Sit down. We need to talk about the lamest beer festival accessory. (Illustrations by Rachal Duggan.)
The list of what’s on tap is out, the schedule of tap takeovers is live, the ticket re-sellers are being ritualistically shamed. In other words, the Great Taste of the Midwest is nigh, bringing Madison’s beer-festival season to its apex on August 11 at Olin Park.
But before we board the shuttle bus bound for Beer Summer Camp, we all need to sit down and have an important conversation. It’s about the pretzel necklaces.
You need to fuck off with the pretzel necklaces, people.
The pretzel necklace, for those who don’t frequent many beer festivals, has emerged as the definitive garb of the beer festival binge drinker set. A string ringlet adorned with a bag’s worth of fermented bread twists, the pretzel necklace jangles against the chest of the IPA-pounding beer guzzler who cannot be bothered to cease draft after draft from their tasting glass to take five minutes to eat food that hasn’t been body-mounted for speed and convenience. It’s the munchie equivalent of pinning your mittens to your jacket sleeves, one step removed from wearing a feed trough suspended from your shoulders. Wearing one signals one’s virtues of planning on crushing some beers just like back when you did a keg stand in college at that epic frat party once.
It’s a snack-based ID badge for assholes.
This is not a hit job on pretzeled bread. Or snacks. Or enjoying snacks alongside a tasty beer. I’m not asking you to give up your pretzel neckwear because I hate you. I’m asking you to do it for the culture. It’s not that we can’t have fun rituals around beer—it’s that beer culture has gotten so much richer, with so much more depth and nuance, that we should proudly shed such tacky accessories.
We can do better. So consider the following tenets before you be-pretzel yourself:
Pretzel necklaces make beer drinkers seem simple.
Have you ever seen the contents of a cheese board splayed out and strung up around the neck of a wine aficionado? An array of fine charcuterie meats braided and strung into a necktie worn by a craft cocktail consumer? A beer drinker’s peers can find the time to seek out a bowl, plate or table of snacks when they find themselves in need of aid metabolizing some alcohol.
In an outdoor setting like Great Taste, just pack a cooler or a bag full of snacks and take a break from imbibing to pause, reflect, and munch. Think of snacking less as an in-transit activity and more of a moment of masticular mindfulness.
At a festival of infinite tastes, remember that quality is more important than quantity.
Are you at the beer festival to get wasted, or there to taste new things? Dive into that beer guide and make a note of a few new things to try, a few rarities to hunt for the first time. Unless you have a designated-driver ticket, you’re not leaving Olin Park sober, even if you take your time and enjoy what you drink. Why do you need to pack a full bag of pretzels around your gullet as ABV shock absorbers? Pace yourself—grab a beer from your wishlist, taste it, discuss with your beer-loving pals, grab a water, rinse, repeat. Snacking should be a content break between stouts and sours, not gobble-fodder while you chug and dump waiting in line, running from one pour to the next.
There are, in fact, many foods that pair well with beer.
Food pairings are a wonderful part of beer drinking that most of us—myself included—could stand to learn more about at festivals like this. It was at a beer and food pairing session at the Great American Beer Festival this year that I learned about pairing sours with fatty meats to bring out the richness of both. Thankfully Great Taste has added three beer and food pairing sessions this year, where 100 attendees (yeah, probably going to have to line up for this one. Bring snacks!) can learn to use food to go deeper into the flavors of the beers they love. Rather than simply planning on using a singular food stock to dampen that drunken feeling of one too many, consider using food as an actual beer enhancer!
Pretzel necklaces are lazy cultural shorthand, and are easily co-opted.
Beer drinkers are at a pivotal moment where corporate America has embarked on a mission to buy, package and re-sell craft beer culture back to beer drinkers, hoping they can’t tell the difference between small, fun, community-driven ideas and coldly calculated business moves. In this environment, we beer drinkers need to be ever-reflective of how what we consume—beer or beer accessory—actually enhances and contributes to making beer more interesting, delicious, rich and fun.
For the DIY set, the pretzel necklace thing is actually a reflection on goofy, creative snacking—wearing pretzel rod bandoliers, mounting multiple Dorito bags and pizza slice holders along a tactical vest. But these already border on self-parody. And in that corporate co-opting environment, they open up a new line of vulnerability—a pretzel necklace is an easily package-able beer accessory.
A pre-purchased pretzel necklace allows any pretender to assume the mantle of craft beer lover, the type so into their beer they would attend a beer festival like Great Taste (even if in reality, they plan on pounding Leinie’s and chowing on their pretzel neckwear all day). Unless we abolish that cultural shorthand entirely, eschewing dull visual gags for conversation about hop varieties, bottle share strategies, and tales of rare bottle quests.
And finally, the most important thing.
Pretzel necklaces look fucking stupid.