A Year of Unique Beer - First Quarter Update

I'm a believer in making one's own fun, setting challenges, and turning life into a game whenever possible.  This year's game?  2017 will be a year of unique beer.  I don't mean that I'll try to drink interesting and different beers this year - I mean it literally.  Every beer in 2017 will be singular.  Today's post is the first quarter update, and I'll also lay out the rules.

Getting to Here 

I drank 381 pints of beer last year.  How do I know?  I was tracking it, thanks to a fun conversation I had with my wife.  The question we had was, "do I drink a barrel of beer per year?"  Turns out I do - about 1.54 barrels, to be precise.  

The "roughly one beer per day" average, though, started us down a different track: what if they were all different beers?  A new beer for every new day?  Not that I'd be limited to one per day or would HAVE to drink one a day, but just that there would be no repeats.  

Challenge accepted.  Why?  Well, because it might be interesting, but also because it struck me as a great way to test the depth and breadth of the craft beer world (at least in our area) in 2017.  If this is easy, then it says a lot about the variety of beers we get to choose from.  If not, then it might suggest that there's not as much choice out there as we think (what if bars all have roughly the SAME 25 beers on tap?).  

The Rules

Pretty simple, really - no repeated beers.  I'd better enjoy that one Celebration Ale, because it's the only one I'm getting all year.  Now, inevitably, we need to work out some kinks here, so here's the general setup (if you want to play along at home):

  • All beers will be tracked in Untappd, and checked-in when drank.
  • A "counted" beer is a pour of more than 6 ounces, but not more than 22 (unless poured into a liter mug or boot as part of a festival situation).  As a result, samplers are fine, as is a small pour of a shared bottle, but anything else checks it off the list for the year.
  • This applies to homebrew, too (even my own). 
  • Beers served in different ways (nitro, cask, etc.) ARE distinct, but ONLY if they exist separately in Untappd.
  • Beers that are tied to a specific year or version/batch number (Luponic Distortion, Black Ops, etc.) are distinct, but (again) only if they exist separately in Untappd.  

That's it.  

The Year So Far

BEER COUNT: 108

Bottom line up front?  So far this has been a breeze, with just one notable exception.  Even though (like most people, I imagine) I frequent the same 5-6 drinking establishments most of the time, I've found it to be no challenge at all finding new beers to try at each visit. Surprisingly, to me, this is true even at brewpubs; their seasonal rotations and one-off beers are more than enough to keep me covered, at least for now.  It's also interesting because I find myself ordering more beers from breweries I don't know well, or trying more seasonal beers, or going for that nitro-IPA even though I don't generally go in for that.  It's been a great excuse to drink outside my comfort zone a bit more!

I also found that most of the beer I drink at home tends to be the more unusual or rare beers, anyway.  I don't generally pop open something just to drink it while watching football or to unwind at the end of the day, so that's been no problem, either.

No, the only real problem is when I'm going calling on friends/family who aren't beer people, or when they visit us and there's social drinking going on.  Since we're talking about 12 oz. cans/bottles in most cases, it isn't that hard to check off four or five in a single happy hour/dinner situation.

Do you know how hard it is to keep a supply of single bottles on hand?  I mean, mixed cases usually give at LEAST three of each beer, so that's no solution.  For now I'm getting by with the "mix your own six-pack" option at Wegmans, but those bottles/cans aren't always in the best shape and I'm concerned about how much they rotate.  I've also been making a LITTLE progress with trading my "extra" beers with others, hunting for equitable trades for things I haven't had yet, and asking friends who are traveling to pick up something local and cut me out some single bottles from their haul.

I'm going to see if there's a more-systematic approach to this that I can utilize.  Maybe cut a deal with a local beer distributor for a full case of singles?  But in any case, it's interesting that so far the major challenge isn't variety, but logistics.  

Next update: July.  In the meantime, if you have any suggestions for how to source singles, please feel free to let me know at josh@beer-simple.com!

Keep it simple.

JJW

Beer Yoga Is Stupid (or the "Taking Beer Seriously Equilibrium")

For any thing that anyone cares about, there's someone who cares insultingly little about it and, at the other end of the spectrum, someone who cares way too much about it.  This week, we're going to see if there isn't some kind of "sane middle" that we can agree on.  Because if there's one thing I know, it's this: "beer yoga" is really stupid.

