An Open Letter to Steve Body, the “Pour Fool”

Dear Mr. Body;

Your blog has recently been twice brought to my attention, first by Rose Ann Finkel after you justly praised the beers of the Pike Brewing Company, and then by my friend Lew Bryson, who penned the defense of session beers you mistakenly attributed to some unnamed shop owner in Bellevue. I see that you have been writing about wine for some time, perhaps less so about beer, and I assume that you are eminently qualified to do so.

I would, however, like to correct a couple of what I see as erroneous positions you have chosen to take.

First, your “stated aversion” to “sessioning.” (I agree that “sessioning” is, at least, a flawed word, but until something better comes along it is, unfortunately, all we have. I deplore the use of nouns as verbs.) A session is, as Martyn Cornell observed in your comments section, a social rather than a drinking occasion, in which more than one beer might be consumed, perhaps as many as five over the course of an elongated session. It is not binge or over-drinking.

I assume that, as a wine writer, you have from time to time enjoyed a bottle of wine with another person over a meal. Perhaps you have partaken of two or three or more bottles with a group. This is the wine equivalent of a session and something I have enjoyed on numerous occasions with my wife, family and friends, even Master Sommeliers and Masters of Wine (and one guy I know who is both). Occasionally this leads to overconsumption and great joviality, and a taxi or subway ride home.

I see nothing wrong with that, just as I see nothing wrong with a session infrequently lasting a bit too long. Alcohol is made for celebration, and as one of my writing heroes. M.F.K. Fisher, once suggested, it is important to approach such occasions “with the right mix of abandon and restraint.”

Next, I must comment on your approach to your work, “the same kind of repetitive labor as the guy who looks at the potato chips coming along on a conveyor belt and snatches out the burnt ones.” I am also a professional taster, have been for more than twenty years, except I come to the trade via beer and have thus, I suspect – and apologies if I’m mistaken on this front – sampled far more beers than you. Yet I still view my work with wonder and amazement, and get a thrill each time I find myself in front of something new awaiting discovery.

I have never seen a potato chip QC line, but I’m assuming it is as tiresome and repetitive to oversee as you suggest. My work is anything but that. Rather, tasting for me is akin to wandering through the finest and largest art gallery in the world. Sure, some works are flawed, others are badly hung and fatigue does sometimes set in, but the excitement of coming across a Monet or a Warhol or a Rembrandt makes every step prior well worthwhile, and its prospect keeps the frisson alive.

Finally, on a purely technical note, I would like to encourage you to cease your practice of spitting when you taste beer. Unlike wine, aftertaste is a vital component of beer and one which may only be appreciated by swallowing. It will mean limiting the number of beers you can assess at any given time – I suggest a maximum of ten – but I believe you will find your assessments to be far more accurate.

You may even find yourself moved to try some of the beers you rate again, and again. Perhaps even over the course of a session.


Stephen Beaumont

17 Replies to “An Open Letter to Steve Body, the “Pour Fool””

  1. Stephen,

    Thanks, at least, for a thoughtful and non-confrontational reply. I’m happy to respond to this sort of input.

    First point, sessioning is not binge drinking to you and to other people who exercise good judgment and responsibility in enjoying an evening of beer. That doesn’t preclude, however, the occasional slip-up by your friends who may then need a bit of help getting home. Alcohol affects the same person differently from day to day. Sometimes one beer will get you a tad buzzed; sometimes five won’t. And for that segment of the population who exercise neither restraint or responsibility, validating their decision to drink to excess by calling it “sessioning” is an invitation to disaster. The simple fact is that neither you nor Mr. Bryson can state with any authority that nobody who sessions ever drives drunk. I can’t state that they do, either, but the sheer numbers of alcohol-related traffic deaths and injuries would suggest that a number of session drinkers were included. Since neither of us can prove that point, let’s say you’re right and that you and the folks you know are that responsible. That just leaves all the sessioners you don’t know as the sample set and I’m not quite willing to trust their sense of responsibility on any road I’m driving on.

