This blog series, separate from Thirsty Thursday, stemmed from a deep feeling of dissatisfaction. I felt like I was out of touch with beer culture. Because I was, really: working at a brewery has given me easy access to great beer (I know I have to say that, being an owner, but I also do believe it), but at the price of my free time. So I could stop at the Village Beer Merchant on my way home, or Consumers/Premiere on my way home from my day job office, or I could save the time (and, admittedly, money, since we’ve set “owner pricing” for ourselves) and get a growler of The IPA.
I love The IPA. It’s great. But it’s unacceptable, as someone in the position of public face of a brewery (at least the public face as far as the internet is concerned) to be so myopic that your knowledge of the beer world ends with your brewery. It’s not okay for business and it’s not okay for me personally, as someone who got to be here by loving beer and beer culture.
I had been given a $20 gift certificate to Premiere Gourmet and a growler for Christmas, so in mid-January I finally found time to stop in. I wandered the shelves, wracked by the paradox of choice: most of these beers sounded good. But were they good enough? If I was only buying, say, three beers, was this beer good enough to make the cut?
There was only one thing to do: buy as many beers as possible. Premiere has nearly every six pack also available by the bottle/can, and I gleefully took advantage of this: a can of Old Chubb here, a bottle of Breckenridge Agave Wheat there (I’ve been hard-pressed to pass up anything agave or, by extension, tequila after having some fantastic agave meads at a homebrew club tasting a few years back). I purposefully passed up anything in a six pack, because why drink six of one thing when I can have six different things?
This is a problem, both for me as a consumer and as a brewery. The “cult of the new” phenomenon among craft beer drinkers is well known in the industry, in stark contract to the macro beer drinkers who will happily pick up 24 pack after 24 pack of “their” beer because it’s what they drink. Craft breweries, meanwhile, are practically required to innovate constantly because once you’ve had a beer once you’ve had it so why would you ever get it again? I’m not saying that our beers don’t have their devotees, especially De Maas and ever more particularly The Whale, but there was a noticeable and predictable spike in sales at the Bidwell market last summer whenever we’d have a Jam beer. You’ve had Frank, so maybe you’ll make it down and maybe you won’t, but a one-off IPA? You need to wake up early for that.
I do this too. I didn’t need any market research on the subject because I know myself, and when I’m in Pizza Plant I rarely order a beer I’ve had. I go for the big IPA or whatever’s on cask or whatever the big, bold seasonal they have currently is. The lighter beers, the beers from breweries I know are good or — Ninkasi forbid — I’ve had before, they get forgotten.
I was self aware enough in Premiere to get a growler of Southern Tier’s Eurotrash Pilz over the winter warmers and double IPAs. I hadn’t had the Eurotrash, because the few times I had considered it it lost out to more “interesting” choices, and to hell with that. It was a great choice for a growler I was drinking myself and paired wonderfully with pizza and utterly failing to properly assemble a crib.
The rest of my purchase ($50, all told: it sneaks up on you) were singles and 22oz bottles. Is this a bad thing? Yes and no. There are many, many beers I feel as though I “should” have had. Ones that I’m embarrassed to be ignorant of and try to change the subject away from when they come up in conversation, like with The Dead Kennedys until I bought Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables last year, or The Godfather until, um, hey we’re getting off track here.
And yet ollllo/Rob quite correctly points out: does this mean I’m experiencing beer culture, or experiencing “two ounce beer culture”? I rarely have less than a full beer (except for being the fortunate recipient of part of a bottle of whatever cool rare thing Rudy and Ethan has brought in), but I also rarely have more than one in a row of any single beer. When I was buying beer, six packs were like some filthy anchor. Am I a scummy pick up artist of beer? “Whoa, lady, don’t suffocate me! I can’t be tied down!”* I bemoaned to myself that the problem with a growler meant that I would be drinking the same beer two whole days in a row.
I decided at the start of this project that I should drink a beer a day. Implicit in that, at least to myself, was that they should be different beers. That is important, to an extent: if I’m going to be playing catch up with my beer education then I need to experience a wide variety of styles and breweries, but as I’ve said in the past, there’s a sense of oneness with beer that you don’t get with a single experience.
So, for this next week, I’m just going to drink one beer exclusively. I’m going to be beer monogamous, if only for a week. I’ll let you know how that goes next week. Actually, I’ve decided on a new tactic for next week. I like the monogamy idea, though (as does my wife!), so it’s coming in soon.
* “Oh, you have less IBUs than most pale ales, good for you for not being self conscious about it!”
Too many times I’m crippled by choices in front of a wall of beers, especially when trying to find that perfect choice. I can’t even remember the last time I had an Arrogant Bastard, which is a great beer, but how can I buy one when there are beers I haven’t had?