I'll admit that some of us take beer too seriously - me included, probably, since I actually pay money to produce a beer blog that generates virtually no revenue.  But at the same time, I don't think it's out of line to suggest that maybe people shouldn't use craft beer as some kind of artisanal prop, either.

You're Taking It Too Seriously

When I saw an April Fool's joke that suggested Cantillon was soon going to begin distributing in cans, I laughed my ass off - which is a massive warning light that one might be a bit too "into" a certain hobby.  That's a seriously esoteric and geeky joke.  But geekiness, in and of itself, isn't really something to be too concerned about.  If anything, it's a natural pendulum-swing away from a postmodern society that's "so over" almost everything, and where enthusiasm is almost something to be ashamed of.  

That's not what I'm talking about here.

I'm talking about the people who feel the need to treat beer as an almost theological enterprise.  We've talked before about the dogmatists among us (and thanks for the "you're not insane" support from Brulosophy on that one).  Beer, brewing, homebrewing, beer judging, and other cognate/tangential sectors of the beer world are lousy with martinets, sticklers, and pedants and purists who sound off on normative absolutes and generally suck the fun out of this whole thing.  We've talked about them before, and at length, as being great personifications of "aleholes."  These are often people who start from a position of taking beer too seriously.  

When your approach and attitude to beer start to spill over into a desire to dictate to others how or what or when they should be drinking, then you need to take a hard look at what you're asserting to ask if it's reasonable.  

Am I a hypocrite for saying that drinking beer while doing yoga is dumb?  Maybe.  But I think I can defend it reasonably, so I'm still OK with doing it.  Yoga requires significant effort and concentration, so drinking while doing it makes as much sense to me as holding a footrace over an icy parking lot.  I'm not telling you not to do it - I'm saying I think it's a really inconvenient way to drink beer (if that's what you want to do) and a poor way to do yoga (if that's what you want to do).  Why not just go to a yoga class and then go drink beer afterward?

But, for example, if I say that if you're drinking a beer that's a few degrees above or below its optimum serving temperature that therefore you're doing it wrong, then I'm now entering a different arena - that's not just sharing an opinion, it's imposing a standard and actively judging people that don't hew to it.  That's wrong, and when I do it I hope people point it out.

You're Not Taking It Seriously Enough

OK, so what about the people who don't take it seriously enough?  They're out there, too.  Our "beer yoga" people are probably in that category.  

Here's the thing: making good beer is a challenging endeavor undertaken by people who (usually) care a lot about what they do, and they do it knowing that it's almost certainly not going to make them rich.  The Jim Koch's of the world are rare.  Most people in brewing know that the way to make a small fortune in the beer world is simple: start with a large fortune (rimshot).  

When you treat their work as a trendy prop, they might be grateful you bought it in the first place, but it's still kinda disrespectful.  Craft beer has fought long and hard to get to where it is, often against competitors that use ethically (and, sometimes, legally) questionable practices to fend off legitimate competition.  I'm not saying that you shouldn't have a craft beer-themed fundraiser for your nonprofit or host a "beer tasting party" for your non-beery friends - I'm saying that you shouldn't be doing it so that you can make fun of the "hipster in the work shirt and beard" that is your stereotypical image of a craft brewer/drinker.

I used to joke about yoga, that it was just stretching and laying (hell, there's a yoga pose that's literally called corpse pose where you lay flat on your back).  Then I tried it, and it kicked my ass for a little while.  It made me realize that I was being a bit of a dick about it, even if I wasn't making fun of people who did yoga, maliciously and mercilessly mocking their efforts.  I was just being dismissive and (mentally) treating them like dilettantes who were just engaging in a trendy hobby - and while, almost certainly, some were, a lot weren't, and what they're doing deserves our respect even if we don't share their enthusiasm.

The Balance Point

So where's the balance point?  After all, we're talking beer and yoga, both of which care about balance.  

I think it's here: don't let your attitude about beer (or just about anything, really) be either a cudgel or a punchline.  If you're browbeating people with it, you're taking it too seriously.  If you're (even passively) mocking people with it, you're not taking it seriously enough.  

And for those who are (inevitably) going to criticize this as being "obvious," I just have to say that I don't think it is.  Most often, people say something like, "yeah, duh - we know 'too far' when we see it."  Years of experience in/around this world have shown me that those on either side of this divide very, very often do NOT know "too far" when they see it.  

