Beer & Philosophy: The Unexamined Beer Isn’t Worth Drinking edited by Steven D. Hales; foreword by Michael Jackson
Date read: 5 April / 15-24 September 2016
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Paperback, x, 233 pages
Published 2007 by Blackwell
Source: Summit / Own
Table of Contents
- Foreword: Michael Jackson.
- Editor’s Introduction: Steven D. Hales (Bloomsburg University).
Part I: The Art of the Beer:.
- 1. Thirst for Authenticity: An Aesthetics of the Brewer’s Art: Dale Jacquette (Pennsylvania State University).
- 2. The Beer Matrix: Reality vs Facsimile in Brewing: Garrett Oliver (Brooklyn Brewery).
- 3. The Truth About Beer: Michael P. Lynch (University of Connecticut).
- 4. Good Beer, or How to Properly Dispute Taste: Peter Machamer (University of Pittsburgh).
- 5. Quality, Schmality: Talking Naturally about the Aesthetics of Beer; or, Why is American Beer So Lousy?: Martin Stack (Rockhurst University) and George Gale (University of Missouri).
- 6. Extreme Brewing in America: Sam Calagione (Dogfish Head Craft Brewing).
Part II: The Ethics of Beer: Pleasures, Freedom, and Character:.
- 7. Mill v. Miller, or Higher and Lower Pleasures: Steven D. Hales (Bloomsburg University).
- 8. Beer and Autonomy: Alan McLeod (Senior Legal Counsel for the City of Kingston, Ontario).
- 9. Another Pitcher? On Beer, Friendship, and Character: Jason Kawall (Colgate University).
Part III: The Metaphysics and Epistemology of Beer:.
- 10. Beer and Gnosis: The Mead of Inspiration: Theodore Schick (Muhlenberg College).
- 11. The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Beer: Neil A. Manson (University of Mississippi).
- 12. What’s a Beer Style?: Matt Dunn (University of Indiana at Bloomington).
Part IV: Beer in the History of Philosophy:.
- 13. Drink on, the Jolly Prelate Cries: David Hilbert (University of Illinois at Chicago).
- 14. Beer Goggles and Transcendental Idealism: Steven M. Bayne (Fairfield University).
- 15. Beyond Grolsch and Orval: Beer, Intoxication, and Power in Nietzsche’s Thought: Rex Welshon (University of Colorado at Colorado Springs).
That subtitle is ridiculous [The Unexamined Beer Isn’t Worth Drinking]. Too easy of a shot and entirely incorrect. Although a propensity to examine one’s beer can be a fine thing, sometimes, in some contexts, beer just does need to be simply drank; not thought about and deity forbid “examined.”
The foreword by Michael Jackson is, of course, sensible. The only issue is that it is somewhat dated now, as many of these pieces are, due to a rapidly changing industry.
“When Fred [Eckhardt] and I first met, his home town, Portland, Oregon, had one brewery” (x).
It is far closer to 90 now.
“Today, there are between 50 and 100 styles of beer being produced in the US, by about 1,500 breweries” (x).
No idea on current number of styles–and by whose counting?–but we’re much closer to 5000 operating breweries in the US, with ~6500 permitted ones.
Certainly not Michael’s fault that the market has changed and, as I said, this is a fault with several of these pieces. Many times market examples are simply that, but sometimes someone uses them to do philosophical analysis and that is pretty much a non-starter. Sure. There is sometimes little choice but I would have hoped the editor focused on more time-insensitive discussions. [MJ is not doing analysis, just commentary, so he gets a bye on this.]
Anyway, the work as a whole is not completely time-bound.
Editor’s Introduction: provides an overview of the chapters themselves and of the groupings (Parts) into which they were put.
Part I The Art of Beer
1 Jacquette: primarily on “authenticity” but is confused, confusing, and extremely prejudiced. Poor philosophy and with the amount of prejudice shown should never have been included in this collection. Period. Certainly should not have been the first piece; although, it did set a very low bar for the rest.
While discussing glassware we get things like the following:
On the Bavarian Maß he says:
“Still, if such tankards are used extensively in certain places where good beer is made, doesn’t this mean that they are an authentic part of beer-drinking culture?
The answer, as we can say in few areas of philosophy, is an unqualified no. Big heavy glass mugs are out” (20) [emphasis in text].
Just. What. The. Actual. Fuck?! The editor should be smacked for allowing this asinine shit. Even if the Bavarians have only been using the Maß for several decades–not his point, or my claim–that does not make it inauthentic. In fact, sitting in a beer garden drinking a Bavarian Lager out of most anything but a Maß would be inauthentic.
“I have seen brandy-snifter beer glasses for specialty beers, and these are often acceptable, if perhaps a little pretentious” (21).
Um. Fuck you, Jacquette.
He finally goes on to decide, quite reluctantly, that a Maß is authentic for current Bavarian culture, but only after deriding the glass for another few pages. Yes, it has issues as a “proper” glass for some purposes but that does not give him license to dismiss it out of hand. Nor are his personal preferences in “an optimal vessel” either (21). Simply not relevant to a philosophical discussion of authenticity.
