Entitled "Hip Hops" and created by Peter de Sève, The New Yorker's November cover was a sign to some that craft beer has "made it."
Others, notably Oliver Gray of Literature & Libation (who won first place for best beer blog in this year's North American Beer Writers Guild contest), were less enthused:
"It plays to stereotypes. Are we guilty, as a community, of perpetuating those? We sure are. So many beards. So much plaid. Does that make this a clever cover, or anything accurate? Nope."Adopting the posture and air of a sommelier presenting wine to diners in a fine restaurant, the waiter in the image, dressed in his finest flannel and denim, politely displays the bottle for the woman at a communal table, waiting for her approval before (presumably) pouring the contents into a glass.
Though his pretentious display is largely ignored by others in the scene, the man across from her scrutinizes his own beer, nose upraised and lips pursed in the theatrical manner of a connoisseur.
Yes, it's snobbery. But it's all pretend.
They're pretending to be what they are not: high-brow, discriminating, and elite. Instead they sit at a table where anyone can sidle up, where anyone (and everyone it seems) can order a beer and scrutinize it before approval. This isn't the Governor's table, after all.
It's all a big joke, at least to the artist it seems. But there's a lot to like here.
The woman in the image has at least ordered her own beer, and is being shown the respect of final approval. And the drinkers in the background are at least diverse, showing men and women in equal number, despite the fact that women are still a (growing) minority among craft beer consumers.
And though the statistics show that most craft beer drinkers are overwhelmingly male and white (as a 2013 report outlines; statistics from the Brewer's Association 2014 report have not been made public) the crowd in the image gives a diverse show of ethnicity that may be surprising for some regions of the country, though likely not for New York City.
Beyond issues of gender and race, the cover and the reactions it has inspired raise important questions about place and culture. Amelia Lester, writing in The New Yorker, notes:
"It’s an unprecedentedly excellent time to drink beer in Brooklyn, as the cover suggests, Just don’t become a snob about it.”John Holl, who compiled a list of responses to the cover from a dozen beer writers, educators, and brewers for All About Beer Magazine (of which all but one are male), argues that "Brooklyn" in the preceding quote could easily be replaced by "the United States," and that "this scene could happen in many places (maybe minus the neck tattoo)."
Brooklyn, however, is not suburban America, or rural America, or regionally representative of America and Americans as a whole (or Canada, by the way). Brooklyn is unique in its diversity, its urbanism, and its craft beer friendly laws which have not reached (for example) much of the Southeast, as many a craft beer geek in Georgia will attest.
Taken as a snapshot of all craft beer across the United States (even though it's intended to reference the New York scene specifically, as issues of The New Yorker tend to do), the image is more than mockery. It's also an out of touch fantasy--though one we might aspire to.
Holl and his friends seem to overlook, as initiated craft beer drinkers, that many people still have no idea what craft beer is and likely don't care--at least not yet.
Whole segments of the population have never considered beer worth serving beyond the tailgate, women included--who are still predominately wine drinkers. If you ask me, "bringing along the uninitiated" is the main obstacle that craft beer has yet to tackle, particularly in areas of the country that aren't yet "citified" and don't desire to be.
Has craft beer exploded in the United States? Absolutely. Do we live in an era where craft beer is now a homogenous continental phenomenon, loved and enjoyed by all? Not quite.
Some will argue that we shouldn't overcomplicate the issues. It's "just beer" after all. But in some areas of the country, our male peers in the beer industry are "just" starting to ask their female colleagues how they can be more inclusive of women in craft beer. And Annie Johnson was "just" the first woman in thirty years--and the first African American in the history of the prize--to be awarded the honor of Homebrewer of the Year in 2013.
Craft beer is a story that is still worth telling, worth talking about, and worth shaping through the daily conversations we have with others, and while the jesting in The New Yorker cover is proof that people are paying attention to that story, the reality is that the narrative of craft beer culture is just a work in progress.