A modest suggestion: be a little more self-critical.  Err to the middle.  We'll all be a bit better off for it, I think.  Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm literally going to go do yoga before writing an article about becoming a certified beer judge.

Namaste (which is Sanskrit for "Keep it Simple").

JJW

 

What The Hell Happened to Fruit Beers?

I know that sometimes it seems like beer blogs exist to be critical of beer and brewers.  Today is good news, though: brewers seem to have really figured out how to make fruit beer.  

I'm dead serious.  This isn't a setup for some kind of satirical take on fruit beer.  Craft (and even some craft-y) breweries are cranking out top-notch beers that also happen to be fruit-centered or fruit-accented (and no, I'm not counting that orange wedge on the side of the glass - that's still a travesty).  Sometime in the last couple of years I've started to notice a dramatic improvement in the quality of fruit beers, and it's really wonderful to see.  

The Dividends of Variety

One reason this came up at all is because I set myself the challenge of drinking a new beer for every beer of 2017.  No repeats - I get one serving (12-22 oz.) of each beer that I have, but that's it for the year for that beer (which has done all kinds of weird things to my homebrewing plans - lots of high-ABV and dark beers that will hold up until 1/1/2018!).  

The first update on how this is going will be posted in two weeks, the short version being "not that hard so far," but one side-effect of it is that I'm going out of my way to order seasonal or "not usually my first choice" beers so that I can preserve (for example) that Sinebrychoff Porter for a special occasion somewhere further down the calendar.

Thus, my recent exposure to more fruit beers than usual.  One dividend of enforced variety.

Long Way's Journey Into Right

I have no problem admitting that I had a low opinion of fruit beers to begin with.  Not so much the Krieks and Peches of the world: though they're fruit beers, I tend to think of them as sours or Belgians first, fruit beers second or third.  But the generic "peach wheat" beers, "cherry stouts," and recently the seemingly-ubiquitous "citrus fruit pale ale/IPA."  

These were beers that, for years, seemed either determined to de-beer the beers they were used for ("Don't like beer?  Try a FRUIT beer!"), or were so poorly balanced that it was like drinking beer that had been over-spiked with citric acid or sour cherry extract and/or a ton of unfermentable sugar.  They were beers made by brewers that seemed to want to change beer into FRUIT beer.

Ick.

Dancing, Not Fighting

But then - as I say, I came to this recently, but maybe it's been coming for a while now - there seemed to be a change in the approach.  The fruits being used were now much more complementary than substitutive.  It wasn't "apricot malt liquor with a hint of grain" or "blood orange juice with 120 IBUs - you know, for intensity" anymore.  I started getting non-Belgian non-Sours that were actually using fruit as a balanced part of the flavor profile in the beer.

There were still exceptions, of course.  Grapefruit IPAs are always going to be hard if you're not careful.  Grapefruit is a bitter, acidic fruit and creating a balanced beer I could drink two pints of from it is a serious challenge (though I did have one recently that would have fit the bill, but for my stupid self-imposed challenge).  That's what they are, now, though - exceptions.  Of the last half-dozen fruit beers I've had, all have been at least "good," and a couple were in the vicinity of "great."

I now give serious thought to ordering fruit beer.  Not because I'm forced into it by a narrowly-constructed draft list, but because I'm actually curious.  The ingredients now seem to be dancing, not fighting.  The beers are honest-to-goodness beer, not some fruit punch that uses barley or wheat.  The fruit is used as an accent or a supporting player, not a domineering, astringent, tart sledgehammer.

It's just nice to see.

The Blueberry Exception

I still say, though, that there's no such thing as a good blueberry beer.  Blueberry mead or wine?  Excellent.  Blueberry beer?  Never had one that was able to get firm (natural) blueberry flavor.  I'll try again when I head to Maine this summer, but I'm not optimistic.

But hey - hope springs eternal.

Keep it simple.

JJW

[Author's Note: For those who are inevitably going to complain that I didn't list any fruit beers for you to try, let me state in advance that I very rarely do that.  First, someone automatically takes issue with it - "I've had that beer, and it sucks.  This guy's an idiot."  Second, someone else automatically assumes I'm shilling for that brewery and getting paid for it - I'm not, but why invite the criticism?  And third, doing so also automatically generates a response of, "who the f**k are you to tell ME what to drink?"  No one.  And I'm not.  In any case, the point of the article (since this is the second thing that happens - "what was the point of that?  This guy's an idiot.") is that you should be more open to trying whatever fruit beers you see - not that a couple of them are doing well.  So, it would be kind of contrary to the spirit of the piece to send you out with a list.  There - done.]

