Bar Beat

The Battle Hymn of the Beer-public: There's No Room for Snobs in Craft Beer

When Mongoose versus Cobra first opened, one of my favorite things to do was sit outside on a busy Friday night and watch as the following scene played itself out over and over like some version of Groundhog Day with a different pack of confused Midtowners each time:

  • Group of snappily dressed men and women out for a night in Midtown approaches snazzy-looking bar.
  • Group walks inside.
  • Group cranes necks at boards displaying names of exotic beers, then attempts to engage in dialogue with bartender.
  • Group looks around at each other, confusion and angst dawning on their pretty faces as they realize that there are no "normal" beers in the bar.
  • Group has furrowed-brow discussion amongst themselves.
  • Group leaves in frustration.

There is no Miller or Budweiser for sale at Mongoose. There aren't even more familiar-looking options such as Shiner Bock or maybe a Blue Moon -- beers which the mainstream beer consumer would certainly denote as "craft beers." The most "mainstream" item for sale at Mongoose on its beer list is Southern Star's Bombshell Blonde, a light blonde ale that's easy to drink and increasingly familiar in Houston stores and bars.

And that's where Mongoose -- like many craft beer bars -- loses customers. But bear with me here.

From our craft beer high horses, we might be quick to say two things about this situation:

  1. Who cares if a bunch of Midtown douchebags choose not to stay and frequent a craft beer bar? Good riddance!
  2. We don't want craft beer to become a commodity item that everyone drinks; I would die if I saw one of those douchenozzles with a Laughing Dog Anubis. He doesn't appreciate that stuff.

And that is where I so often find myself when in discussions about craft beer these days, although I'm reluctant to paint all craft beer lovers with the same brush. I'm especially guilty of the former statement, many times over. I don't want to drink my Poperings Hommel next to a girl in a too-short, sparkly dress who keeps my bartender overextended by ordering multiple cocktails at my craft beer bar. I admit that.

But more often than not, misbegotten attitudes like mine extend to the establishment itself. It's obviously perfectly fine not to offer Bud and Miller in a craft beer bar; that's the entire point. But I feel sometimes that places like Mongoose and Petrol make their craft beer lists purposefully obtuse and their service style abrupt in order to keep the "riffraff" out.

That sword cuts both ways, though: It can also make craft beer unnecessarily daunting and turn the entire thing into a patronizing, cliquish experience for the uninitiated. You don't know how to pronounce Klokke Roeland? You don't know the difference between an English Pale Ale and a Belgian Strong Ale? You don't like hops? We don't need your kind here.

When confronted with this kind of craft beer bar, newcomers can be left with a bitter taste in their mouth that has nothing to do with hops. It's especially odd considering the entire craft beer movement is taking place, ostensibly, to wean the American public off adjunct lagers and mega-beers like Miller and Bud.

"Let those Midtown douchefairies have their swill!" is not a battle cry; it is completely antithetical to the entire war on crappy beer. Beer is the great egalitarian beverage, meant to be enjoyed by the masses. So why don't we want the masses to drink good beer?

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Katharine Shilcutt