On the Road: How Every Trip Has Become a Beercation

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There are myriad reasons to enjoy the expansion of craft beer and the quadrupling of the number of breweries, tap rooms, and brewpubs out there, but my favorite might be this: it's increasingly harder to be hard up for something to do on a road trip.  Whether cruising the back roads of the Green Mountains of Vermont or pausing for a night's rest on a cross-country trek somewhere in the wilds of Montana or taking a little detour to check "Asheville, NC" off of the beer bucket list, almost every trip can now be (at least partly) a beercation.

The Virtue of Fear

I'm afraid of flying, and not ashamed to admit it.  Even if I didn't consider it insanely hazardous and just-this-side of witchcraft, I also don't like the experience.  To quote Elizabeth Kostova's "only way you ever read this thing is if you're an insomniac like me" novel The Historian, "flying takes the 'traveling' out of travel."  You arrive hours before your flight, shuffle through security, and pray that one of a dozen travel hiccups doesn't leave you stranded on a tarmac or cooling your heels for a day or two in an airport hotel.  And if everything does go well, you go from one anonymous spot on the globe to another, with nothing but dry, recirculated air and bad food in between.  Ick.  

No, I much prefer to drive.  True, it's more dangerous, but it doesn't seem so to someone who's afraid of heights, and it has the added benefit of giving me control over where I'm going and when - which trains, perhaps the most romantic way to travel, don't do.

This means that when Barbara and I are planning a road trip to anywhere, I can basically just navigate a brewery-to-brewery itinerary, even if they're a bit off-the-beaten-path.  It helps that she doesn't drink - I'm guaranteed a DD.  Breweries live in the darndest places, too.  Industrial parks, in the middle of open fields, on main drags and side streets and in small towns or big cities or rural retreats.  Tracking them down can test both your nerve and the limits of your GPS.

And, as an added bonus, you get to try out beers that you would likely never find at home: of the 5,000-plus permitted breweries operating in the US, only a tiny fraction move their beer out-of-state.  

Not a bad bit of compensation for being a scaredy cat. 

What to Do?

We once spent an interminable day on a road trip.  Not the driving - that I can live with, since at least you're watching the miles tick off and feeling like you're making progress.  No, this was a day spent in a town that couldn't entertain an inmate just out of solitary confinement.

We'd spent the morning at a battlefield site and national park, and it was a blast.  Learned something, enjoyed ourselves, took some pictures, etc.  Around midday we moved on to the town where we'd be spending the night, having previously read about its bustling main street and thinking, "well, surely we'll be able to find some fun there!"  

Nope.  About 80% of said "main" street was closed stores.  I don't mean, "not open on a Sunday," I mean literally boarded up.  I swear, I literally saw a tumbleweed blow across the street.  It was worth about 45 minutes of our day, and even that was stretching it.  We fled40 miles to the nearest other bit of civilization, a small outlet mall off of the highway - no dice there, either.  It was set to close at 5PM (on a Friday night).  We ended up sitting in our hotel room eating chain-restaurant pizza and counting the hours before we could hit the road again.  

With the proliferation of so many breweries today, though, we should never have to clock-watch a day like that again.  It guarantees that there's always something to do.  We can hop from brewery to brewery, almost anywhere we go.  And it isn't just we childless folks who can use these as entertainment oases: breweries are often kid-friendly, dog-friendly, and if you contact them in advance they'll often be happy to host you for a visit even if it isn't their usual "touring" times.  

Universal

I don't know that we've ever taken a trip specifically to visit one brewery, though.  I know many who have, and I'm not disparaging the practice - I'm just saying that when it comes to brewery visits I'm more of a gatherer than a hunter.  I'll visit places that are convenient, or en route, or, perhaps, pick a stopping point for the night that happens to have a couple of brewpubs in town, but I don't see us making a specific pilgrimage.

I guess everyone has their exceptions - you'd better believe that the next time I'm in Belgium we'll be paying a little visit to Westvleteren - but as a rule, I prefer it my way.  Hell, we more or less accidentally visited a little brewery called Alchemist in my early "beer enthusiast" days (kind of a larval beer geek) just because it happened to land between Concord, MA and Burlington, VT.  Not all are that now-famous, of course, but the little places we've found along the way stick with me.  Montana Brewing Co. in Bozeman.  Lubec Brewing in the northernmost point in Maine.  Moon River Brewing Co. in sultry Savannah. 

