New Year’s Resolutions For Beer Writers, Drinkers and Brewers
It’s not too late to think about New Year’s resolutions. Although, let’s be honest, mid-February wouldn’t be too late. That’s the arbitrary nature of New Year’s resolutions. They’re what we know we ought to do, but then we put it off till January, and have some cold ‘I’m not drinking this month/week/next couple hours’ kind of reckoning that this time, we’re really going to do it. Or stop doing it. Or do it more often. Or do it with some new people, for god’s sake. And let’s talk about that word “ought!” Who says we ‘ought’ to do it?! That guy needs his meddling ass kicked.
Resolution for Writers #1: Don’t be day-drinking half a bottle of Dickel before telling people your opinions about stuff that doesn’t really matter.
I’ll admit that some things do have to change, and that’s one of them. No, seriously: we need to stop winking at alcoholism in the industry. I saw a disturbing number of “I have a new job, and haven’t been drinking for X weeks, and I feel really great” posts on Facebook last year. You know what that means? We failed people. Good people, who were in the industry, doing their best to get it done, and they fell, trying to keep up with unrealistic expectations.
Yeah, some of these resolutions are going to be serious. Not all of them, but I promise myself every year I’m going to write more about this, so…
Resolution for the Industry #1: Let’s keep an eye on each other. Getting a little buzzed? I do that sometimes, it’s part of the fun. Drinking to start every day? Not a good long-term strategy. No stigma, no judging. Alcohol isn’t cheese, and we all need to be safe. Help each other.
Some of the folks most at risk are the ones in the trenches: sales reps and bartenders. It’s hell out there, constant pressure, soul-killing despair, and you know why? Because we want a new IPA, a new sour, a new jelly-donut-yuzu-lactose IV drip every freaking week, and these men and women are on a constant treadmill, learning 130 new beers every three days, tasting 50 new beers every afternoon, trying to sell off sixtels of ‘old’ beers that no one wants because they came out last week. Yeah, that novelty jones of yours is killing people.
Resolution for Writers #2: Stop exaggerating, even for comic effect, unless it’s about how many new IPAs there are. Because as Barry Goldwater said, “Extremism in the defense of lager is no vice. And moderation in the pursuit of crisp, cold-matured clarity is no virtue.”
Is it all the drinkers’ fault? You bet your lupulin-sweatin’ ass it isn’t. Brewers are chasing madness, following trends instead of making them.
You brewers, you think that’s too hard, starting something new? ‘Drinkers want the beer of the month, so we have to make it or go out of business!’ I’ve heard that so many times, I’ve even said it sometimes, but it’s bullshit, okay?
I’ve seen brewers selling the hell out of pilsners, lower alcohol beers, I’ve seen brewers selling the shit out of milds and rauchbiers. Truth: you have to make really good beer, but then you also have to figure out how to freakin’ well sell it. Because if those other brewers can do it, you can too. Clearly you already believe that, since you’re making the same damned hazy/cold/sour IPAs other brewers are. It’s the same thing.
Resolution for Brewers: Determine that you’re going to make great beer, and then get the marks (that’s us drinkers) to understand why a clean West Coast IPA is just a delicious as it was 20 years ago, or that you have to be cool as balls to get why rauchbier is awesome.
Wait, are we the marks? The mooks who get glittering new shit sold to us? We are, darlin’, we are. And here’s the nub of that problem. If you want to be a beer drinker, and drink beer, that candy shit ain’t it.
If you want to drink it, that’s absolutely fine. For you. But when you do, you’re fucking up the ecosystem, and it’s pissing me off. Brewers want your business, and they’re trying to make juice that’s even fruitier, and a less natural color, and getting further and further away from…okay, I’ll say it: beer that tastes like beer. And that’s a damned wide range to begin with: sour, sweet, bitter, dry, funky, and yeah, fruity. There’s a ton of highway there that you’ve probably never driven down.
When brewers try to make beers with shit no one’s ever put in there before, just because you want poorly-defined new shit, they’re coming closer to the jump-the-shark moment, when craft beer puts on the clown shoes and starts running around honking a horn and tumbling out of tiny cars. And that means we won’t be able to get our lagers and West Coast IPAs anymore, because who’s going to make them?
Resolution for Drinkers #1: If you want to drink a cinnamon bun with apricots, or tart cucumber juice with acai berries, go to a damned smoothie shop.
Pause for a moment so I can shake my fist and yell at a cloud. Yeah, it’s been said: I’m a drag on the progress of craft beer, I’m what’s wrong with it. I represent the dead hand of old farts saying what things should be like, you know, what they ought to be because that’s how they were when I was your age… and didn’t I just say guys like that needed their ass kicked?
Hell, maybe we do. Maybe I should just shut up and let you drink your key lime milkshake IPA (not made up, I drank that). You don’t like every beer that I do, after all, but you don’t tell me that brewers shouldn’t make it. I mean, your bizarre choices are having that effect in the real world right now, as Sierra Nevada becomes the Hazy Little Brewery and stops making any more of their awesome lagers, but you didn’t actually say it. Stick to your fruit-shootin’ guns, you crazy angel!
Resolution for Drinkers #2: Don’t let any meddling old bastards tell you what to drink!
Resolution for Writers #3: Don’t get depressed when the goop-drinkers continue to steer it all into the ditch.
Before I get all dejected, and sit in a dark corner with a 12-pack of crispy bois… I need to remember how this works. I helped birth the whole session beer revival back in the late 2000’s. I helped bring Baltic porter into the craft beer mainstream. I helped with the American rye whiskey revival. I can do this, and it doesn’t happen when I snarl at people. Curmudgeons might be amusing, but they rarely change things.
So I’m not going to tell you what to drink in this new year, or what not to drink. I’m going to tell you what I’m drinking, and why it’s freakin’ delicious. Because it tastes like beer.
Resolution for Writers #4: Focus on sharing the love. Keep talking about pilsners, milds, rauchbiers because there ARE brewers out there who get it and have the drive and guts to make it work. Support those brewers, show ‘em the love.
Have a great new year, everyone. Try some new styles, try some classics. Have fun. Drink with your friends, old and new. I’ll see you around.
Author of Whiskey Master Class, Harvard Common Press (2/18/2020 release); “To enhance your knowledge in the magical world of distilling, my friend Lew Bryson is the perfect place to start.” — Colum Egan, Bushmills master distiller
Another great whiskey book I wrote: Tasting Whiskey, Storey Publishing; “Tasting Whiskey is a book that I would have loved to have had close at hand when I first started getting into whiskey.” — David Wondrich, author of Imbibe and Punch