, and yet I have no doubt that you have an idea of what beer that might be—that phrase has definitely brought a beer to mind.

Not coincidentally, this month’s topic for The Session is suggested by host David J. Bascombe of Good Morning… and his topic (as you’ve guessed from the title of this post) is “Hype.” As in Don’t Believe It.

If I had told them it [Westy 12] was the best beer in the world, would their perceptions have changed?

How much does hype have an effect? Are we much better off knowing nothing about a beer, or is it better to have the knowledge as to what the best beers are?

Which beers do you think have been overhyped? How do you feel when a beer doesn’t live up to it’s hype.

Is hype a good or bad thing for beer? Tell me what you think. I’m looking forward to seeing what the general consensus is.

If my suspicions about my opening paragraphs above are correct, then hype has a huge effect on the beer experience, even if we don’t think (or want to believe) it does. Because it’s an even bet that when I told you I drank “the best beer in the world” then the first beer you thought of, is a beer that’s been heavily hyped. In fact it’s fair to say that whatever beer you imagined is probably (in your experience at the very least) the Most Overhyped Beer in the World.

Let’s sweeten the pot. Before I reveal the Best Beer in the World that I drank tonight, some additional clues: it’s extremely limited, and thus very rare; only a very select few will be able to try this beer. I wouldn’t call it “extreme” but it is made with some unusual ingredients that have complimented the beer really well. And I can attest that it’s really good.

Okay, enough of the hype building: the beer I drank tonight was… one of my own homebrews. Spicy Pumpkin Porter—brewed with pumpkin, cinnamon, cloves, and a touch of cayenne pepper. And yes, while I was drinking it, it was for me, in that moment, the Best Beer in the World. Why? Because I created it, and it’s really good (not something I readily credit my beers with, I’m my own worst critic), and I tend to subscribe to the philosophy that the best beer is the one currently in your glass.

No beer geek that’s been around the block a few times wants to admit that they get sucked in by the hype surrounding a beer, but let’s face it, we all do. And in fact, we beer bloggers thrive on hype—we write about things like Stone Brewing’s Vertical Epic tasting, and Pliny the Younger, and Dark Lord Day, and so on because those are the kind of posts that garner traffic and people want to read. (In other words, it’s in our best interests!) I’ve done the Pliny the Younger thing, and sought out the local beers that won GABF medals, and stock up on The Abyss each year, and then write about it all in various ways. But it can’t be helped—hyped-up topics make for interesting reading!

Overhyped beer? You bet—look at the top beer lists from BeerAdvocate and RateBeer to see what those are. (Hint: Westy 12 and the Plinys are high on those lists.) A lot of Dogfish Head beers tend to be overhyped. Sometimes—most times—beers don’t live up to the hype. That’s okay too.

Except when it leads to things like buying frenzies and beers selling for hundreds of dollars on ebay, generally I think a certain amount of hype is healthy and necessary and definitely a good thing for beer: it drives the business, it gets people excited about good beer, and gains breweries and brewers much-deserved recognition. In that regard, I’m all for it—but then again I’ll be quick to tell you that I don’t fall for the hype much anymore, I’m—you know—“experienced.”

And if you believe that, let me tell you about the Best Beer in the World…