More than providing a place to get a meal and a beer and kill a couple of hours, the "movable beercation" that we now get to enjoy feels like a cultural touchstone that connects huge swaths of humanity.  Beer people are wonderfully diverse, and yet wherever I am, if I'm in a brewery, I know that I can talk hops, whether they've got a barrel project going, where they see the industry headed, share horror stories of exploding bottles, and get into arguments about overrated breweries.

Beer is universalizing.  And that means that wherever we roam, corny as it sounds, I've got a bit of "home" to lean on.  I really like that.

Keep it simple.

JJW

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The Beginning of the End, or the End of the Beginning?

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I heard something funny the other day.  Not "ha ha" funny, but "weird" funny.  I was in the beer section of a particular grocery store, and inadvertently eavesdropping on a couple trying to decide which beer to buy.  This was what I heard:

"What do you think about this one?" 

"No way.  I'm not giving my money to some rich craft brewery."

I couldn't help but stalk them a little and take a gander at which brewery they were talking about.  They were in the "PA Craft" section, after all, and that's "us."  I mean, it was already odd that someone wasn't invoking the Evil Empire when discussing how they weren't giving their money to "one of those" breweries, but I can concede that there are some craft breweries that pull down pretty nice stock prices and such.  I thought, "probably Yuengling."  The brewery in question, though, wasn't some world-beater craft-y corporate place with a wealthy CEO and bicoastal breweries:

It was Victory Brewing Co.

Wait, what?

Optimum Size Theory

I grant you that Victory is a healthy brewery.  They have more than one facility.  They sell in 38 states and a few foreign countries.  

But they're not even in the top 50 in terms of production according to the Brewers Association, and they're a local brewery to the people I overheard.  

That really got me thinking. 

 I've written before that, as demand flattens and breweries start to close, craft beer drinkers might end up distorting the marketplace by rewarding local breweries over good breweries, simply out of sheer locavore sentimentality, and accidentally kill good medium-sized breweries.  This was something much more virulent, though.  These folks were essentially arguing that size wasn't just a consideration to be factored in - it was enough, on its face, even at only modest levels, to disqualify a purchase from a local brewery.  

This would strongly suggest that - if these people weren't the exception rather than the rule, and some conversations I've had since would indicate that they're not - a brewery's optimum size is really, really small.  

In a way, that makes sense.  If a desire to keep local breweries afloat drives purchase intentions, then the proliferation of them will mean that the median size of the brewery you're looking to support is going to drift towards the smaller end of the set, lopping off local-but-larger breweries in the process.  

Logical though it might be, it's still surprising to me, because it suggests that craft beer drinkers have particularly weak brand loyalty.  

The Beginning of the End, or the End of the Beginning?

Where I'm still in the fog is what the medium- and long-term effects of this will be.  Some high-profile brewery closures recently have prompted a lot of navel-gazing and crystal-ball peering, but so far the talk about them has been all over the place. Overreached on distribution.  Over-leveraged their expansion.  Too-rosy assumptions about sales growth.  Not maintaining quality.

Some have said that this is a sign that the craft beer "fad" is over, and that even the local places will go under - it's just the bigger breweries that feel the hit first, so they're the canaries in the coal mine.  It's the beginning of the end.

Others have maintained that this is just a bellwether for production craft breweries particularly, and that the craft beer world will soon be overrun with nothing but brewpubs.  In other words, this is more the "end of the beginning" than the "beginning of the end," and that the beer world is simply evolving to accommodate the several thousand new breweries that didn't exist a decade ago.  

I tend to agree with the latter, but that doesn't mean it won't end with the former.  A healthy craft beer sector probably needs both the local brewpub that's serving a "dining out" customer and the craft production brewery that could theoretically take advantage of economies of scale to put them into at least reasonable price competition with big beer in a retail setting.  In other words, I think we need to win on the taps and on the shelves.  

Killing off the medium-sized craft breweries through not-so-benign neglect would likely have the effect of fully bifurcating the beer market into the "crafty" ABI-owned sector that would sell through retail locations and the "craft" local brewery sector that relies on $7 over-the-counter pints to keep the doors open.

I guess time will tell.  Just musing here, on a Friday morning...

Keep it simple.

