“Drink what you love!” ~~ Anonymous
“Drink what you love” is the motto on the website of The Avenue Pub, and it’s the mantra of craft beer drinkers everywhere, or should be. Therein lies a question, “What exactly do you love?” That question is the undertone of Aaron Goldfarb’s somewhat provocative piece, entitled “Note to Craft Beer Fans: ‘It’s O.K. to Drink the Same Beer Twice’” that appeared on Vinepair last December. One theme that emerges from the piece, to use a strained analogy, is that craft beer drinkers are not interested in a monogamous relationship with their beer. And that would truly be foolish, given the immense variety of good beer these days. But neither do these trendy drinkers settle for polygamy, a string of serious relationships, a bit of fooling around on the side, or even just a few solid and enduring friendships. Instead, they seem to be looking for the next mind-blowing one-night stand, and the next one, and all the ones that are sure to follow as brewers almost frantically create previously unimaginable combinations of grains, fruits, exotic hops, bacteria, and yeast strains from everywhere including brewers’ beards. (Which makes me wonder why beer is bad if it goes sour by accident but good if it’s like that on purpose. Clearly the science of brewing is still over my head.)
Is there too much variety? No. Having too many choices is surely better than having too few. The abandonment of variety, particularly porters and IPA’s, in favor of increasingly bland lagers is what rendered the American beer landscape a monochromatic wasteland for much of the 20th Century. That and the unmitigated calamity of Prohibition. A more realistic question might be whether there can be too much craving for novelty. As Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø, owner of Evil Twin Brewing, told Goldfarb: “Coming up with hundreds of new beers every year is just not possible and shouldn’t be necessary.” Does anyone but me Untapp the same beer more than once just to remind the world and themselves that some things remain worthy of repeated enjoyment? Mahrs Ungespundet, I’m looking at you.
Another issue Goldfarb implicity raises is whether we drink what we love or what we think other people think we should love. Following trends and drinking what others make popular isn’t necessarily bad and doesn’t mean you’re a mindless chump. Nobody gets to start their beer adventure with a blind taste test of every beer style available. Most of us learned about beer by trying what other people liked, and by trying to understand why they liked it, even if we might not have shared their love for it. Take the IPA, the almost-lost beer style whose renaissance signalled the start of the craft beer movement. (I may say more about this later, if I ever finish reading Mitch Steele’s book about IPAs.) My pet theory is that a new generation craft beer drinkers didn’t yet know much about different beer styles. But everyone knew about IPAs, which were everywhere. It didn’t hurt that “India Pale Ale” evokes both sturdy tradition and something exotic. So IPAs became the default choice of this cohort. Maybe these drinkers didn’t truly love the modern IPAs, which Mitch Steele himself has characterized as “challenging.” They stuck with them anyway, though, maybe to keep up appearances, or maybe to prove to someone that they could handle the teeth-squeaking bitterness of a 100-IBU liquid pine cone without crying or chasing it with a big bag of salt and vinegar chips. Maybe some were mindless chumps. Whatever the reason, they stayed in the craft beer game until either they learned to appreciate IPAs, or they discovered new IPAs or other emerging styles that they did love. IPAs thus became the “gateway” into the wide and wonderful world of craft beer.
As you can guess, my pet theory is supported by no objective evidence. Yet, it fits with a carefully cultivated cynical view of humanity, as well as my own unsteady evolution as a beer lover. Although I may not love all IPAs, I’m glad I didn’t give up on them. And we all should rejoice that IPAs caught on, however it happened, because without those early modern IPAs and the people who drank them, for whatever reason, we probably wouldn’t be talking about craft beer today. Nonetheless, there comes a time when beer drinkers owe it to themselves to stop wasting their time, money, taste buds, emotional capital, and brain cells by drinking to impress their friends or the people who follow them on Untappd.
“If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.”
“If you can’t drink the beer you love, at least drink the beer I love.”
Another reason to drink what you love is because, if you don’t, you’ll be left to drink what someone else loves. For example, there was Wayward Owl’s Tawny Twit of blessed memory (which my friends grow tired of hearing about). The Tawny was an “English-ish” pale ale that, to me, had the perfect balance of malty sweetness, a touch of rye “pepper,” and a clean hop bitterness. Unfortunately, it was not a big seller. So even if the Owl had not crashed and burned for other reasons, there was a fair chance that the beer I loved would have been discontinued. As Goldfarb states the obvious, “it’s hard not to play ball and give the people what they want.” Before Tawny Twit, another favorite, Southern Prohibition’s ESB, Jack the Sipper succumbed to slow sales. Nowadays, I love Urban South’s 2nd Set Pils. Plus it’s won a major award – not a mere leg lamp, a Gold Medal at the 2017 U.S. Open Beer Championships. But whenever I tell Jacob Landry how much I love this beer, he just shakes his head sadly — a clear indication that it’s not a big seller and may not always be around. I’ll keep buying 2nd Set and hope that others will discover how simply excellent it is. Meanwhile, several seconds of painstaking mathematical calculation have revealed that Urban South has released a quantity between “a very great many” and “a real whole lot of” new beers since they opened three years ago. It must be close to 100 new beers in the last year anyway, because they seem to release a few new ones each week. Other breweries do the same; there’s always something new. The point: If more people step off the novelty train once in a while and show some loyalty to their favorites (or mine), maybe some of those favorites will stay around to be enjoyed.
Also, if you think about it a little, or too much as I do, there can be moral impediments to drinking what you love. This does not merely mean a responsible degree consumption; one hopes that by now you’ve found your groove somewhere between Carrie Nation (absit omen) and Winston Churchill. No, it means something like this: Say our friend reports that a certain brewer has “done his ol’ lady wrong.” There then follows something of an informal boycott by our little group. We later learn the report was wrong. The upshot is that we, in our imaginary self-righteousness, have needlessly cheated ourselves out of good beer, fortunately without hurting the brewer. The obvious lesson: Judge beer, not people.
Confession time: What do I ‘love” (or drink anyway) as shown by what’s in my little beer fridge?
Odds and Ends.
One reason you won’t see me writing about sex, aside from my poor recollection, is a disastrously misogynistic rant by Bill Metzger. Bill was supposed to be writing about Scottish cask ales but drifted into complaining about the female sex’s repressed need to mate with him, or something. Bill put his piece on the front page of a beer newspaper he owned; perhaps he should have run it by his editor first.
Ian McNulty writes about the closing of World of Beer in the Warehouse District. It’s not surprising that a national chain like WoB would fail in a town with so much good local beer becoming available every week. By the way, McNulty does an excellent job as a color commentator for NOLA Gold Rugby. You’ll probably have to subscribe to ESPN+ to see him though.
And finally, the best way to keep up with New Orleans craft beer brewers is to follow them on the WWW. Here’s an updated barebones list of New Orleans brewers, with links, that I will endeavor to update and include as often as I write. Brieux Carre; Courtyard Brewery; Crescent City Brewhouse; Gordon Biersch; Miel; NOLA Brewing; Parleaux Beer Lab; Pidgin Town Brewing; Port Orleans Brewing Co.; Royal Brewery; Second Line Brewery; and Urban South. Tell me if I left anyone off!
As always, feel free to inform, amuse, advise, question, or chastise me at firstname.lastname@example.org.