 

Penetration: At What Point Do We Stop Treating Craft Beer as the Underdog?

There's no doubt that craft breweries benefit greatly from the impression (often true) that they're playing the David role to Big Beer's Goliath.  Craft breweries' customers feel like they're supporting what are often small, local businesses rather than huge multinational beer conglomerates, and by doing so they're also getting a potentially superior product.  We'll leave the "craft beer quality" discussion aside, since it's been done to death (not that it's unimportant, though).  My question is a simpler one: is David even still David?  And if not, does that change how we feel about the beer we buy and drink?

Craft Beer Everywhere?

At the risk of pitching some boring stats, it's worth mentioning that craft beer now commands about a quarter of all beer dollars spent in the US (US Dept. of Commerce), exports of US craft beer are up by 16% (Brewers Association), and the number of permitted breweries in the US is more than 7,000, with nearly all being small, independent breweries (TTB).  Americans now drink about as much craft beer as they drink imported beer.  

It's still no small thing that big beer commands 3/4 of the market.  I'm not suggesting that they can't still use that size advantage to tilt the field in their favor.  But does craft beer really have a legitimate claim to underdog status?

Three years ago I was on a Christmastime pub crawl, traveling with a group decked out in Santa suits (having just completed the annual Philadelphia "Running of the Santas") - oh, and this has nothing to do with the point that'll follow in a second, but I just wanted to set the scene, because how often do you see that?  Anyways, there we were, celebrating in a variety of bars, several of which can be legitimately described as typical, run-of-the-mill, maybe-a-little-dive-y, corner, neighborhood bars.  In nearly all of them we found the usual suspects - big beer, macro lager.  But those boring big beer lagers had company: anywhere from half to three-quarters of the taps in these places were local craft brewery beers.  Even then, I thought, "we're winning."  Three years on, and it's becoming increasingly rare to find bars and restaurants that don't at least act like they care about craft beer, and a huge number actually do. 

I recognize that's not true everywhere.  But when I find a brewery in Lubec, ME (population 1,359, located at the extreme northern tip of the East Coast, several hours from the nearest small city), then it's certainly not unfair to ask the question.

Cultural Penetration

And forget market penetration (well, don't forget it, but don't only think of it) - what about cultural penetration?

One of my professional responsibilities is to advise students who are considering law school as an option, so I routinely browse internet sources for information on the kinds of questions they'll see on a certain graduate legal study admission test.  Last year a question appeared in the Writing section, and a small group of Reddit folk discussed it.  The question began thusly: "Tony is opening a craft brewery..."  The prompt asked examinees to explore the benefits of opening a brewpub vs. a small production brewery, given "Tony's" goals.  

What's remarkable about it is that these questions are designed to ask about topics which would be familiar to most people taking the test.  Other prompts on the same exam ask about public vs. private school choices for a hypothetical family, budget priorities for a municipal government, choosing to drive or fly on vacation, etc.  So when a question pops up that asks about a young person establishing a brewery and asking law school applicants to weigh in on Tony's desire to brew a variety of beers and his marketing plan to win over beer writers and critics, that's pretty telling.

Shaping the Discussion

I'm not suggesting that the local, independent, small-business brewery is a lie or a myth.  Individual craft breweries are definitely dwarfed by macro brewers.  But there's a collective strength to craft beer that begs the question.  It's the "many hands make light work" argument.  Your local brewery can get trampled by ABI.  5,000 of them can't, at least not nearly so easily.  As the saying goes, "quantity has a quality all its own." 

The reason I'm even writing about this is that a criticism lobbed at craft breweries (and craft beer people, to an extent), personified by the Super Bowl ads that knock craft beer, is that craft beer takes itself a bit too seriously.  That criticism can start to look like part of a larger inferiority complex if craft beer continues to treat itself as though it's still just a tiny part of the segment when in fact it's now the source of a great deal of the energy and growth in beer.  

So as we think about and talk about craft beer, maybe it's time to stop talking about it as the spunky upstart.  It may not be universally available, but it's getting there, especially if you're willing to look for it.  It may not be as big as "big" beer, but it's sure as hell growing into it (while big beer actually gets smaller).  On average, it's just not the underdog anymore.