JJW

Please help support BEER SIMPLE by visiting the Support page and saving the links there as your bookmarks, especially this Amazon link!  Every dollar you spend will help keep BS coming your way, and more often (which is at least as much a threat as a promise).

 


10 Simple Beer & Brewing Resolutions for 2018

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Happy New Year, gang!  2017 was an excellent beer year, and I managed to keep (almost) all of my resolutions.  I didn't have more than one of any beer (a habit that's proving surprisingly difficult to break, but some pitcher-ed Miller Lite at a bowling alley helped), tried a number of new beer bars (rather than just tap rooms at breweries), made a (passable) perry, and I would have gone back to my least-favorite brewery to try out their beer but (I swear this is true) they closed two weeks before I'd planned on going.  

So, what's on tap for 2018?

10. Drink Around the State, Country, and World

As noted last week, this year's beer challenge will be to see what percentage of PA counties, US states, and countries in the world I can "visit" via their beer.  Should be fun, especially when the "easy" places are checked off of the list!  Just the other day I ordered an IPA from a brewery in Wyoming, because when you're looking at a state with fewer residents than South Philly, you'd probably be wise to take that beer where you can find it!

9. Brew a "Wet Hop" beer

I've played around with fresh hops, thanks to friends with bumper hops harvests, but I've never specifically brewed a beer exclusively with them and designed for them.  I'm hoping to go mobile with my brewery and do it on-site for maximum freshness.

8. Visit every brewery within 20 miles of home

Some might scoff, but that's a lot of breweries.  Every now and then someone asks me if I've been to a brewery, and I'll say no and ask where it is, and it'll turn out to be within a few seconds of a route I travel regularly.  That's wrong.  I'm not a "drink it because it's local!" guy, but I definitely want to support good breweries - and if I haven't visited, I don't know if they're any good.  

7. Brew with five new yeast strains

There's a fine line between consistency and being in a rut, and just to be sure I'm not doing the latter, I'm going to brew ten batches with five new yeast strains this year.  Preferably strains I'm not in any way familiar with.  But never that Trappist High Gravity yeast - there's something really wonky in there...

6. Empty my beer fridge completely, and start fresh

I swear I have beers and meads in there that I've had for so long I have no idea what's in them and/or I've forgotten what the code on the top means.  I wish I could say it's because I've been deliberately aging them, but I don't want to lie to you.  They're just the ethanol-laced debris at the back of the shelf.  This could be an ugly summer...

5. Replace my Better Bottles

I had this on the list last year.  I just didn't do it.  But the same logic applies: I've still never had an obviously contaminated batch, and I'm worried it's lurking in there someplace...

4. Rebuild my taps and faucets

I've never been especially happy with my tap handles, and I have a couple of new stainless faucets, so I think it's time for a freshening up in the service department!  I have three beautiful new black-gloss painted handles, and I'm looking forward to dressing them up with some magnetic tags to indicate what they're serving.  

3. Get back in the habit of bottling

For some reason, I've gotten out of the habit of bottling up a six-pack of my beers and setting them aside for competitions, which I've always done as a form of quality control.  Kegging is easy, but bottling a little bit isn't that hard, and it's a great way to keep a steady stream of beer evaluation data coming in.

2. Use homebrewed beer to raise money for a good cause

As a member of a homebrew club, I've gladly participated in events where our beer is donated and poured, but I don't think I've ever explicitly used homebrewed beer to raise money for a charitable cause.  Once I figure out if that's legal, I'm going to do it. 

1. Keep writing Beer Simple

I love writing Beer Simple.  I'm grateful to all of you for reading, for your feedback, for your ideas, and for your time.  I know that if it's ever time to stop, you'll let me know.  Since I haven't received any voodoo dolls or horse heads yet, I guess we'll just keep it rolling.  Have a great 2018! 

Keep it simple.

JJW

Please help support BEER SIMPLE by visiting the Support page and saving the links there as your bookmarks, especially this Amazon link!  Every dollar you spend will help keep BS coming your way, and more often (which is at least as much a threat as a promise).


A Year of New Beer: A Look Back at 2017, A New Challenge for 2018

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One year (and a few hours) ago, I started down the road on a unique beer challenge.  I mean that literally: I wanted to see what it would be like to have only one real pour of any beer for an entire year.  Once I'd had one serving of it, that was it, I couldn't have it again until 2018. 

