Why extremophiles are a danger to us all

I was going to ignore the latest claim by Ratebeer to have found “The best 100 beers in the world as rated by tens of thousands of our worldwide tasters” on the grounds that nobody in the real world cares what a bunch of loopy extremophiles drinks or thinks. Especially when there are far more important things going on outside in the streets. Really – a “world’s top beers” in which seven out of the top 10 are imperial stouts? You are having a laugh. As Stephen Beaumont pointed out on his blog, “In the style listing of the top 50 beers, the word ‘imperial’ appears 39 times!” This has nothing at all to do with what most people who enjoy beer actually drink or want to drink. I enjoy a good imperial stout, but it’s just one of a wide range of styles I rate highly, and not even the top one.

However, as I watched Mubarak attempt to save his sorry arse by telling the Egyptians it was all the fault of the people he had appointed, and he was going to appoint another bunch of people instead, a corner of my brain was rolling over the deeply dangerous implications of Ratebeer people’s obsession with the extremities of beer.

Because the first problem is that more normal drinkers, if they see that list, are going to look at it and get an utterly distorted and entirely false idea of what really great beer is all about. It’s like telling people that the best dishes available in restaurants are all vindaloo curries, or the best bands in the world only come from the different varieties of metal. And that won’t encourage them at all to explore the huge variety of other fantastic beers that are available.

It will also encourage journalists who know no better to frame beer enthusiasts as people totally out of touch with the “normal” beer drinker, and only interested in beers with 100 IBUs and abvs of 10 per cent or more.

The second, and perhaps worst problem is, as Stephen Beaumont hints, that this sort of utterly distorted listing encourages brewers to concentrate on “extreme” beers, with more hops, more numbing flavour, more strength, to try to impress the blinkered tasters that seem to form the majority of Ratebeer members, to the detriment of those of use who want nuance, subtlety and depth in our beers.

And if you want a perfect example of how the “enthusiasts” of Ratebeer know absobleedinglutely nothing at all about beer, here’s their “best beers of the British Isles 2011”, in which Guinness Draught Stout, a barely average beer at best, is not only at number 13, but three places ahead of Guinness FES, a world classic.

(Incidentally, when that Ratebeer list first went up, it listed the styles of each beer, so you could speedily see that the top was dominated by imperial stouts. Strangely, after uncomplimentary comments about that aspect of the results, the “styles” column has disappeared. You may think this is an Orwellian attempt to rewrite history: I couldn’t possibly comment.)

The pub landlord’s worst nightmare …

Bar in a Duane Reade supermarket, Brooklyn

The supermarket with a bar it it!

“One corner of the Duane Reade store on Bedford Avenue in the Williamsburg neighborhood [of Brooklyn] has Fire Island Lighthouse Ale and eight other beers on tap, with growlers — refillable glass bottles — lining the walls. Uniformed clerks-cum-beer-experts fill the growlers and conduct tastings …”

With a fair number of off-licences in the UK having been offering drink in take-away containers for many years now, surely this has already happened in a supermarket here? And if not, surely it will be happening soon? And what then for the (already dubious) claim that “the pub is the only place you can get proper draft real ale …”