Vermonter Abroad: Zythophiles | Opinion

Pronounced ‘zee-tho-fyle’ — a fancy word for people who love to drink or brew beer. As the beer festivals in Vermont move more and more outdoors, zythophiles will gather in greater numbers from far and wide. While I consider myself an aspiring zythophile, I’m not sure if I live up to the title in Vermont.

In Germany, I am further along. In fact, take me to any beer garden, blindfold me, and order up. Hefeweizen (wheat beer), Altbier (old beer), or even Rauchbier (smoked beer) — it doesn’t matter. I sniff, I taste, I identify.

Interestingly, beer, the national drink of Germany, is so imbedded in the culture that it’s considered in some areas Grundnahrungsmittel (staple food). And while people have their preferred brands based on price or perceived quality, many distinguish between brands here like they do Coke or Pepsi. Many look at beer here with an it’s-pretty-much-all-the-same mindset.

Perhaps it’s because beer here is so ubiquitous. No matter where you go, there are people with open containers. They are on the trains, in the streets, and wheeling wagons around on Vatertag (Father’s Day). Every Friday, many employees (me included) even gather around a Stammtisch (a regular’s table) at work to drink beer and kick off the weekend. Refined tastes surrounding alcohol are mostly reserved for the wine aficionados, not zythophiles. Craft beer, comparatively, plays second fiddle.

That’s Germany. Vermont, however, is different. Craft beer is dominant here. Vermont, with the most craft beer breweries per capita, is a state many consider a mecca for zythophiles. Unlike beer in Germany, craft beer in Vermont is a bit more involved. I think that is why craft beer challenges me. When I drink craft beer I am usually confident about the identify-the-beer-type part. It’s the whole see-smell-taste-respond part intimidates me.

One of my angst-ridden questions with craft beer in hand is: Am I describing my beer with an informed, confident palate? What response would I get if I riff off something like: “A bit fruity, but still a very drinkable pilsner.”

Do I get: “Yes, I was just thinking the same thing. By the way, would you pair this with salmon or trout?” Or do I get that blank stare coupled with the imaginary thought bubble: Neophyte you are. Zythophile you are not!

I know I shouldn’t lose sight of that ancient Greek wisdom — you can’t argue taste. On the other hand, to hang with zythophiles in the know, you need to have a somewhat seasoned palate and be able to respond with an informed opinion.

Perhaps in my beer drinking journey, I need to first seek wisdom, and that might require a more aspirational stance. That means reading some craft beer literature, or even taking a craft beer course. The gained confidence and newly acquired vocabulary could pull me over the finish line and make my craft beer interactions less angst-ridden.

Also, I need to go where the action is. So far, my consumption has been limited to mostly friendly gatherings, restaurants, or sporting events, but not real craft beer festivals. How fluent am I when it comes to the topic of craft beer? I will have to go into the field to find out and the festivals will offer the proving grounds to learn directly from the brewers, try new brands, and hone my palate.

No matter how I approach this, I guess I will always feel like I am late to the party. Opinions on beer have evolved way past Dennis Hopper’s Heineken vs. Pabst Blue Ribbon screed from the movie Blue Velvet. Craft beer has gentrified, gotten pricey, and now zythophiles distinguish, categorize, rate, and compare craft beer with sophisticated jargon. People actually cellar beer! They brag of this vintage or that particular brewery like it’s a rare, coveted Phish recording.

I do know one thing. Should my craft beer conversations veer off into other topics with out-of-staters during my next Vermont visit, my confidence will automatically increase. I will have ways to compensate for my lack of beer knowledge. I can regale them with, for example, my hot takes on walks around the Park McCollough House or on jaunts around Lake Paran onto the Robert Frost Trail. This might help compensate for my knowledge gaps on craft beer. In fact, my insights might even help build rapport with zythophiles interested in Vermont culture.

In fact, I bet I could convince them that the craft beer they are drinking would taste fresher or be more thirst-quenching had they just spent an afternoon at the Tubs or enjoyed the view from the White Rocks atop the Bald Mountain Trail. Leveraging my insider knowledge to gain beer knowledge might even turn out to be the way I level up.

While there are certain things about Vermont I am familiar with, craft beer is, for me, a new and exciting frontier. On my next visit, I will be keen to improve my craft beer talk — a language many from Vermont already speak fluently.

Salud, Prost, Santé, Cheers!

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