The India Pale Ale Movement, tidal force that it is, is a pansy farce. Breweries remain effective for the end-of-week roundtable with friends, cornhole or colloquiums, where you can proffer your latest takes on flannels, Southern Proper and even politics. And although the brewery tropes can be made fun of, too, I actually don’t mind them because they are symptoms of the larger IPA contagion. The brewery environs represent the inevitable inventions of an effete, IPA Movement that neutered and abstracted beer consumption into a pinkies-out exercise in taste-bud obliteration. The IPA is, as internet memes have said, the pumpkin spice latte for white boys. Beer is now “hoppy” (one of the more repellent words introduced into the popular lexicon), which basically is code for “substantially augmented alcohol content with a flimsy façade of taste.”
The IPA Movement epitomizes new, elitist forms of degeneracy. We (the elites) are no longer satisfied with a partial-hegemony of vices. The cranial thumping persists, and now has urged us to colonize beer, the age-old water substitute and social monolith. We now have splintered this timeless institution into obscure, academic categories of taste, so now we can add passionfruit-infused IPA to our massive portfolio of things we’ve tried that you haven’t.
This fake diversification of flavor within the IPA Movement is as repellent as it is transparently traitorous. I saw recently a snickerdoodle-flavored IPA. Even among the irredeemable spread of tropical fruit flavors, this seemed to be an absurd joke. Although I’m sure, as is the case every time, that the fresh-from-the-oven-flavored IPA tasted like some sort of vile extract, the unmitigated parody here seems especially monomaniacal.
The IPA never wavers, never varies, never even threatens to crest the wave of recognizable flavor, yet the IPA drinker has mastered the art of obfuscation and fabrication. He or she sucks down the same bitter twelve ounces, while having to fantasticate some diversified, flavor-profile blather that dissolves quicker than the words can trip over each other. It’s a pitiful existence, one that epitomizes some sort of latent creative quashed by capitalist specialization. “Man hopes. Genius creates,” Emerson said, who in his infinite wisdom forgot that desperate hope often manifests as useless and facile creations, and that almost none of us are geniuses.
The IPA Movement represents yet another of our cravings for niche-ification. As culture becomes one big humble-brag about how my niche is better than your niche, we will continue to find ways to make more niches in a flailing attempt to carve some superficial path for ourselves out of oblivion. The IPA and its invented universe of curation and taste not only pulverizes the tongue, but creates from the ashes yet another unneeded niche, the only redeeming quality stemming from the fact that one twelve-ounce beer can have a high-enough alcohol percentage to drown our discrimination on contact.
But to reiterate, I have no problem with the IPA atmosphere, as long as I can order a pilsner and not hear about the on-tap options that each individually house twelve unique flavors from the Far-East. The problem arises when people pontificate, when people begin to think the movement has legs, that it isn’t just another bulging cultural hernia sapping the vigor from real, cultural novelty. I have no problem living a life in the mind, creating fantasies and enjoying their invisible company. I can frolic in fields of imagined play as well as the next guy. But when those fields of fancy try to break out of their dome and claim cogent contributions when their imaginative qualities are otherwise tawdry, I chafe. I’m not saying don’t imagine, I’m just saying run it through the consideration machine, or else, as Cheever says, we will “mistake a lack of discrimination for Christian love.” The cockamamie connoisseurship birthed from boredom and indolence helps no one. Do not start telling me IPAs are any good, or that they are of any legitimate cultural relevance. Just slam back your pilsners and, please, try to stay sharp.