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100. Has Booze Entered Its Cringe Era?
On-premise ~gimmicks~ are cringe, bonkers-flavored RTDs are cringe, caring about any of this is def cringe; a very exciting internship program is now accepting applications; plus tarot for aNxIeTy.
Oh, You’re Doing Little Skits with Your Cocktails? Cute, Cute, I Love That for Youuwww
“Take Platform 18’s Our Precious Cargo cocktail, which is a show of its own, starting with the bartender slipping on a conductor’s hat, blowing a train whistle, then yelling out the guest’s name. With a whole script accompanying the drink, the theater-worthy scenarios include asking the guest if they’ve misplaced their luggage, then opening a vintage case with a letter in it, before the cocktail arrives in a giant globe lit billowing smoke and glowing with LED lights.”
I apologize for failing to resist the urge to start things off with a quote—perhaps I am going method on cringe myself—but I really wanted to ~set the scene.~ This is from a great piece by Leena Tailor for VinePair, “Tingly Tongues, Music, and Scents: Behind the Rise of Multisensory Cocktails.” I was pretty sold on some of the arguable gimmicks dreamed up by different bars mentioned in the story, and am intrigued by the concept of pairing a cocktail with, say, a piece of music. But this graf halted my benevolent curiosity. I imagined a weary bartender having to don that god-forsaken conductor’s hat and blow a train whistle, no doubt for an audience of phones capturing the whole scene for TikTok. I imagined being the guest, having my name called out post-train whistle, pre-receiving drink. The secondhand embarrassment was breathtaking.
Only a day or so before, I’d read Rebecca Jennings’s report on Cringe TikTok for Vox. So, yes, I had cringe fresh on the brain. But the immediate association I felt between some of the antics in Tailor’s multisensory cocktail piece and cringe was overwhelming and undeniable. Has booze in this country, and I’m talking both off-premise and on, entered its cringe era? If anything, I think you could argue it’s long made itself at home there.
To argue “drinks are so cringe rn tho,” we must first make sure we understand what cringe is. To oversimplify it, cringe is that secondhand embarrassment you get when you’re watching someone do something, well, embarrassing. And that can break down into different cringe subgenres depending on whether the embarrassing act is intentional or not. It’s easy to see this in most modern comedy. But from TV shows to TikTok videos, arguments can arise over whether something actually is cringe, and whether the writer or actor or content creator is in on it or not—this is where cringe is similar to porn, you can use the “I know it when I see it” distinguisher.
“Curb Your Enthusiasm” is a textbook lesson in cringe, each episode a half-hour test in how much secondhand embarrassment the body can handle. But Larry’s character often forges forward with every awkward encounter aware of and indifferent to how socially unacceptable his behavior is. So…intentional? More recently, we have Nathan Fielder’s “The Rehearsal,” which is reminiscent of early cringe like Sasha Baron Cohen’s “Borat” and “Da Ali G Show,” because we as viewers know Nathan Fielder and Sasha Baron Cohen are performing intentional cringe, but they’re interacting with real humans who do not. I just felt my muscles involuntarily tense up thinking about some “Rehearsal” scenes, by the way…In a master stroke of defining cringe and how it can go off the rails with a divided audience, Kaitlyn Tiffany writes for The Atlantic about a liberal satire tweet in the wake of the January 6 Capitol attack: indeed being satire, it captured would-be cringe behavior, but then so many people took it at face value, its spirit inspired them to start engaging earnestly in that exact cringe behavior, culminating in Nancy Pelosi herself quoting “Hamilton” lyrics at an event marking one year since the riot. Cringe.
When it comes to drinks, it’s pretty obvious that most brands and bars are very much not in on the joke. The beverage manager who dreams up the train-whistle skit to go with a cocktail is either genuinely trying to create an experience around the drink, or is fully aware they’re being camp, but almost definitely not purposefully being cringe.
(I want to clarify, loud and clear, that I hold not one ounce of judgment for anyone orchestrating these bells and whistles. I’ll continue to note that all of this is beyond understandable considering ~these times~ and the state of the industry, and I appreciate any attempts at creativity. Far, far, far be it for me to throw shade at anyone’s efforts in this vein—what I’m unpacking here is the sad state of affairs where cringe concepts of this nature have become seemingly necessary. It’s cringe, but it’s…inevitable? And it’s cringe we’re all in together?)