Well, here we are, one year (and a few hours) later, and I'm happy to report that it was a highly enjoyable experience that, I think, casts light on some interested beer and beer culture questions.  The short version is that there's a ton of beer out there, I barely scratched the surface, and vacationing is a far bigger threat to beer diversity than anything else I've noticed.  

It was quite a year.

The Tally

First, one number: 409.  I had 409 unique "tagged" (in Untappd) beers this year, and some number of homebrewed beers, but most of those weren't trackable.  I did, though, make a conscious, good-faith effort to avoid any potential repeaters there, and I think I was successful.

Now, some of you Untappd Rambo-like figures out there might be scoffing at my humble 409 total, but I'd contextualize that.  First, I wasn't trying to rack up a huge number - in fact, I was hoping to avoid it, since the second I checked a beer in, I couldn't have it again!  As a result, that number doesn't represent every beer I shared or tasted over the course of a year, just the number where I had a "proper" serving of it (between 6-22 ounces, plus three very enjoyable and totally within the rules liters of different beers at an Oktoberfest event!).  It could have been a bit higher.  But still, admittedly, nowhere near you folks that rack up 1,000 or more every year...

Second, that number squares pretty neatly with my "normal" consumption tally for the year, which is telling.  In 2016 I tracked every beer I drank, and ended up at 381 pints.  If we assume that most of these in 2017 were 14 ounces in size, on average (which is probably right, if we assume a reasonable mix of at-home 12-ouncers, pints out, and the occasional lonely bomber), then that 409 beers works out to 351 pints, plus whatever homebrew I had.  

My takeaway?  Having to open/order a brand-new beer every time didn't seem to be much of a hinderance in terms of being able to enjoy beer when I wanted.  I can't think of any occasions where, for example, I couldn't find anything on tap that was fair game for me and had to pivot to wine, mead, liquor, etc.  

The Roster

Then there were the beers I was drinking.  I guarded pretty jealously what I assumed would be my "bail out" beers: those macros you find everywhere.  I figured that I'd be forced into situations where the only option was a Big Beer product or lineup, and so these were my "In Emergency Break Glass" (maybe literally, based on the flavor of some of these things...) beers.  

I was totally wrong.  I was almost never forced into that situation.  In fact, I remember only twice: a dinner at a chain Latin place where I'd just been a week before, and a lunch at a beach town dive bar that we often visit more than once when we're in town.  In both cases, though, there were still local craft options available - but only two or three, and I'd returned before the taps had a chance to change over.  

As a result, I had almost the entire macro roster at my disposal right up until the end of the year.  In order to heighten my enjoyment of a return to beers I'd last had a year before, in fact, this was my New Year's Eve lineup from last night (plus one Thomas Hardy 2006 barleywine, because you need to pair something good with a 10-plus pound prime rib and shrimp):

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You really should have seen the nasty looks I got from the craft beer lovers at Wegmans when I put that beauty of a mixed sixer together...

Finding new craft beers was easy.  Even at corporate and chain locations, craft taps were available.  And even in places that don't choose from the hyperinflating universe of craft beers, but instead brew their own, I still didn't have any trouble.  We visit one particular brewpub 2-3 times per month, and I never even got to half of their "core" lineup because there were so many seasonals and one-offs to choose from.

The Weak Link

If there was a weak link here, it was...me.  I don't mean personally (though it's definitely possible), I mean that the only real challenge I encountered was keeping beer in stock at home or, especially, on vacation.  A five-hour game night might mean 4-6 cans/bottles of unique beer.  A week at the shore might mean a case.  A visit to a local BYO becomes a fridge-depleting hit.  

This was hardly a concern, though.  First, because my family, friends, and homebrew club made it super tolerable.  We do a couple of mixed-case buys in the club per year, and even with a couple of "oops, already had that one..." selections in them, they were incredibly useful in keeping my beer diversity needs met.  Plus, friends and family would pick up or split out singles of beers from their travels and visits.  Then there were the beers I get to review for Beer Connoisseur.  Yes, I had to visit the bottle shop now and again and pay a bit of a premium for mixed packs, but so what?

After all, this was a problem not of beer quality, quantity, or availability, but rather a structural problem unique to this challenge.  It's not as though it was hard because the local beer stores only carried a few brands - it was because I only needed one can (leading to absurdities like when you need to buy a 30-pack of Narragansett to make your "Quint from Jaws" costume work because they only have it in a megapack, but can only drink one...).  

