I once read an article about the word "Gourmet" referring to the overuse and culturally-developed trite-ness that ensued from a culture full of marketing that seeks the newest buzzwords in the culinary industry. The article suggested that the word had been murdered by businesses and restaurants putting gourmet in front of any food item and creating an impression of a classically-trained chef in the back of their dilapidated dining rooms who were whipping up the latest innovations in the culinary industry. In truth, the use of the word "gourmet" to these places meant nothing more than "has some seasoning on it." The word had been beaten into the ground until it had lost all its original meaning.
Last night, sitting at a bar downtown, I overheard a bar patron ask "what domestics do you have on tap?" Before getting too judgmental about the use of the word "domestic," I am reminded of a theory in the study of linguistics which states that the use of language is based on a mutually-understood lexicon for concepts. I also realize that most of linguistics is what is called "descriptivist." This allows linguists to solely study the concept of describing a language, but not enforcing a particular rule on the languages' uses. I don't like that at all...without some regulation, why have a language in the first place?
So the topic here is the word "domestic." This particular customer asked for a "domestic" beer. The bar we were at had a great selection of craft beers from across the U.S. and one tap of Paulaner from Germany. They also featured lots of Minnesota beers. So with proper use of the word, the bartender could have suggested any beer except Paulaner to fulfill the request. His answer was that the only "domestic" on tap was Grain Belt Premium. So being the very literal person that I am, I decided to try and decipher what we call "domestic beer."
One would think that you could easily consider the word "lighter" in place of this bastardized form of the word "domestic," but this bar had both Surly Hell (Helles Lager) and Lagunitas Pils (Czech Pilsener) on draft. Both light lagers. So that's a no. My best guess is this: "I would like a beer produced by a major company that I can recognize from commercials on TV."
I guess the bigger issue that I take from this encounter last night is the bartender's acceptance of this lexicon in order to appease the customers. I asked him why he didn't suggest Surly or Lagunitas and he said "that's not what he wanted." Firstly, how can one know that -- the two light lagers certainly fit the bill in my book. And secondly, the general "dumbing down" of our knowledge as bartenders in order to propel the status quo of the public's view of beer styles is exactly the antithesis of being a craft beer bar. I feel that this idea fails to provide a customer with proper service -- a sort of McDonald's approach to the craft beer bar concept where they get exactly what they asked for and nothing more.
I challenge any bars who serve craft beer to elevate their place in this beer culture and educate both your staff and your customers in order to bring everyone to a greater understanding of the drinks that we consume on a regular basis. Many beer drinkers still have no idea what it is. In the culinary world, there is a big focus on Farm-To-Table concepts where customers want to know everything that goes into a dish. Meanwhile, they don't care what goes into their beverage, which is really sad to see. I challenge these bars to educate yourselves and share the knowledge with those around you. That's the only way to reclaim the image of beer back from the major advertising in this post-prohibition beer nation in which we live.