I don't think this means we shouldn't keep buying it, or that we should think of craft beer "collectively" and suggest that it's the effective equivalent of big beer, but I also don't think we should open ourselves up to charges of hypocrisy by pretending that we're not part of a multi-billion-dollar market segment.  It just rings false, like a person that pleads poverty but lives in a sprawling McMansion.

Now, about those small brewery quality issues...

Keep it simple.

JJW

Beer & Popcorn: Movie and Beer Pairings for Oscar Night

This Sunday is one of my favorite nights of the year.  Yes, I know that the Academy Awards and its ilk are self-congratulatory and rarely identify the "best" films, but I don't care.  I love movies.  And I love beer.  And if we pair food with beer, why not movies?

Enjoy your Oscar Night, with this as your guide.  Pick these up, have some friends over, and enjoy the show!

A Beer for Every Best Picture Nominee

Let's face it, you didn't watch most of these movies.  They're mostly sad, long, depressing stories with an absurdly high percentage featuring dead fathers or other relatives.  But you know who DID watch all of these?  Me. [...and my long-suffering spouse, who has little choice but to accompany me]

So, without further ado, a beer pairing for each of the nine Best Picture nominees (in ascending order by movie quality - not necessarily beer quality):

9. LionThe sad story of an Indian boy who falls asleep on a train and wakes up thousands of miles away from home, gets adopted and taken even FURTHER away, and then uses Google Earth to identify his home village based on landmarks as seen from space.  WHY DIDN'T HE JUST USE GOOGLE GOOGLE INSTEAD???  HE KNEW THE NAME OF HIS VILLAGE!  In any case, it's a predictable slog of a movie (apparently based on a true story, so I might one day hunt this guy down and ask why he wasted months looking at satellite pictures instead of typing into Google the name of his village and the name of the station where he got on the train), and it deserves a beer that's likewise generic, and not that interesting, and Indian, I guess.  PAIRING SUGGESTION: Lion Beer (some of these just write themselves, folks)

8. Manchester by the SeaA lot of critics loved this movie.  I didn't get it.  Much like Lion, we have a cavalcade of cliches, not much originality, and a lot of grief - but at least it's long as hell.  Having said that, it does feature some gorgeous scenery and a competent performance from Casey Affleck (though a bizarrely horrible one from Michelle Williams, whom I usually love).  So we need a beer that's highly predictable and too much of it.  PAIRING SUGGESTION: Sam Adams Boston Lager - and make everyone drink a 22oz. mug of it even if they just want one 12oz. bottle.

7. Hell or High WaterThis basically felt like the best TV movie you'll ever see.  A semi-interesting crime story about two brothers robbing banks to avoid foreclosure on a family ranch in Texas that's suddenly worth a fortune because of an oil discovery (and btw, they soft-pedal this plot point so hard in the movie that it isn't until the end that you realize it isn't just a joke made up by one of the brothers).  Competent, but not anything to write home about - and Jeff Bridges chewing so much scenery he probably could use a beer to wash it down.  PAIRING SUGGESTION: I know a lot of you are expecting Hell or High Watermelon from 21A, but that's actually a bit too original here.  Instead, since we're getting a movie that's really good for what it is but might not really be in the top tier, out of Texas, I'm gonna go with basically anything from Jester King.  It's great, but not clear if it isn't just a big fish in a little pond...

6. Hacksaw RidgeAn incredible true story of a pacifist who saved 75 Marines during a battle on Okinawa in WWII, this is a war movie that indulges in lots of cliches but gets by on the strength of its source material and a sterling performance from Andrew Garfield.  Directed by Mel Gibson, we need a beer that pairs with a movie that's kinda conventional but gets by on its charm, made by a recently-disgraced figure looking to get back into your good graces.  PAIRING SUGGESTION: I'm thinking one of our Big Beer Buyout people - Devil's Backbone Vienna Lager fits the bill (and Devil's Backbone sounds like a place that's just down the road from Hacksaw Ridge).

5. Hidden FiguresCharming and super-competent film about African American ladies being recognized for their contributions to the early successes of NASA.  Good fun, an important story, and well-made - it stops short of being great, though, and left me wanting to go home and watch The Right Stuff again (which lacks the diversity but delivers as an epic of the new Space Age).  PAIRING SUGGESTION: If you can get it, anything from Ninkasi's "Ground Control" series of space-traveled-yeast-fermented beers.  If you can't, Victory Moonglow Weizenbock seems like a good alternative...