The Benefits

All told, this was a fun year.  I highly encourage you all to give this a shot - maybe not for a whole year, but for some length of time.  

The biggest benefit was that it encouraged me to experiment.  Ordering a beer from a brewery I'd never heard of or hadn't yet tried out became an advantage, and it broke me out of an ordering rut in terms of breweries and styles.  I had more fruit beer, Belgian beer, seasonal beers of all kinds in this year than I've had in years, and it showed me how surprisingly narrow my beer buying habits had become (I still brew a crazily-diverse array of beers at home).  

It also confirmed that, at least in my area, there's absolutely no empirical evidence of a serious re-consolidation of the beer market.  I know that buyouts, mergers, and more make us legitimately concerned about contraction in the market yielding fewer choices, but if it's even possible it's still a long ways off.  409 beers this year, and I don't think I even made a dent in what's out there.

Finally, and I think this is always a good thing, it made me more-conscious of what I was ordering and drinking. Whether we're too enamored of the latest trendy thing and knee-jerk order every "limited release," or routinely order your old stand-byes rather than branching out, "habit" in consumption is arguably not a great thing.  I loved being forced to scrutinize tap lists and bottle shop shelves for something different.  

This was a great experience, and while I'm not going to keep it going (though that would be fascinating - I wonder how long you could keep it up???  Years, I imagine), I do have a new challenge for 2018 that should yield a lot of the same benefits.

 The New Challenge

This year, I can drink as many of each beer as I want (and I'm looking forward to a few carefully-preserved Sierra Nevada Celebrations later today).  But what's life without some kind of fun challenge?

In 2018, my goal is to drink geographically and see just how much of the globe I can span.  There are about 195 countries in the world, 64 states/territories in the US, and 67 counties in Pennsylvania.  That's 326 jurisdictions.  Let's see how many can be checked off between now and December 31st, 2018!  

Same basic rule: at least six ounces constitutes a real "serving" of the beer.  Some of these places (I'm thinking of the rural counties in PA) may not have any breweries, but this is a perfect excuse to hunt down those that do!  I feel confident I'll be surprised how few "blank" spots there are on the beer map (though we're not discounting at all the plight of those who live in effective beer deserts, even if they happen to have one craft brewery in the county).  I'm looking forward to doing the survey of what's out there...and then doing so again in a few months to see if new breweries have popped up!

Should be fun.

Have yourselves a great New Year's Day, I'll be back later this week or next week with this year's Brew Year's Resolutions, and thanks for reading in 2017.

Keep it simple.

JJW

Please help support BEER SIMPLE by visiting the Support page and saving the links there as your bookmarks, especially this Amazon link!  Every dollar you spend will help keep BS coming your way, and more often (which is at least as much a threat as a promise).


DE-FENSE: A Case Study in Bar Defensiveness Over Beer Mistakes

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I swear, I didn't want to say anything.  I sat quietly.  I watched football on the big screens.  I thought about what I would order when I met my family for dinner in an hour.  But the hive brain on social media told me to say something.  Hell, I told me to say something (via BS, in a prior piece).  

I'd been given a patently wrong beer.  I was about to bring it up.  Let's go to the mental video tape...

Situation Report

So, I'm stupid enough to visit the largest mall in the United States two weeks before Christmas on a routine errand.  As I'm waiting in traffic to literally get into a parking lot so I can then prowl around like a stalker looking for a space, I realize that this is futile, and make my way to a nearby bar to kill an hour before meeting some family for dinner at one of those eat-until-you-die Brazilian steak houses (great time, but I think I prefer the cook-for-yourself fondue places).  

This is a place with a big wall of chalkboard with their craft beer selections on it - probably 40-ish, total.  Big wall of taps.  Reclaimed wood everywhere.  You know the kind of place.  I order a rye IPA from a local brewery.

It arrives.  I sniff and note pepper/phenol (weird...and no hops) and taste it: this is clearly not a rye IPA.  Sharply sour, medium-high levels of fruit, no hops to speak of.  I look at the board and find a likely culprit - a blueberry wild ale.

Thus my dilemma: do I say something?  It tastes fine, I don't mind sours, and it's shift-change time on a Saturday at 5PM (so, not rammed or anything, but certainly not quiet).  

Egged on by you agitators, I catch the eye of the bartender...and the fun begins.