    I do not – ever – enjoy a full bottle of wine at a meal with other people, for one simple reason: I don’t drink wine with food. I like to know the taste of the wine I’m either sampling or enjoying and I like to taste the food – not the combination of the two, which is all you’re getting when you drink wine while eating. I was a chef for over 30 years. I value food too much to simply use it – or wine – as “conversational lubricant”. I don’t sit and down more than a small part of two or three bottles in any situation because I don’t like being drunk. I spend most of my time in enjoying wine in tasting, completely and thoroughly, what I let myself have. I drink wine, beer, and the small number of spirits I do enjoy for the flavor, not the effect. If you’re a professional taster, as you say, you’ll know that, if your palate is acute enough, it doesn’t require much to be able to appreciate it. I want the flavor, not the buzz. And, as for how I taste beer, I’m growing puzzled by the broad assumption that I have more experience with wine than beer. I dealt with wine as an adjunct to food my entire career as a chef, then went into the serious, professional business of selling and writing about wine in 1993, but I started critically tasting and writing about beer in 1973, and, for me, tasting in the manner I described works perfectly. No matter how devoutly you spit, a certain quantity of that beverage is going to go down your throat. I have no trouble gathering the finish from that.

    Mr. Bryson was emphatically disinclined to brook any sort of argument from me about any of this. I suspect that he’s been at this long enough now that he feels that whatever he says is so well validated that the listener will and should just accept and bow to his wisdom. I didn’t, so he declined to read my emails and walked his dogs. Let me be clear about this: I write my blog and wrote all my newspaper and magazine pieces over the years from my perspective and my empirical experience. I don’t, at this point, feel that I really am obligated to accept anybody’s point of view without question. I have a very good friend who is a respected wine critic. If i gave his name, chances are you’d know it. I argue with him all the time and he’s sorta universally considered an authority. Sometimes, he’s right and I have to concede. Sometimes I am and he admits it. We ALL can learn from opposing viewpoints, IF we remain open to them. Mr. Bryson suggested that I’m a bully because I stated my views without some wishy-washy caveat. I beg to differ. The content of The Pour Fool IS MY viewpoints. The choice of whether to invest those views with any sort of value belongs to the reader. Again, as I told Mr. Bryson, my critic friend said, last night, after I called him to piss and moan, “When enough people start calling you and idiot, that’s when you know you’re doing this right.”

    Again, thanks for offering a reasones response, instead of a lecture. If I insulted you with my remark about the taste buds, I’m willing to concede that I may, a bit, prefer enjoying a beverage more at night than at 9 a.m. But then, those pre-game beers before Seahawks games – the only time I ever drink before 3 p.m. – seem to go down just fine.

    1. Steve;

      To your points:
      – It is my view that the vast majority of those who drink do so in a responsible manner and see fit not to endanger themselves and others by driving. Otherwise there would be constant carnage on the roadways;
      – It is my view that the enjoyment of a meal with wine — or beer or spirits or cocktails — in the company of others is one of life’s great pleasures;
      – It is my view that getting a wee bit drunk from time to time is a pleasant diversion from everyday life;
      – It is my view that taste is only part of the enjoyment of beer, wine or spirits, and that the social act of consuming them and relaxing effect of alcohol figure into their charms as well;
      – It is my view that a fine beverage can be enjoyed at most any time of the day, assuming that it’s the right drink for the occasion;
      – It is my view that “respected wine critics” are merely human beings, just like the rest of us, and their opinions mean about the same to me.

      Finally, I do what I do because I find great joy in beverage alcohol. I have now read several pieces you have written and I do not find any evidence that you share this view.

    2. Sorry, but wine, beer, etc. aren’t made to be “tasted” they are made to be “drunk”. That is the only way you can fully enjoy and understand them.

      Taking a sip of a drink and rolling it in your mouth for a bit and then spit it (huge mistake with beer, BTW) might be enough to get the technical side of the drink, but to fully judge it, you must drink a full measure, otherwise you are not getting it. I’m sure this won’t be news to you, but there are many beers that at the start of the glass taste one way, but as the temperature changes, other things start to develop, sometimes they are nice, sometimes they aren’t. Unless you drink the full measure, it’ll be hard to experience that and hence, it’ll be hard to properly judge the beer. We can argue about what “a full measure” means, but that’s beside the point. Imagine if a film critic judged a film solely based on the trailer, or a literary critic judged a book solely based on an abridged version, or a restaurant critic judged a restaurant solely based on the food he had delivered to his office. Judging a drink just by taking a small sip is doing just that.

