The Session #70: Don’t Believe the Hype

It may seem that in this over-stimulated world, you’re either trying to escape hype, or are suspected of producing it.

One man’s truth is another man’s fiction. Ramp it up to the political level and you have some real worries, like the fiction of weapons of mass destruction leading to the fatal truths of the Iraq war. Beyond a few hangovers, I doubt this has ever created any severe problems in the world of beer.

Hype we will always have with us, whether we define it as over-zealous advertising and public relations or just the amplified outpourings of eager fans infused with uncritical devotion.

As for Westvleteren 12, what beer can possibly live up to the reputation of being the best in the world? It was the (mild) disappointment with the beer in relation to its reputation that led David J. Bascombe of the Good Morning… blog to suggest this Session #70 topic in the first place.

A rarely seen label from the Westvleteren brewery

Equally, what to make of the long lines that precede the appearance of some beers? In these New England parts there was the annual kerfuffle over Kate the Great, the Imperial Stout from the Portsmouth Brewery in New Hampshire. (Not likely to happen in 2013 as brewmaster Tod Mott left, while retaining rights to the recipe.)

There are ample stories about spending time or money to get one’s mitts on a particular beer, and I’ve certainly frittered both away in the past.

I’ve written about this before, but early in my beery career I drove from New York to Vermont just to try a rare beer, all at the urging of the late Alan Eames, who was a Jedi Master of hype, and indeed was paid to be one. The beer was a Ballantine Burton Ale said to have been brewed only twice in Ballantine’s history, this one from 1946 and then barrel-aged for twenty years before bottling.

After a three and a half-hour trip from New York to Brattleboro, I found out from Eames that the tasting was in Stowe, another two and a half hours north, and that he didn’t drive. The carrot of the Burton Ale kept me going, not to mention Eames’ non-stop talking, and we eventually plowed through numerous bottles of the stuff.

Amazingly, it was still pretty decent. And I still have a bottle that I haven’t opened, now another quarter-century down the road. I wouldn’t have missed this experience for anything, and not only for the perspective it shed.

I’ve been to the Westvleteren monastery, and have had the 12. Would I like some more? Sure. Would I have liked to have had a taste of BrewDog’s The End of History? Sure. Would I like to have easy access to Pliny the Elder, or Younger? Sure.

But beyond the journalistic, the only real reason to track down certain beers now is to satisfy my curiosity and to be able to say I had it, the latter point mostly vanity. Although I’d be happy to be proven wrong, I doubt that there are any beers out there that are going to change my life. I’ve had those already.

I know there are plenty of great drinking experiences ahead, and I’m eager to have them. I’m just not going to get too worked up about them beforehand.

So I guess I’m here today to say that I don’t believe there is a beer, anywhere, or of any kind, that is worth spending hours on a line or shelling over a big wad of cash for. There is no beer flavor in the world that is going to lift the scales from your eyes, give you a glimpse into heaven, set you to roam in the firmament. Not even that one, over there.

So if you can’t get that one over there, try this one over here. It’s pretty good, too.


The Session is a monthly effort where beer writers around the interwebs respond to a topic question. This is the 70th installment, so it’s been going on for quite a while. The list of responses this month can be accessed at Good Morning…

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