THERE’S A BILLBOARD near me in New Jersey for Miller Lite that says, “All other light beers: I am your father.” God knows why this is a thing to be proud of, but I, for one, find it refreshing that Miller Lite is comparing itself to one of the most evil movie characters in cinematic history. Which officially makes it the first time I’ve been refreshed by Miller Lite.
America, unfortunately, has been known in the past for its shitty light beers. It won a 2010 survey on which country produced the worst beer, far outstripping the runner-up, China. Beer tourists are far more likely to go to countries like Germany or Belgium, or possibly the cask-ale mecca of Great Britain before they ever head to the United States. No one is going to cross an ocean to drink Coors Light — a beer that has so little to it that the advertisers decided to focus on its “coldness,” something they have zero control over.
But there’s another thing Americans can be thankful for this Thanksgiving: our beer no longer sucks. I’ve only been (legally) drinking for 7 years, and in that brief period of time, the country’s gone from having a drinking culture where bars could get away with having a beer list that consisted of four light beers, to a drinking culture where virtually every bar is chock-full of delicious microbrews. And the people we have to thank for this beer revolution? Hipsters.
The Hipster Beer Revolution
The hipsters are the dominant subculture of the millennial generation, and like similar subcultures before them — hippies, punks, beatniks, goths — they are a target of widespread derision and scorn. The only attitude more popular than hating hipsters is hating Nickelback. No one likes the pretension, the hyper-ironic humor, or the up-their-own-asshole level of self-awareness that defines the hipster subculture. It’s understandable. They can be awful to be around. But like the subcultures before them, hipsters have brought something new to American culture that our society as a whole is seriously going to benefit from.
They brought a love of variety. Think about it: the main joke about hipsters is their dislike of all-things “mainstream” and their obsessions with niches and quirks. The only way a mass-produced shitty beer is going to take off in the hipster world is if it can be drunk “ironically.” Everything else has to be unique and different. Find your niche.
Another element of hipster culture is the DIY element. Some hipster create their own urban organic farms. Others like to yarn bomb trees. Others brew craft beer in their basement.
The craft beer revolution as a whole has been happening for nearly 30 years now — until about 1980, the number of breweries in the United States was constantly decreasing to a low of under 50 — but it was only when hipsters became the country’s dominant subculture that craft beers could really take off. Craft beers are almost by definition not mainstream, but in a culture where liking things that aren’t mainstream is actually a part of the mainstream, being not mainstream can be profitable. America’s got 2,500 breweries these days, and 1,500 more are in the planning stages. The revolution has been in planning for three decades, but it’s finally happening now. Craft beers are everywhere.
For boozers such as myself, more variety can only be a good thing. Sure, there are still plenty of craft beers that I don’t like at all: I, for one, do not understand why loading a beer with way too much hops is supposed to be a badge of pride. Beer names like “Hopsecutioner,” “Hopzilla,” Hopageddon,” and “Hoptimus Prime,” do not appeal to me. (Okay, “Hoptimus Prime” does a little bit.) But the fact that weird, quirky shit like over-hopped beers can be sold in popular bars means that craft porters, pilsners, and Marzens can as well. It has even become rare that I stumble on a city bar that doesn’t have a saison available.
America, of course, still has some shitty beer. That’s not going away. But it’s a lot easier to live with shit when shit’s not the only thing available. And to a large extent, we have obnoxious, pretentious, smug hipsters to thank for this wonderful development.
So this Thanksgiving, raise up your glasses to the revolution. This rising tide has lifted all boats, and we have our smug, bearded, beflanneled compatriots to thank for it.