Unintentional cringe inherently includes the sad reality of being laughed at instead of laughed with. That’s what a lot of media members have spilled ink over in the age of social media when it comes to this topic—for every TikTok comedian performing engineered cringe to be in on the joke, there are five, say, musicians uploading heartfelt songs being met with hundreds of comments expressing cringe reactions (people are cruel, it turns out). And even though there is absolutely a market for experiential cocktails and an audience who will happily lap it up, and even though we are in an era where it’s absolutely reasonable that every business and brand is doing whatever it takes to stand out and engage consumers, there’s something jump-the-shark-y about bartenders having to dust off their improv skills to serve a drink.
I know people are drinking less and spending less, but beyond a 15-seconds-of-fame bump of social media posts and fleeting curiosity, how effective are these intentionally camp, unintentionally cringe theatrics? Bars have provided one key value since they entered into an existence: a community-fostering third place that serves good drinks. Enhancing on that in your bar’s lane makes sense, while forcing bartenders to don a cloak and wave a wand over a sour riff while pumping dry ice is such a temporarily successful (if at all) endeavor and absolutely runs the very real risk of inducing more secondhand embarrassment than true interest.
If the trend of bars pairing drinks with experiences is new and therefore a new addition to the cringe canon, brands’ wacky contributions to the CPG space set up shop in Cringe Town a few years ago now. Because I would argue that every bonkers flavor of every “you know this drink from its decades as a non-alcoholic beverage, now try it with BOOZE!” offering is cringe. Again, no judgment! Do what works, bb, and if you’ve had and loved one of these drinks, hey, cheers. But every green apple Ring Pop slushie margarita in a can reads to me like a brand making a constipated smile, the kind where you can chillingly see every tooth, while veins bulge and sweat starts to glisten. It’s a desperate, “Like this, please, like us! Do you? Do you like this? Will you please drink? It’s candy-flavored, you like candy, don’t you? We’re cool, right? Would you tell your friends we’re cool?! Please?!” And doing that in earnest is cringe.
Letting people drink what they like, snobbery-free, is a core tenet of this newsletter, and if you like any of these drinks, more power to ya. But if you’re the corporate behemoth brand making this stuff, you’re who I direct this cringe classification at.
This could absolutely extend to craft beer, specifically, especially now that we’ve swung back around to what I would—pretentiously?—consider a non-cringe movement, which is that of traditional styles and lager love. In the midst of that, candy- and cereal- and pastry-packed beers, always divisive and goofy but at least once on trend, feel positively cringe. Even that Apple TV show “Platonic” gets this!
When it premiered, I wrote about how “Platonic” got craft beer wrong in the sense that writers seemed to have a more 2013 perception, still painting brewers as cool kids with hipster cachet. But, update: the finale proves that someone behind the scenes at that show is at least up on things enough to know about adjunct trends and their controversy, how those beers can both be something people just like, so let ‘em have fun because that’s all beer should be, but also something that infuriates many brewers and purists. When ousted from his head brewer role, Seth Rogen’s Will is devastated to see his replacement, who the show makes clear has practically no experience (he asks Will in a mock interview, “How do you brewmaster?”), adding buckets of Pop Rocks and Lucky Charms into the boil, so much so it finally motivates him to find work elsewhere. The candy beer is portrayed, even on a very not craft-beer-clued-in show, as cringe.
But, plot twist: you could very much make the argument that giving a shit about adjuncts and banging on about “beer-flavored beer” is cringe, too! Policing what other people enjoy is cringe, and making it your entire personality is Cringe Master 3000: Level 10, Embarrassing Achievement Unlocked. Do you see what I mean? From rehearsed choreography with cocktails to candy-flavored alcoholic juice and water in cans to boasting Count Chocula in your beer to giving a shit about any of this is cringe. I am being cringe right now! To live is to be cringe, you could say; to drink is to be cringe—but to be a non-booze brand who buys a booze brand and pumps out desperate attempts to get everyone imbibing more is maybe the most dedicated, unintentional attempt at cringe we’ve got…
So, why shine a light on how cringe American beverage alcohol is in the year 2023? It’s a reminder of just how far we can go down the rabbit hole of taking it all too seriously. The only things to take seriously in booze is culture—people having jobs, people being treated well and fairly at those jobs, inclusivity, equity, safety. Beyond that, everything really requires being taken with a grain of salt. It helps to remember that once we’re dealing with anything outside of how people are treated in this industry, it’s all pretty silly in the end, anyway.