He is also highly confused on, perhaps ignorant of, how styles evolve. He claims “the good European beers have had in some cases as much as a thousand years, and most at least several hundred, in developing their craft” (27). So I guess Oktoberfest Bier is no longer authentic then.
On whether we must enjoy the truly authentic:
“I may not like Belgian kriek (cherry-flavored) beers — indeed, I personally loathe them — but I think I can recognize an authentic kriek, which in the first place I do not consider to be an authentic beer, without appreciating the flavor, enjoying the taste, or approving the concept” (28).
This is a critically important point but it is again shot through with utter prejudice. He does not show or analyze why kriek maybe ought not be considered authentic but only claims it is not. He also blurs (conceals?) the real point about being able to recognize authenticity despite not enjoying the authentic item or even the concept of it as authentic.
His method for pouring beer (p. 23)–which he calls “[t]he proper method”–is ridiculous and wastes beer.
His ideals of authentic beers are Grolsch, Pacifico, Dos Equis, Red Stripe, Little Kings Cream Ale and so on. In other words, Euro-Lagers are the sine qua non of authentic beer for him. Jacquette is not an idiot but he certainly acted like one in this piece, as did the editor in including this piece.
2 Oliver: “artificial”
Mass market beer is NOT “real beer,” he claims (32).
Based on his butter –> margarine –> butter example, “artificial” is (sometimes) determined by fashion (33).
When he gets to where “the concept of beer style becomes useful” (36) he uses “Pilsner.” But to the Czechs it is unique—the Pilsner just is Urquell. What he goes on to describe he labels “Pilsner-style beer” (36). Not a huge deal but I think he understood this was a fraught example but kept at it anyway; especially as it helps later with his argument that American mass market lagers are artificial.
All in all this is a definite improvement over the 1st essay.
At the end, he admits that we all have those things we accept as artificial. So the point was …?
3 Lynch: A fairly clear epistemological romp to sort out what sort of truth can be known; mostly in a “good”/ranking way. Quite short and an easy read.
Probably should have been in Part III though.
4 Madamer: doesn’t really get anywhere but is a nice ride. Discusses aesthetic description, evaluation and enjoyment.
The three aesthetic activities he is concerned with are describing, evaluating, and enjoying (53).
“This is the main point: Descriptions, of anything, are produced by people for certain purposes. Descriptions are speech acts. As actions they accomplish their purpose or not, but the purposes themselves have to be judged as good or bad on independent grounds” (56).
This is a basic and important point. If you cannot grasp it then you ought never use Untappd or Ratebeer or generally even attempt to provide descriptions to anyone other than yourself.
“Sometimes metaphors are all we have” (60).
Amen! Another basic point about language.
Glad to see we are on an improving quality track so far.
5 Stack & Gale: aesthetic evaluation of beer.
“It can safely be said that the universal, worldwide estimation of these beers [American mass-market] is that they are of poor quality” (66)
“Universal”?! Um, no. They do later back off this claim a bit but it is too late. Two academics–one a philosopher–and they make this basic mistake. I know they are writing “pop” philosophy but who gives a fuck? You still can’t go making universal statements.
“Acidity, perceived tartness, is measured by the pH scale: …” (67).
No, pH does not equal perceived tartness!
“CoSeteng and others (1989) showed that solutions of citric, malic, tartaric, lactic, and acetic acids with equivalent pH and titratable acidity gave significantly different sour taste responses. Likewise, Pangborn (1963) found no relation between pH, titratable acidity, and relative sour taste intensity of several organic acids at both threshold and suprathreshold concentrations” (R34).
The evidence that it is not that simple by a long shot is immensely varied. And large. Humans and other animals seem to have multiple channels for the sour taste and these channels differ widely across species.
“Although significant efforts have been made to understand the chemistry of sour taste, it is not currently possible to accurately predict and modify sour taste intensity in foods by simply knowing the concentrations of acids and pH” (R35).
Both above quotes from:
Neta, E. R. D. C., Johanningsmeier, S. D., & McFeeters, R. F. (2007). The Chemistry and Physiology of Sour Taste—A Review [Concise Reviews and Hypotheses in Food Science]. Journal of Food Science, 72(2), R33–R37. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1750-3841.2007.00282.x
“Barley is the sine qua non of beer production, and thereby, the foundation of beer quality. That’s where the process begins” (68).
Another universal and, again, incorrect. “Sine qua non” means “an essential condition” and barley is not that. For most beers known to much of the world, yes, but it sure as heck is not essential (in either the common or philosophical sense).
Their understanding of the brewing process is also close to bonkers. Few mashes are done over “several hours” (69). Adjuncts do in fact add (or at a minimum, change the) flavor despite their claim otherwise (69). It just goes on.
“The question of the relation between barleys and adjunct-brewing in American beers deserves a few remarks. Though turn-of-the-century American farmers …” (71).
This book was published in 2007. Which damn century do you fools mean? I grok it from context and perhaps most will but that was two turns-of-the-century ago.
No good passages to point to but import beers (into America) get a consistent pass throughout. I want to know why. Some of those are no better than American mass market ones either (see 74 and others prior).