4. MoonlightA touching story about a boy from a rough neighborhood in Miami who has to navigate a complicated childhood and a drug-addicted mother, told in three chapters at ages 9, 16, and 25 (give or take).  There's some great advice in this movie, particularly from Mahershala Ali's character: "Sooner or later, you just gotta decide what you're gonna be."  PAIRING SUGGESTION: Cigar City Jai Alai IPA.

3. Arrival: Aliens arrive to preach a message of unity and cooperation.  Collaboration for greatness - simple, beautiful, and impactful.  PAIRING SUGGESTION: Russian River & Firestone Walker STiVO Keller Pils.

2. FencesThe movie adaptation of an award-winning Broadway play set in post-war Pittsburgh, this is a real showcase for the power of dialogue and ensemble performances.  The movie's complex family dynamics and statements on the nature of strength make it a great pairing with a complex beer.  PAIRING SUGGESTION: Great Divide Barrel Aged Hercules DIPA.

1. La La LandAn outstanding modern fairy tale, love story, and musical about the need to care for the things you love even if you're the only one that believes in them.  PAIRING SUGGESTION: Your favorite beer, whatever it is, and even if other people think it's terrible or a waste of time.  

Shorts

Some quick hits for other noteworthy or nominated films, for the real film geeks out there:

  • Jackie: Sawtooth Amber from Left Hand ("Back, and to the left...back, and to the left..."  Too soon?)
  • Kubo and the Two Strings: Hitachino Nest White Ale (because for some reason a story set in feudal Japan features a ton of white voice actors...)
  • Deadpool: Anything from Unibroue in honor of Canadian Wade Wilson
  • Sully: 21A beer in cans, obviously

Call in sick for work on Monday, really make a night of it, and stay up right to the bitter, played-off-the-stage end.  

Keep it simple.

JJW

Waiting: The Oddly Divisive Phenomenon of Standing in Line for Beer

I don't care if you stand in line for beer.  It's your time on this planet, and you can choose to spend it pretty much any way you want.  Liberty, you know?

This is one of those things, though, that lots of people seem to like to weigh in on, criticize, laud, judge, defend, or justify.  I'm not interested in taking sides here, but that doesn't mean I don't have anything to say on the question.  What I'd like to do is draw a distinction between two different kinds of beer-waiting (at the brewery and at a beer festival) and suggest a general approach.

Staking Out the Brewery

I know some who do this, and if you're that committed, go for it.  I don't, but I also wouldn't wait in line for Super Bowl tickets even though I'm a big football fan: I have a less-challenging option (watching at home) that gives me about as much utility for a lot less cost and a lot more convenience.  Same thing with beer.  I might not get that super-rare bottle of whatever, but I can get something that's probably really close to it (or better, if I'm lucky) without the wait.

If you are going to wait in line for beer at a brewery, I have to say that in my mind the only kind of beer that it makes sense for is for an especially hop-driven beer that needs to be consumed right away.  In that one instance, you're presumably getting it as fresh as can be, which matters if we're talking something with hop character as a defining attribute.  So get your bottle(s), cool to serving temperature, and enjoy!  That seems rational to me.

But as I said, if you're just a devotee of a particular brewery, or really like the novelty of limited-release beers, or just want to show up your not-as-committed beer friends, then that's an end in and of itself.  Set up your folding chair and enjoy.

The Beer Festival Queue

This is the much more fluid and fascinating scenario: what's your general approach to lines at a beer festival?  

I'm an "opportunity taster" at the beer fest.  I don't wait in line for anything.  I'll be there for a couple of hours, and I almost certainly won't get to every booth no matter what I do, so I'm looking to maximize the number of different breweries I can "touch" in the time I have, since I look at these things as a way to test-drive breweries I haven't experienced or check back in with some I have experienced but just didn't like that much.***  If I'm waiting in line at Brewery A, I'm missing my chance to hit Breweries X, Y, and Z in that same span of time.  I know that this could mean that I'm self-selecting my way into less-popular beers or breweries (since maybe there's no line there because their stuff sucks), but I'm happy to balance that risk against the counterbalancing likelihood that these breweries aren't bad as much as they are unknown, and thus don't draw a crowd.  