A Descending Spiral of Nonsensical Defensiveness

I follow all of the rules I've recommended to others.  Polite, courteous, apologetic, etc.  No ranting or demands.  Short version: "Sorry to bug you, and I'm really enjoying this beer, but I think it's different from what I ordered.  Maybe there was a tap connected to the wrong keg or something?  Anyways, just wanted to see if there's a sour on that [Rye IPA] tap."

Phase 1: Obstruction.  "We don't give samples."  OK.  Well, I didn't actually ASK for a sample, and I've subsequently been told by lots of people that they DO give samples, but in any case... I respond that that's OK, I don't want a sample, they can taste it themselves.

Phase 2: Misdirection.  Said bartender pulls a couple of ounces.  Tastes it.  Gives me one.  I taste it.  They're definitely different.  Hell, they LOOK different.  I say, "wow, yeah, not the same."  Bartender says, "I think they're the same..."  NOTE: She hasn't tasted mine.

Phase 3: Explanation.  Our bartender is joined by another individual - a second bartender, maybe a bar manager or shift supervisor?  And now it's education time.  "No, you see, it tastes sour because this is a Rye IPA."  I haven't yet said the words, "I'm a brewer and a beer judge," nor shall I.  Don't wanna be an alehole.  But it's hard.  Instead, I mention that I've had Rye IPAs, and never noticed sourness.  Also, there's fruit - I offer her my glass to sniff, because there's a ton of berry coming out of this thing.

Phase 4: Deflection.  "Maybe it's the banana wheat..."  OK, this is kinda progress because at least we're conceding that it's not Rye IPA, but if there's one beer back there I'm sure it's not, it's the banana wheat.  

Phase 5: Conclusion.  "In any case, you drank most of it and you've already paid, so we can't give you a refund."  At this moment, my wife texts that they're at the restaurant.  I assure her again I'm not asking for anything, just wanted to let her know about the issue.  

END SCENE

De-Fense!!  De-Fense!!

It might be appropriate that I was watching the Detroit Lions have one heck of a defensive day against the Chicago Bears.  Because that's what this whole encounter reeked of (other than berries and Brett): defensiveness.  Why?  I mean, I'm just trying to help here - shouldn't you want that?

Why am I bringing it to you all?  Not sure.  I don't know that I have a larger point on this one.  I think I gave them every possible "out" to save face - they just didn't bite.  Nor did they seem much interested in them.  And this was a place that supposedly is pretty proud of its big craft beer selection.

Maybe it's a sign that even places that don't care about craft beer are serving it, which is still a win, but it also means that the "craft" part might not be getting the attention it deserves from the vendors.  

In any case, I may need to reevaluate, going forward, whether it's worth mentioning stuff like this.  Maybe it would have been better off as an e-mail to the management, but I don't like going over folks' heads, either, and I don't like the idea that that kind of defensiveness is hard-wired into bar staff, if indeed it is and this wasn't just a fluke.

So, just wanted to share the story.  If this has happened to you, you're not alone.  I'd love any suggestions anyone has for this kind of scenario, moving forward.

Keep it simple.

JJW

Please help support BEER SIMPLE by visiting the Support page and saving the links there as your bookmarks, especially this Amazon link!  Every dollar you spend will help keep BS coming your way, and more often (which is at least as much a threat as a promise).


Love is Blind: Perceptual Screens and Beer Evaluation (Christmastime Edition)

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There's a certain IPA that hits the market in the late-fall of every year.  It has a red label, features a snow-covered cabin, and is festooned with poinsettias.  I buy it every year.  I can't wait to pop open a few bottles of it to celebrate the assorted holidays of the season.  I love, love, love this beer. 

I honestly don't know if it's any good or not.  

Why?  Because I love it.  

A Tenuous Relationship With Reality

Human beings have a highly conditional, tenuous, perverted relationship with "reality."  The perceptual screens and stereotypes and blind spots we employ to make sense of a "bright, fuzzy world" (to quote one social scientist) and navigate it efficiently (if imperfectly) mean that we don't evaluate things as they are.  We don't "see and then define - we define, and then we see."  

The same logic that makes evaluations of politics and society so thorny applies to beer evaluation, and for the same reasons.  It's a noisy, crowded marketplace out there for beer.  We, as individuals, employ stereotypes and heuristics (informational shortcuts) to make sense of the craft beer world, and in doing so we distort it.