They created a strategic map, or model, of the industry to compare price against advertising (80-81) but, of course, the market has now changed. Tis not good philosophy to include historically contingent market analysis as a more permanent feature of a phenomenon under analysis.
6 Calagione: I like Sam’s writing well enough but this is mostly “Kumbayah” and “Hail, Columbia!” He says normal Sam things here but they are unwelcome in philosophy.
“Big breweries make a product, small breweries make consumable art” (86).
Give me a fucking break! There may be more art [how is this measured?] in a small brewery’s beers but they are all products.
“As craft brewers we are not in the business of growth — we are in the business of making world-class beer. Growth is just a by-product of our business. Money is a means to our end and not an end in itself” (90-91).
Well ain’t that just convenient? And utter bullshit.
Anyway, if you know how Calagione talks and writes then you got this. Not bad overall but what was the point actually other than to sit around the fire basking in the glow of the craft beer brotherhood? Please tell me we are past this now.
Part II The Ethics of Beer: Pleasure, Freedom, and Character
7 Hales: Mill on pleasures. The pragmatics of polling competent judges is completely avoided as it was in hedonic calculus. They do, though, address what constitutes a competent judge in a domain.
“In short, it is a mistake to hold that pleasures are desirable because the competent judges desire them. Far more reasonable is the view that competent judges desire certain pleasures because those pleasures are antecedently desirable, and the judges, informed and educated about that kind of pleasure, are able to reliably detect the qualities that make those pleasures desirable” (103-4).
“The recognition of quality comes at a cost” (107).
The upshot is that we should, within our means, pursue high quality pleasures (109). Thus, become a knowledgeable beer geek.
8 McLeod: Nice. Shows how Canadian liberty is constrained by ridiculous beer laws; although it applies to all governments. Nicely argued and well-written.
He provides an intro and then covers the law in relation to homebrewing, making beer commercially, traveling with your beer, packaging and advertising and the public experience, and wholesale and retail: taxes, fees and price and how one’s autonomy is curtailed across all of those areas.
9 Kawall: friendship. Nice. Basically asks if our “beer buddies” can be true friends.
“So it is here that we begin to see the especial value of beer-inclusive friendships. They include a regular practice which encourages openness and extended conversation, a practice that will improve and deepen a friendship” (128).
Part III The Metaphysics and Epistemology of Beer
10 Schick: William James (& others) on altered states of consciousness/truth/reality
“The dominant theory of knowledge in the West is known as “empiricism.” It holds that sense experience is the only source of knowledge. But it doesn’t indicate what state of consciousness we must be in to acquire knowledge. Ordinary waking consciousness may not be the only state of consciousness that puts us in touch with reality” (140-1).
I do disagree with a few small points but overall is quite good.
The knowledge gained under the influence of beer (or other alcohol or drugs) is neither propositional knowledge/knowing that nor performative knowledge/knowing how, but
= knowledge by acquaintance/knowing what
11 Manson: a riff on Hume’s dialogue. Meh.
12 Dunn: Read this a couple times as why I looked at the book in the first place after seeing mentioned in some blog post comment thread.
Yes. Yes. Natural kinds are highly problematic. Is OK but could have been much clearer. His conclusion, though, is correct: beer/styles are the wrong kinds of things to have “right” criteria.
13 Hilbert: Berkeley, Bishop G. and his ridiculous “God saves it all, except matter, argument.” It isn’t a bad overview of Berkeley’s argument. It’s just that it is a bad argument; then and still.
14 Bayne: primary / secondary qualities. Kant on space & time. Not especially interesting; what was the larger point but to ramble on about Kant?
15 Welshon: Nietzsche’s antagonism of beer yet praise for intoxication. Again, not bad, but not sure what the point was.
Most of these final chapters seem to be excuses for the authors to write “pop” intros/overviews to their pet philosophers, which is almost always a bad idea.
If we look at the fifteen chapters, they were authored by 16 individuals [one chapter had two authors]. Ten chapters were authored individually by academic philosophers, one by an academic management person and an academic philosopher, and one by a PhD student in History & Philosophy of Science. Only three of the fifteen were authored by non-academics: two by brewmasters and one by a lawyer (and beer blogger).
I gave each chapter a score from 0 [did not like; no point] to two [liked] with one [meh to OK]. If you add up the scores and divide by number of chapters it seems the non-academics did a bit better for me than the academics, but that is also driven mostly by Alan McLeod’s excellent chapter. If I was a bit tougher on Oliver and Calagione, as I probably should be, then that groups score would tank.
- Academics: 12 / 12 = 1.0
- Non-acads: 4 / 3 = 1.33
Maybe I ought make three categories and then we would get:
- Academics: 12 / 12 = 1.0
- Brewers: 2 / 2 = 1.0 [or less]
- McLeod: 2 / 1 = 2.0
Overall score per chapter is 16 / 15 = 1.066 so mostly “Meh” or OK.
Not sure what any of that adds up to in the larger scheme. There were three chapters by philosophers that I gave 2s to but also four by academics that I gave 0s.
All in all, is quite variable and I say that some of those folks ought have been able to do better. Much better. Get it from the library unless you’re a philosophy geek like me.