Which doesn't mean it's irrational to wait at the festival.  It makes sense to me to wait in line if you're at/from a place that doesn't get a big selection of highly-regarded or popular beers.  We're spoiled here in/around Philadelphia because we get damned near everything (hell, during Philly Beer Week you can get two-dollar six-ounce pours of Dogfish 120 and World Wide Stout, Pliny the Elder and Blind Pig, etc.).  But if you're from Nebraska and don't see as much of this stuff and you see a booth that's offering something you might not get access to, then it makes all the sense in the world to wait for it.  

It also makes sense if, like my wife, you have very specific tastes in your beer/alcohol products.  At the Opening Tap Beer Festival at last year's National Homebrewers Conference, Barbara basically just camped out in the Moonlight Meadery line to get a steady-but-small supply of their braggot.  Hell, in that case I was grateful for the line - if it wasn't there, she'd have likely been hammered by the end of the night...

Though, as I said, it's your time and your glass.  Do what you want.  Heck, if you're a line-waiter, you're actually helping us non-waiters, creating a symbiotic and helpful beer fest ecology.

Let It Go

[You're hearing the song in your head now, aren't you?]  In any case, though, maybe don't spend time thinking about this or expounding upon it, either to express your disbelief ("Why would anyone wait hours for a just-OK DIPA?") or disparage the action itself.  And if you're a "waiter," maybe don't take umbrage when your "Been in line since last night!" social media post isn't an immediate hit.  

There's lots of beer out there, and lots of ways to get it, and lots of ways to approach it.  My advice isn't to wait, or not - it's to make a choice and take a deliberate approach to it.  Make a decision about what and how you want out of beer, and then do what flows logically from that.  

Keep it simple.

JJW

***And no, this doesn't make me a hypocrite.  I know that only two weeks ago I argued against the idea of judging beers based on a 2-ish ounce pour of them, but at a festival I don't have any other option.  Requesting a full pour would result in a "Sideways"-esque scene, and/or endangering someone's liquor license or insurance.  But I'd note here that I don't make determinations at festivals - it's just data for the computer, and I'd never write off a brewery or even a single beer based on that one pour at the fest!

Don't Order Tasters: Samples, Pints, and "Drinking 'Til You're Happy"

"Can I have a taste of that beer, please?"

God, I hate that question on so, so many levels...

The First Taste

First, your initial sip of almost any beer is a very, very poor predictor of what you'll ultimately think of that beer.  

If it's your first beer of the night (or day, if you're lucky), then your palate is reacting to the initial hit of alcohol, which (alcohol being what it is) is going to get numbed down pretty quickly.

Even if it isn't, flavor perception is an additive process.  What tastes good might not taste good after more of it.  A fingertip in the sugar bowl tastes good; eating spoonful after spoonful of it is disgusting.  And something that tastes not-great initially might grow on you.  But you won't know that, because you ordered a thimbleful of it and tried to make a prediction.

Palate Deafness

Second, as you drink more of something, the experience of it changes.  Your palate will adapt to what it's tasting, and things that are unpleasant at first can fade away or mutate into something pleasant or even transcendental.

That 120-IBU monster might seem too intense for you if you just drink one ounce.  But eight or 16 ounces later your palate has gone a bit deaf to it the bitterness and instead you may be tasting something very, very different thanks to that high IBU burn-in.  

And we're not only tasting - we're feeling.  That sharp sourness will seem much less so after a few sips, but the puckering tightness will still be there, and that might be something that changes your evaluation.

You'll never experience that, though, because you took one sip and moved on.  

Volatility

Third, beer is volatile.  It changes.  Some flavors will come right out of solution and dissipate in seconds - if you reject the beer because your little taster had that flavor and you didn't like it, you're walking out of a movie five minutes into it.

What if the beer is overcarbonated?  As it sits and approaches the "right" carbonation level, it will change, and its flavor will change.  You'll never know, because you passed after two sips or your sample.

Use the Right Tools

Your taster probably came in a completely different glass than your beer would have.  You probably aren't getting much of a sense of the aroma.  Any fault from a not-beer-clean glass is hugely magnified because of the surface-area-to-beer ratio in that tiny glass.  CO2 is being released differently on that lip.

In other words, you're not even tasting the beer you'd be getting by the pint.