That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it's something we should be aware of, since a common in-subculture sport of craft beer folk is the sharing our personal evaluations of the beers we consume.  We wrongly describe this as what we "think" about a beer.  If only - instead, what we're really sharing is a combination of things (what we feel, what we perceive, what we assume, and, yes, also what we think) that lead to what we conclude about the quality and/or desirability of a particular beer or brewery.

We all drink in the same world - but we think and feel in different ones.

Draw a Line

I try to take this approach to chatting about beer quality: the stronger my preferences, the more I condition them when making recommendations to others.  That way, any firm impressions (the literal, etymological definition of "stereotype") I pass on are qualified by an equal-in-magnitude, fair-warning communication that they're based on my acknowledged biases, for better or worse.

Let's go back to my seasonal IPA.  Since I know I love it, when asked about what seasonal beers I might recommend, I have no problem at all saying, "I love _____________ IPA!," because I then follow it up with (as I have above), "but I don't know if it's any good or not."  

What this does is draw a clear line between preferences and quality.  If I have no particular feelings about a style (let's say, for Cream Ale), then I don't, when sharing an evaluation, hesitate beyond the normal acknowledgment that beer evaluation has an unavoidable element of subjectivity.  But when I know I have a marked preference or prejudice about a beer, or style, or brewery, I acknowledge that whatever I'm saying should be taken with a grain of salt because I'm viewing it through a glass, darkly (and maybe literally).  

I'm reminded of this every year, about this time of year, when I look at that snow-covered cabin, and I'm glad for it.  It reminds me to be humble about making recommendations, evaluations, and judgments.  

After all - love is blind.

Have a wonderful holiday season!

Keep it simple.

JJW

Please help support BEER SIMPLE by visiting the Support page and saving the links there as your bookmarks, especially this Amazon link!  Every dollar you spend will help keep BS coming your way, and more often (which is at least as much a threat as a promise).

 


Forget Beer Aging

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Another year of a certain commonly-hoarded beer release has passed, and what has followed it is as inevitable as the sun rising on your stale-ass beer: a riot of discussions across social media and beer forums about how long to wait to drink such-and-such a beer.

This one isn't hard: drink it now.

I'm not saying I've never had beers that have gotten better with some age.  It happens.  I don't mind a vertical tasting of some beers, even years after they've gone into the bottle.  I'm just saying that I've enjoyed those at about the same rate as I've enjoyed Disney films: sure, some are really good, but mostly I feel like I just wasted my time and money.

Look, nearly all beer is at or near its best right after it hits its appropriate level of carbonation.  From that point forward you're losing ground to oxidation, a shifting flavor profile as things physically fall out of your beer, contamination, light, and more.  Hoarding it like some kind of alcohol-dependent squirrel with too much shelf space on its hands probably isn't helping you.

Don't think about it: drink it now.

"But what about..."  Yes, properly-stored beer can be "flavor stable" for a long time.  Yes, some attributes of beer can make it more likely to age well.  Yes, certain characteristics mellow out or develop with age.  From where, though, does this optimism arise?

You're trusting that the folks at the brewery, and the distributor, and the retailer/vendor are all taking great care of this beer?  Arrhenius' Rule cuts both ways - yes, storing cold will dramatically slow chemical reactions/aging, but a few days in hot temps can create months worth of staling effects.  "But it's a dark, high-ABV, bottle-conditioned IPA!," you say?  OK.  So maybe - just maybe - thanks to these attributes it will be generally as-drinkable in four months, but why wait?  Is it going to get better?  Maybe.  But how do you know which bottle will improve and which will just get slowly less impressive, like the work of Aaron Sorkin?

Don't trust: drink it now.

And besides, you don't need to do your own aging.  This is why you have beer nerd friends that still buy into the "I'm going to build an awesome cellar..." mentality.  Use them.  Keep your ears pricked up to catch wind of when they're popping open those six bottles of Brooklyn Black Ops, 2009-2015 (thanks, Adam!).  I'm not saying to be a moocher or a deadbeat: bring them something in exchange.  But don't be the beer equivalent of the person who dry-ages their own steaks.  In both cases, the risk isn't worth the reward.

Maybe I just don't get the allure.  I'd trade a bottle of vintage Old Ale for a six-pack of fresh Pilsner any day of the week.  And sure, there are exceptions to any rule - I'll sit on bottles of Cantillon until Jean tells me they're good.  Mostly, though, I want to buy a beer and drink it as close as possible to that moment, sometime in the past, when a brewer tasted it in the tank or barrel and thought, "Yup, I want to sell that NOW."  