The Lovibond Project’s Paid Internship Program Is Now Accepting Applications
And now in news that couldn’t be more the polar opposite of anything cringe in the drinks world…The Lovibond Project has officially launched—and is accepting applications for—its internship program. This is huge and super exciting news. In case you’ve not yet learned about The Lovibond Project, it is an organization dedicated to supporting people traditionally underrepresented in craft beer as they enter the industry as professionals, through education, mentorship, and job recruitment.
This eight-week internship program was developed to introduce People of Color into the industry. The first four weeks will be devoted to getting to know the beer industry, with weeks devoted to production and packaging, front of house, sales and distribution, and marketing, taxes, and administration. During the second four weeks, interns will brew a collaboration beer with hands-on experience gained in recipe design, physical brewing, naming and label design, social media strategy, and COLA registration. That’s what I think is extra, above-and-beyond fantastic about this internship: people can go in completely unsure of what they actually want to do within craft beer, and this program will both teach them a bit about everything and help them see themselves in certain aspects of the business. Oh, and it’s paid!
The internship will run from October 16 of this year to December 13, and applications are now being accepted—the deadline to apply is August 14. Apply here, and/or tell your friends! And if you’d like to support this initiative, donate here.
This week, I pulled the Nine of Swords.
Swords is the suit of intellect and decisions, and this card speaks to…anxiety and depression! Cool. Also, #relatablecontent. Depending on how you look at it, the Nine of Swords could be the tarot card coming up for the state of the craft beer industry right now. This card often signals a vicious and unhealthy cycle, where we worry about something to the point it feeds our anxieties and stresses us out and we can’t think about anything else so we keep stressing and the anxiety builds and…we end up getting so far from the original issue and making it out to be worse than it ever was. In fact, the anxiety could end up becoming the problem instead of the problem itself. And you could even manifest a self-fulfilling prophecy by—knowingly or unknowingly—sabotaging yourself because of your confidence in nothing but doom.
You’ve got to break the cycle. Start therapy if you can or take this to your therapist if you’ve already got one. Tell friends and/or family. Ask for help. Do what you’ve found to be effective in resetting your brain, or try new things until you get there—self-care, a mental health day spent watching your favorite movies, trying something totally new that scares you and/or fascinates you, an all-night dance party in your living room, microdosing—whatever works in at least a healthy-ish way. At this point, you can comfort yourself with the knowledge that most likely, no outcome can be as bad as the big scary monster you’ve built up in your head. So, take that breather and recenter yourself, and that should help dial the stress down so you’re prepared for both this situation you’ve been worrying about and feel in a better place in general. Just think, if the Nine of Swords is very ~craft beer rn~, breweries would do best to lean into what works for them while also staying fresh, nimble, and flexible to new trends, rather than panicking and Henny-Penny-ing themselves into outdated irrelevance and disorganized chaos.
The Veil has a beer called Good Morning, Anxiety, and look, I do not know if they make this beer anymore. Normally, I aim to keep beer tarot pairings current. But this name is too perfect. And, this is an 8.3% double IPA with lactose, and normally, that would give me anxiety—oh no, could this beer possibly be good?! I don’t think so?! But The Veil is one of the few breweries I’d trust with this, so I’m going to take a deep breath and calm the f down.
This Week’s Boozy Media Rec
I would surely be slacking on my beer hometown pride if I did not shout out a recent episode of Dave Infante’s podcast for VinePair, Taplines. For “When the Empire State Bet Big on Craft Brewing,” Dave talks with Brew York’s Chris O’Leary about how New York went from having a pretty shockingly low (for its size and population) number of breweries to being a state rich with trendsetting breweries and popular beer destinations, in just a few years. I think this trajectory is pretty intriguing stuff, especially in terms of how behind New York indeed was in craft beer for so long and how quickly it caught up and then some, and Chris’s close coverage of New York craft beer goings on throughout all of this time makes him the perfect person to catch us all up.
Ex-BEER-ience of the Week
Saturday was…the first actually lovely day weather-wise all summer? And it was also a lovely beer day, as it was spent with family a bit upstate. The standouts: Drowned Lands has hop water! It is, unsurprisingly, very good. I am so excited to see hop water showing up on more and more taproom menus. Also, I learned while looking at the route home on Google Maps that Destination Unknown Beer Company, which I’d never been to but knew was on Long Island, has a second location in Warwick! Since I never do seem to get out to Long Island, I was excited to be able to check DUBCO out with the full taproom experience. The bucolic outdoor seating vibes were a hit with the entire group, as was the Gavone Italian-Style Pilsner and DUBCO (West Coast!) IPA.
Until next week, here is Darby gazing lovingly at a paleta.