A couple of weeks ago, I argued that beer is art because it fulfills the primary functions of art: it possesses Intentionality, it reflects Individuality, it is Unifying, and it creates Narratives. In Part II, I want to address two possible objections. First, that beer is not art, because art is not meant to be literally consumed; and second, that beer is not art, because art is not intended for mass production.
My hope is that by the end of this post, you’ll be inspired to head to your nearest microbrewery or craft beer liquor store and quaff some delicious art. Or, perhaps head off to the garage and brew some of your own art at home!
“Beer is not art because art is not meant to be literally consumed.” This seems to me to be an objection rooted in an antiquated understanding of art. The Oxford English Dictionary provides a definition of art from the 1600s which reads, “the expression or application of creative skill and imagination…” So far, so good for beer! Then it goes on to say, “…typically in a visual form such as painting, drawing, or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.” While there is certainly a visual component of beer that can be quantified in terms of color, clarity, head retention, and glassware (among others), a beer’s visual component is hardly its primary attribute.
It seems to me that most people consider the primary attribute of beer to be its flavor: does it taste good? or, does it at least taste the way it is supposed to?
While you are not encouraged to run your fingers along Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa or taste Michelangelo’s Pieta, it is reductionism to confine the category of ‘art’ to only our visual faculty.
In this age of experiential entertainment, why would we not also embrace the idea of multisensory art, i.e. art that we can hear, taste, touch, smell, and see? I don’t claim that the more sensory impact a piece of art has, the better it is – but simply that it can fire on one or more cylinders, so to speak. Enjoy the visual art of Degas at the Denver Art Museum, and Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, but also enjoy a 7X Wagyu steak with a delicious glass of perfectly paired, lovingly crafted beer.
“Beer is not art because art is not intended for mass production.” This objection is predicated upon two assumptions. One is the misconception that production levels and quality are inversely proportional. The fact that a brewery can produce hundreds of thousands of barrels of the same beer with little to no discernible difference in flavor, appearance, etc, is a mind-boggling feat of quality control and engineering. It allows patrons, both nationally and internationally, to enjoy the quality crafted beverage that the brewers have produced.
The second assumption revolves around scarcity. Vermeer only painted one Girl with the Pearl Earring, and you have to travel to The Hague to see it.
Vermeer’s “Girl with the Pearl Earring”
This heightens the experience when you finally get that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see it. Beer enthusiasts and aficionados often seek out that rare bottle of beer, that might read ‘Bottle 1 of 150,’ that is brewed only when a solar eclipse coincides with the vernal equinox. Knowing that it is limited, that only a select few devotees will get to taste it, increases the pleasure and value we ascribe to the experience. While that is one artistic experience that beer can provide, it is not the only one. One of the great things about artful beer is that it can reach a larger audience. It can be a kind of democratic art: art for the masses. Considering beer’s history as a “blue-collar” beverage, shouldn’t beer-as-art be able to reach a larger audience?
In conclusion, I prefer Henri Matisse’s thoughts on art. “What I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and serenity, devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter, an art which could be for every mental worker, for the businessman as well as the man of letters, for example, a soothing, calming influence on the mind, something like a good armchair which provides relaxation from physical fatigue.”
Art is for all.
Beer is art.
And so I leave you with this image…
Is this visual image of beer not satisfying enough? Well then, go drink yourself some multisensory art!
 Oxford English Dictionary
 Henri Matisse Notes of a Painter