Forget beer aging: drink it now.

Keep it simple.

JJW

Please help support BEER SIMPLE by visiting the Support page and saving the links there as your bookmarks, especially this Amazon link!  Every dollar you spend will help keep BS coming your way, and more often (which is at least as much a threat as a promise).


Be a Beer Nerd - Not a Beer Jock

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At a homebrew competition this weekend, I was part of a conversation about boorish, pushy alehole behavior, and one of the participants opined, "Beer nerds - what are you going to do?"

It occurred to me, though, that what we're talking about doesn't really fit with generalized "nerd" behavior.  Deeply knowledgeable, overly-committed, willing to talk a subject to death - that's nerd behavior, for sure.  Shaming, bullying, exclusive?  That's not "nerd" terrain, no matter what the canonical Revenge of the Nerds films would suggest.  

What we're talking about here aren't "beer nerds."  They're beer jocks.

The Beer Jock

I should probably point out at the outset that I'm not casting aspersions on athletes as a group.  I'm simply using the 80's-nostalgia-film-fueled paradigm of nerds v. jocks as a rhetorical device.  Some of my best friends are jocks.  There - I've covered myself, right?

Now, back to those awful, cruel, high-handed beer jocks, shoving us beer nerds into our chest freezers...

I'm not talking here about a garden-variety "beer talk terrorist," horning in on conversations and holding forth on the proper glassware for a Kolsch v. a Pilsner.  No, I'm talking about the people that are so committed to craft beer that they're openly mocking and shaming other beer drinkers.

Sometimes the target of their ire is just a rube who stupidly thinks s/he actually likes their preferred macro lager.  Let's all have a laugh at their expense!

Often it's a fellow craft beer lover who isn't sufficiently nerdy - "what do you mean you haven't heard about Rainbow IPA?  The BA better update its guidelines to include them.  They have negative IBUs and are no discernible color, which means they're every color.  They're everywhere in Pittston, bro.  Wait, you don't even know about the hot new brewing town of Pittston?  Wow..."  

Could also be the beer jock who's too cool/postmodern for pumpkin beers, except the ones that get released in March "and are really more white squash beers, which is way more authentic."  In fact, the beer jock rejects all seasonal beers, and the people who drink them.

Or maybe it's a soulless capitalist who still buys the occasional case of Boddington or Goose Island, not realizing that they're coughing up money so that some rich CEO can get a third beach house - what a POS.  "Can you believe he still does that?  I mean, I've consciously uncoupled from any of my relatives and friends who still insist on drinking Devil's Backbone Vienna Lager.  Who needs that kind of betrayal in their lives?"

And I'm not even going to bother (well, I guess I am) pointing out the irony that these same aleholes never miss a chance to talk about the importance of camaraderie and fellowship in craft beer.  

Nerd Out

By all means, nerd out.  I'll spend hours in a discussion of the futility of secondary fermentations and the virtues of floor malted grains.  We enjoy the minutiae of beer and brewing, surveying the beer scene, analyzing what we see.

There's nothing at all wrong with a deep dive on a topic.  Malcolm Gladwell, writing in The Tipping Point, discusses a type of person he calls a "maven," who is an active expert on a subject.  Mavens are useful "tippers" because they can provide more than superficial knowledge on a specialized and not-yet-broadly-engaged topic.  Mavens are obsessed with ideas, not people.  

And therein, I think, lies the difference.  When you turn from an obsession with knowledge and ideas to a preoccupation with how others engage with your chosen nerdified field of interest, you weaponize your nerdism.  When you do, you pivot from Beer Nerd to Beer Jock, and that's when we see the kind of bullying behavior that's so common to this archetype.  

If you see me doing this, please let me know - I'm sure it happens.  As I've always said, I am, without question, a carrier of the alehole gene.  It's one of the reasons I love writing Beer Simple - it lets me engage in a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde-like analysis of my own beerhavior.  If this applies to you, too, then we all have some work to do.

Keep it simple.

JJW

Please help support BEER SIMPLE by visiting the Support page and saving the links there as your bookmarks, especially this Amazon link!  Every dollar you spend will help keep BS coming your way, and more often (which is at least as much a threat as a promise).