Tweet I had another thing planned for today's post, but the cultural question, or actually, the issue if there is such thing as beer culture in Spain has come up again, this time in a great post by Lúpuloadicto (in Spanish).
The thing here is that I'm not sure if there is a clear definition of what "Beer Culture" is. To me, it's something that it's mostly determined by the consumption of the drink and its rituals.
With music, cinema, gastronomy, literature and pretty much any other human activity, there are different "levels" of culture. Most people are happy with what is massive and they don't meditate too much on what they consuming, but there are others, a small minority, who are more curious, more demanding, who in some cases even start to study the topic in question, not because they aim to become academics, but because they are interested in it and want to be more informed. It is just the same with beer.
But back to Spain. One of the arguments among those who do not believe there is such thing as a "Spanish Beer Culture" is that nobody knows anything about styles and/or ingredients and/or processes. At the same time, many of them would say that there is a "Spanish Wine Culture" because people are more informed about this drink. They have a certain knowledge about Geographical Denominations, varietals, etc. They are wrong, not about the existence of a Spanish Wine Culture, but about how informed people are.
The marketing of wine has managed to convince the consumer that they are informed because they are able to enumerate denominations, grapes and other wine related terms, when what they are actually doing is repeating like parrots with very little, if any, understanding of what they are saying.
Let's say an average consumer wants to celebrate a special event with a special wine and goes to his favourite hypermarket with the intention of buying something more expensive than usual. He or she goes to the wine section and sees a Rioja 2004 at 20EU and next to it a Rioja 2007 at the same price. Which one is he/she more likely to buy? The more aged one (he/she won't say "the oldest one"), because, as an average consumer, he/she believes that the more aged, the better.
After having bought the wine, he/she goes to the beer section and picks a case of the usual brand without a second look at what else is there. Well, this person doesn't know much more about wines than he/she knows about beer.
At not point he/she wondered how long have these wines had spent standing on those shelves, he/she doesn't have the slightest clue about the quality of each of the vintages, knows nothing about the makers of those wines and even less about each one of them in particular. This person bought this wine believing he/she has made an informed choice, when in reality what he/she has bought is only a brand, just like with beer.
So, if we applied to wine the same argument that is applied to beer, then we should say that in Spain there's no such thing as a wine culture, or if there is one, it's quite poor. Which is something that nobody would dare say, and rightly so. Why then there's people that still insist that in Spain, or any other country, there isn't a proper beer culture when there is a paradigm, or paradigms, of consumption that identifies the concept "beer" in the minds of most people (regardless of whether they are consumers or not)?
We could say that Spanish beer culture is very elemental, flat, too dictated by the big brands, etc and some people have set themselves as a mission to enrich it. But how? Is it possible to do it when many, if not most, brewers keep on repeating that all top fermented beers are ales, brew "Abbey" (or worse, "Trappist") beers or a foreign style following a recipe book from the BJCP, without knowing or understanding anything about its history or claim that all their beers are brewed according to the Reinheitsgebot? If you believe so, then I'm afraid we will end with a public who will know about beer as much as they actually know about wines.
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