Monday, February 24, 2014


So as previously noted, I quit the beer racket in September 2013 with a heavy heart and a little bit of frustration at both myself and the state of craft beer, only to return this last week slightly wiser, and with renewed vigor and focus. In all candor, I have a somewhat loaded (no pun intended) relationship with beer and alcohol, not because of any inherent drinking problems per se – but because I struggle with my complete aversion to alcoholics, drunks and personal excess and yet I am nonetheless saddled with a total, undying love for the taste of great beer. How to marry the two? Perhaps there's a need for new ground rules for Beer Samizdat in 2014. Namely,

Beer Festivals Are Out

For me they are, anyway. I have now effectively passed the point where it's fun or in any way desirable to get even slightly drunk; even the mildest of hangovers feels like an absurd waste of time, energy and brain cells. So when a fun-sounding beer fest with a $40 fee of entry and 40 of my favorite brewers rears its head – and these things happen every month in the greater San Francisco Bay Area – I have to meter out an internal cost/benefit ratio; namely, if I'm only going to try 6 or 7 small glasses of beer, in order to stay more or less sober(-ish), and those 6 or 7 mini-glasses are costing me about $6 each – is it worth it? It certainly was back when I was trying 13 of 'em, but in a world in which hangovers negate virtually all pleasure gained from the previous day's drinking, it is not. I truly would rather be doing something more productive with my time, like reading, parenting, running, whatever. Certainly this is a consequence of getting older. At 46 years of age, I have reached inner peace that I don't want to/need  to be raging with the young'uns just to say I tried every weirdo barrel-aged one-off that happened to be pouring at the fest. I'll have a nice pint or two at the hipster-doofus beer bar instead, and call it a happy day.

It's Totally OK Not To Try Everything

This new rule hurts a little bit, I'll admit. There was a time – the early 2000s, perhaps – when I thought that with enough diligence I could try and master every one of the world's great beers. At the time, the production volume was nowhere near what it was today, so with a little bit of beer travel, some intrepid retail and some carefully-selected Belgian and German imports, I could (and did) actually feel like I could converse intelligently about most beers, because I'd tried most of the good ones at least once. (My intense business travel schedule certainly helped in this regard). This sort of confidence has been blown apart by the incredible volume of great beer being produced every day, in every corner of the country and all over the world. I read an issue of Draft or Beer Advocate now, and I weep a little on the inside for all the beers discussed therein that I shall never have, much as I'd like to. The only way to move forward it to make peace with it, and realize that even an off-the-charts alcoholic beer dork can't keep up with the greater world of craft beer in 2014. So why try? On that note…

It's Also OK To Drink The Same Beer Multiple Times

Even if my volume of intake is less than yours (if indeed it is), I think that the past few months have helped me to shift my thinking a bit in terms of novelty. It's not really all that special, is it? I mean, I've been frustrated so many time before in choosing some witbier or imperial stout off of a tap list or a shelf, just because I've never had it before – when some of my favorite beers in the world are sitting right next to it on the same list or shelf. "Why the hell didn't I just get the 'La Fin Du Monde' this time??", I say. Sure, that means less beer reviews on this blog and less novelty in my life in general, but hey, this blog didn't even exist a little over a week ago. It'll become what I make of it – and trust me, I'm not going to fall back to old favorites every time. I still enjoy creating new favorites as well.

Admit When You've Been Beaten

I say this in stylistic terms, in the sense that there are beer styles that truly hold little appeal to me by and large, and yet I have kept ordering these beers in hopes of a breakthrough, or because I feel some sort of inner obligation to the beer community writ large. To start with, most sours. I recently bought the entire bottled lineup from Crooked Stave, and sure, they were fine enough, but did I truly love the act of drinking them? Not really, no. They felt like a beer dork rite of passage, something I had to put on my beer resume and get out of the way. (I have many similar sour examples of late, so this is not to pick on Crooked Stave, who are obviously quite good at what they do). Black IPAs have always bugged me. Most of them are gross. Don't even get me started on "sour stouts". Many expensive barrel-aged, high-ABV beers are not worth the paper used to print their labels. So why bother? I'm ready to accept that there might have to be some holes in my beer C.V. from this point forward – but I can also promise ya you'll be seeing a lot of love for my true favorites: Dubbels, tripels, Flanders Reds, IPAs, imperial reds, saisons and abbey-style ales. Maybe even a hefe or three. And the odd imperial, barrel-aged, 14% stout.

Hopefully this wasn't just a navel-gazing confessional, and is something that you too can - and will! - apply to your beer–drinking life. Go forth and proper, my children.


Derrick Peterman said...

I'm totally with you here, Jay. I've given up trying to try everything and beer festivals hold a lot less appeal to me than they did a few years ago, simply because I have little interest to imbibe all the beer and make it worth it. Also, put me in a venue full of great California breweries and restraint tends to go out the window. Perhaps it's no coincidence I'm 46 as well.

Christopher Barnes said...

I've pretty much come to the same list of rules myself. I almost never attend festivals unless I get a free industry pass. I've given up trying "everything" and just stick to trying most Belgian and Belgian-style things. And while I've had some recent break throughs on a few of my remaining "unsure" styles, I am about to give up on Barley wine. I just rarely enjoy them. I also enjoy repeat drinking some of my favorite beers. They're like old friends. Great list.

Mark said...

I haven't been to a festival in years (big crowds are very much not my scene), keeping up with new beers is just about impossible these days, and I've definitely come to appreciate the occasional 6 pack or 4 pack of something I know that I like. Or picking up an annual release of something I know I love. In terms of admitting defeat, I admit that I'm not particularly good there. Though I do tend to gravitate towards my preferences, I also really try to get outside my comfort zone from time to time. I never used to like dark beers or sours, and now I love some aspects of both... but then, I've pretty much given up on pilseners and a lot of other styles that just don't do it for me. Everyone has their blind spots, I guess.

I'm also becoming more enamored with the notion of a small session ale (~4%). Not a ton of them around, which is the issue, but it's nice to crack something open with dinner and not get sloshed.