      “Sessioning is an invitation to disaster” You must live in very sad place if you believe that. I usually meet my friends at pubs. Sometimes it’s for two or three pints, sometimes it’s for many more. Sometimes we drink different beers in one session, others we stay with one. Sometimes we get tipsy, sometimes we get absolutely hammered, but that’s not why we meet, we meet because we want to have a good time drinking a few beers, getting drunk it’s a side effect. And yes, I do enjoy getting a bit pissed from time to time, because it means that I was having so much fun that I didn’t mind having that extra pint. Of course, I’m not a fool, neither are my friends, we don’t drive if you are going to the pub. (Well, actually I’m blessed with not having a drive’s license, but that’s another thing

      PS: I’m not a professional reviewer, I’m just a very opinionated pisshead who likes to think perhaps too much about what he’s got in his glass and knows a thing or two about how it got there.

    3. “I value food too much to simply use it – or wine – as ‘conversational lubricant.'”

      And that line right there is when I stopped listening to anything you say. I’m sure you know a lot about the technical aspects of tasting wine and beer. I’m sure you might know some style guidelines. But anyone who looks at food, wine, beer or any of the like in this fashion has such a different outlook on where those things fit into life than I do that I don’t even believe we’re talking about the same thing anymore.

      No offense, you’re welcome to have your opinion. I simply think you look at wine/beer/food very differently than most people and I think most people will get information better suited to how they use these things from others who have more similar view on where they fit into one’s life.

  2. The other day I got into a tangle with a Facebook friend over a political issue that involved religion, or vice versa. Mistake. He’s locked into his narrow view and there’s no hint that he’ll widen it. This is similar. I celebrate Bryson, Cornell and Beaumont – Stephen with honors – for explaining why we drink and how we do it. The joyless Steve Body is married to his mythology, as is my religious friend. Dialogue can be nothing more than over.

  3. Have you read his review of Black Butte XXIII? Direct from that blog post…

    “…with a weight like that of any big American Porter but a drink-ability which had Judye, a one-dark-per-evening gal to her roots, saying, “I could drink a couple of these”. At 10.8 ABV, you’re not gonna session this (unless you have the capacity of a rhino) but a couple over an evening is not only feasible but…”

    Kind of interesting that he tosses the “session” word around so easily given his “aversion” to it…don’t you think?

    And I don’t mean to come off sounding like a beer snob or anything, but I have done extensive research and interviewed probably 10 or 15 people about “Black IPA’s.” Here is another one of his blog posts…

    “For those of you whose lives are not occupied to excess with stuff about beer, let me give ya the Skinny on the new, emerging ale style that’s – right now – being born here in the Pacific Northwest, the elusive CDA – Cascadian Dark Ale.”

    New, emerging style? First off all man, the Black IPA never was “born” in the pacific Northwest..In fact, Greg Noonan and his brewer Glenn Walter did it in Vermont back in the 90’s. The fact that he calls it a CDA being “born” as a “new emerging style” in the Pacific Northwest is an indication of his lack of true beer knowledge. One quick glance at the Brewer’s Association Style Guidelines makes no mention of the CDA, or Black IPA…so if you want to call it anything, just use the BA style guidelines – American-Style Black Ale.

    Oh and those same guidelines…have a category for “session.”

    But we could have expected this from someone who thinks its okay to spit his beer out while tasting. My best advice would be to Steve Body would be to quit acting like you belong in the beer world just because you were a chef and have drank wine for 30 years. Instead, you take some time to get to know the community and learn from anyone you can.

  4. “I don’t drink wine with food.”

    Wait, hang on… What?

    “I like to know the taste of the wine I’m either sampling or enjoying and I like to taste the food – not the combination of the two, which is all you’re getting when you drink wine while eating. I was a chef for over 30 years. I value food too much to simply use it – or wine – as “conversational lubricant.”

    I’m pretty sure now that you wouldn’t be much fun to drink with, but I am coming around to the possibility that you are just weird and eccentric enough to be a remarkable chef.

  5. @Jeff, @Joe – I was also surprised by those statements, and had to reread them to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating. There must be a lot of quiet, solo dinners in that man’s life. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that… I guess.)

  6. Seems the original “Response From A Reader” has been taken down. For those who want to still read it, the google cache version is available (you can also just search the original link in google and click the cache link). Judging by the guy’s photo, he seems… miserable, and having read what he writes, it’s an apt photo.

  7. I think it is great to explore food and beer/wine on a stand-alone basis… but pairings are another dimension worth exploring too.

    In my opinion, a simple sip will not fully assess a beer.

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