SHANE’S EXCELLENT NEW WORDS: Classist versus classicist, in beer and at other places.


Classism versus classicism? The words have very different meanings.

[klas-iz-uh m]
a biased or discriminatory attitude based on distinctions made between social or economic classes.

  1. the viewing of society as being composed of distinct classes.

There was a time when I was knowingly and even joyfully classist pertaining to beer. In fact, it was the basis for my career in beer. In the sense of social classes, my viewpoint held that mass-market beer drinkers were the willfully ignorant lower class, suitable for abuse by those who had grasped higher “better beer” truth.

Recall the Miller Lite advertising tag in the early 1990s: “It’s IT and that’s THAT.”

My rejoinder: “It’s SHIT and that’s THAT,” and the FOSSILS homebrewing club had buttons made as a form of provocation.

It seems a bit silly now, and in my defense the cascading abuse was accompanied by unrelenting efforts to educate about beer for anyone inclined to pay attention.

Then a funny thing happened, because we “won” and the beer world changed, kinda sorta. However, I awoke one morning to find the world hadn’t changed quite to my liking; now everyone knew about good beer for so long as the libation in question referred to itself as an IPA. Other styles and traditions had been completely forgotten by the attention-deficit-impelled New Wave.

Being contrarian by nature as well as long practice, this implied a rethink, and I became a proud beer classicist.

[klas-uh-siz-uh m]

  1. the principles or styles characteristic of the literature and art of ancient Greece and Rome.
  2. adherence to such principles.
  3. the classical style in literature and art, or adherence to its principles (contrasted with romanticism).
  4. a Greek or Latin idiom or form, especially one used in some other language.
  5. classical scholarship or learning.

Toward this end and for my present purposes, “classicism” suggests a preponderance of the fifth definition, “classical scholarship or learning.” In short, back to beer basics and familiarity with all the styles, not just two or three. Everything I’m trying to do with the beer program at Pints&union is centered on a classicist approach to beer, emphasizing long-held values while not excluding the new, but contextualizing the past 30-odd years within the framework of classicism.

And yes, Pints&union has mass-market beer, too. On that front, it was a case of me getting over myself, and I’ve succeeded … most of the time. I’ve highlighted the closing sentences of this coda.

Many enjoy classical concerts, and for many different reasons. For veteran subscribers, those reasons will often be a combination of social and professional, as well as inspirational. But it is the rarity of the occasion of classical events that give us the feelings of ease, elegance, thoughtful study, even moral purpose and clarity. People dress up, are especially civil, and expect to experience some of humanity’s highest artistic achievements. Some enjoy that we can all feel classy together; enjoying a lifestyle we can’t afford. Symphony Hall and the Opera House will do that, but this has more to do with a classicism that says everyone deserves beauty, and must not be mistaken for classism that says only the cogniscenti deserve beauty. The former can unite us all, while the class warfare of the latter divides us.