Monday, July 09, 2012

Enough with the categories?

There's lots of fun to be had categorising things.  Boak and Bailey have a go here at dividing brewers into conformist and (of course) non-conformist. Elsewhere we're familiar with  another dimension on which brewers are characterised as more or less progressive / traditional. I say this is a different dimension since we can choose to ally ourselves (i.e. conform with) a progressive movement, with other progressive brewers. Progressiveness can be as shallow and conformist as any churning out of brown bitters.

Of course the whole idea of brewing progressive, extreme beer is a distinctly modernist sort of thing.

There are those who explicitly categorise themselves as contemporary1, progressive, even post-modernist.

What I've made here is a pretty much standard, if slightly wobbly,  partitioning of the field:  On the one hand, traditionalists turn out traditional products.  (Unless these products are from a foreign tradition,  in which case they're a sort of non-conformist alt-traditionalist). On the other hand, the avant-garde, the progressives (modernists) reject stultifying styles and (sigh) "push the envelope".  And on the third hand (?) there's the noisy post-modern stance bringing us concept beers and irony.

The problems with this kind of analysis are all too clear.  How do we categorise, for instance,  a UK based lambic blender?  As a producer of delicious beer, I'd hope.   But beyond that, how will they fit into a traditional / modernist / postmodern mapping. Not well, I'd suggest.  Are they non-conformist?  It's a traditional product, just not traditional around here. Or any of the brewers who use mixed fermentations - a touch of brett here, wild yeast in the fruit beers there.  An old tradition producing more-or-less non-standard beers.  How non-conformist is this?

I think that what we're seeing is a more of a metamodern2 aesthetic.
People are happy to look to the intent of traditional forms. Less concerned with pursuing an illusion of novelty.  Less afraid of finding value in a romantic tradition. We swing from mad beers to comfort beers, from the extreme to the classic.  And back again.  Our utopia isn't in some golden age, or in some futuristic bye-and-bye.  Neither are we living in some grim (all bets are off) relativistic post-modern dystopia.  For now we choose fun and beauty. Not so much because they're necessarily true, but because they're fun and beautiful. Which is true enough for me. We can enjoy beer for what it is, or what it tries to be.  Not so much for what we're told it is, or what it isn't. But because it's good.

 1This being now, all current brewers are contemporary.

 2See here for much, much more on the metamodern thang.