Here’s What Anthony Bourdain Gets Wrong About Craft Beer

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 Heathcliff O'Malley

Anthony Bourdain is at it again. During an interview with the website Thrillist to promote his new cookbook, Appetites, the Parts Unknown host held forth on the world of craft beer, of which he’s been openly critical in the past. The quote that’s making its way around the internet goes like this:

I was in San Francisco, and I was desperate for beer, and I walked into this place. I thought it was an old bar. And I sat down, and I looked up, and I noticed there was a wide selection of beers I'd never heard of. Which is fine. OK, I'm in some sort of brew pub. What's good? But I looked around: the entire place was filled with people sitting there with five small glasses in front of them, filled with different beers, taking notes. This is not a bar. This is fucking Invasion of the Body Snatchers. This is wrong. This is not what a bar is about. A bar is to go to get a little bit buzzed, and pleasantly derange the senses, and have a good time, and interact with other people, or make bad decisions, or feel bad about your life. It's not to sit there fucking analyzing beer. It's antithetical.

Now, before we go any further, let’s get this out of the way: I, like presumably all the other people here at Men’s Journal HQ, am a really big fan of Anthony Bourdain. His efforts to subvert the artificial world of celebrity chefs, pastel-laden cookbooks, and the ever increasing preciousness of the food world as a whole have been appreciated and productive. I also find him hilarious and just generally cool as hell, exactly the way I'm supposed to. 

But… But! 

While the scene he describes — a bar filled with people taking notes on a flight of beers — is undoubtedly horrible to imagine, here's the thing: Your imagination is where it will have to stay, because it doesn't fucking happen. 

I have been to more breweries than I can count, all over the country, and to some of the nerdiest craft beer bars anywhere, and not one of them has been "filled with" people doing this. In fact, I don't know that I can recall seeing a single person actually taking notes on a beer while sitting at a bar. Groups of friends sitting around discussing the beers they're drinking, bonding over a shared hobby? Sure, for a few minutes, at least, before they move on to the normal shit people talk about in bars. The notion that craft bars and brew pubs are overrun with people spitting in the face of Bourdain's perfectly acceptable interpretation of a bar's place in society is just sort of silly. 

I'd even venture that the people who order flights are among the least nerdy types of people you'll find in these places. More often than not, they're people who're just out to have a good time and discover a new local spot, people who look at a beer list and say, "Ooooh, it says this gose is salty and slightly sour! I think I want to try that!" And, "Oh wow, an IPA brewed with coffee… that sounds crazy!" Not exactly much to get heated about. 

But this is what happens when hilarious and hilariously grumpy people go on book tours and do lots of interviews: They have to find things to be hilarious and hilariously grumpy about. This time around, Bourdain would have been way better off if he'd stopped earlier in the conversation when he said, "You know, I haven't made the effort to walk down the street 10 blocks to the microbrewery where they're making some fucking Mumford and Sons IPA." That shit was pretty funny.