Pouring These Sucks

It sucks for the bartender, but it also sucks for you.  Beer service off of a tap into a 2-ounce glass isn't the same as the same pour into a pint.  The system isn't designed for tiny pours.

And it's a pain in the ass for the bartender - have a heart.

Drink for the experience

I don't order a sample of anything.  What's the worst case scenario?  I drink it fast or give it away?

When I order a beer, I want the full experience.  I want several sips of it.  I want steadily declining carbonation.  I want all of the palate sensations.  I want to work through what I might consider "off-flavors" and maybe come to appreciate or understand or learn to ignore them.  

And I want to be a considerate patron, because a) I used to tend bar, and b) it gets me my next beer faster because they know I'm not going to ask them to pour three or four or seventeen tiny samples, and c) I'm only human and want people to like me.

So please, don't order a taste of anything.  

Keep it simple.

JJW

Hazy Logic

I couldn't care less if a beer is hazy or not.  If it tastes good, it tastes good.  Hell, some even look good, turning the brilliant jewel tone of a crystal-clear beer into a frosty glow.  What confuses me is the militance with which so many beer folk approach this issue.

You find partisans on both sides spitting and snarling at each other (and, on occasion, discussing politely) the merits and dangers of the other's position.  I find it baffling.  

I can understand a discussion of the flavor impact that the additional matter in the beer can impart.  I can understand those who express a concern that it encourages breweries that aren't named Tree House to push out beers that aren't ready yet.  I can understand the position that young beers that haven't yet cleared might be a phenomenal and unique delivery mechanism for new and different flavors in beer.

What I can't understand is...

"Respect the Haze!"

That's what I read in a beer group on Facebook.  "Respect the haze!" 

What?

A beer being hazy is not, in and of itself, some kind of signal that it's a better beer, or produced a certain way, or will have specific advantages over other beers.  So what's with the glee over seeing a hazy beer?  And why do some people seem to revel in it?  And why do some breweries actually introduce stuff like flour into their beer to make it hazy???

Maybe it's just some kind of beer anti-establishmentarianism.  What could be a bigger slap in the face to the hyper-controlled and over-processed and machine-made beers of the macro breweries than to release a beer that looks like someone just crushed chalk into it?  

Or maybe it's that some people only get exposed to the best versions of these hazy beers, and so they actually do believe that there's some intrinsic advantage to it.  I hope not, because they're in for a bit of a disappointment, eventually.

Or maybe they're just looking for anything "sophisticated" to say about beer, and they fixate on things that aren't debatable - it takes a bit of nerve to declare that you're tasting butter and grape and therefore you believe that there's a pedio infection in a beer.  What if no one else tastes those things???  But everyone can SEE that the beer is hazy, and so it's an evaluation you can react to without fear of being wrong!

Trust - but Verify

Let me say this: anyone who celebrates or denigrates any beer just because it's hazy is probably approaching this stuff from a way-too-superficial perspective.  

To the purists who say that hazy beer is much more often a sign of improper handling or immaturity and that we shouldn't encourage this in brewers/breweries...well, I agree, but I also think you should make allowance for reasonable experimentation and evolution in beer.  

To the rebels who revel in haze for its own sake and say that some of the best beers in the world right now are hazy...well, I agree, but I also think that you should realize that throwing paint up against a wall doesn't make you Jackson Pollock.  OK, some breweries make incredible beers that also happen to be hazy (like Tired Hands, pictured above).  But a whole hell of a lot more are making beers for which haze, cloudiness, turbidity and the like are a sign of a weak brewery.  And if you still like their beers, then great - drink them.  But don't be surprised or offended when others point out that they don't, and that the haze might be a warning sign.

So, for everyone, maybe the right answer is to be wiling to believe that a hazy beer can be great - or that haze might suggest a problem.  Don't be a hazist.  

Who Cares?

Clarity matters.  Quality matters more.  If it's a great-tasting beer, I'll forgive happily an irregularity in appearance even if it doesn't work as well for me as that brilliantly-clear beer.  Hell, for some beers (basically everything Maine Beer Co. makes) I wouldn't care if it's brown sludge with the yeast lining up to spell out "Die, Josh, Die," I'm still going to drink it. 

So let's not judge a beer by its cover.  Don't assume that a hazy beer means a bad beer.  But this also means that those of you parading around celebrating haze need to rein it in a bit, too.

And let's all, instead, join together in unified opposition to the idea of White Stout.

Keep it simple.

JJW