60. Familiarity Over the Thrill of Discovery, Or What We Drink When We're Sad
How whatever's going on in life affects our beer choices; plus tarot for research to make, well, good beer choices!
Are You Lonesome Tonight? Maybe Drink a Hazy IPA?
Remember during the earlier days of the pandemic when a lot of us craft beer drinkers were talking about how our beer habits may have changed? I’m referring to the specific idea that because we were in need of comfort and familiarity, maybe we were eschewing new and novel beers and our usual penchants for discovery in favor of our own personal go-to’s we knew would feel like a snug beery hug. The conversation reached a more business-centric level, too, discussing how this impacted breweries and how they were responding to people’s desire for comfort and familiarity—though, in reality, breweries mostly just needed to focus on the beers they knew sold well and didn’t have the capacity for experimentation nor the resources to bet on it.
I have been thinking about this again lately as I recently went through a bit of A Time, personally. It felt a little different because during, say, 2020, so many of us were experiencing the same thing together. It was like, “Ah, the world is ending, all I want is Allagash White,” or whatever, you know? But now in 2022, when the pandemic is…not over, but at least more ignored than it should be (a problem of its own!), a lot of us have probably resumed something close to our regular behaviors and preferences. So now, it takes an individual hardship or slump or funk or general weird, sad time to set your resting beer-habit levels off kilter. And that feels more personal, doesn’t it? Maybe it’s even a third category, maybe your beer cravings when you’re Going Through It in your own life are actually different from both your regular beer cravings and your early pandemic beer cravings. What do you drink when you’re blue (or have those mean reds)? And why do you think that is?
The last time I remember actually pausing to reflect on this was when I wrote about my little routines in the earlier days of grieving for my mom (I say “earlier days” to refer to almost a year because fun fact, grieving is forever!). I basically became some sort of unofficial brand ambassador for Montauk’s Wave Chaser IPA. I do not know why! I got it once and stuck to it. Other beers did not interest me. Sure, I ventured out, and there were little pockets of light and change. Like our trip to Charleston I booked way too soon after my mom died because I thought I needed to get the fuck out of Dodge when of course I wasn’t ready to do anything of the sort, but that was indeed a long weekend packed with the distraction of enjoying different breweries. But once we were back in Brooklyn: Montauk Wave Chaser IPA.
I’m also now remembering that this habit applied to cheese, too. I love cheese, big fan. I’m always trying to actually learn more about it, I’m a nerd for it, cheese plates are my favorite thing to order at restaurants. Going cheese shopping and then spending half an hour assembling a spread is a beloved hobby. And yet, in that first grief year, I regularly made my way through those pre-sliced cheese trays from the grocery store. They are, by the way, cruelly called “party cheese trays.” For a sad, broken little party of one.
For the blip of…idk, an existential crisis, maybe? that I had much more recently, there wasn’t one particular beer. But what I did notice one evening toward the merciful end of this slump is that I had completely lost the will to explore or discover or venture out. And what I’m realizing is that I think it’s because I didn’t have it in me to focus on the beer. I wanted something I wouldn’t think too hard about or be distracted too much by.
This feels like a good time to mention that I’m not talking about emotional drinking in terms of quantity or frequency. That’s a whole other—and much more serious, delicate, and sensitive—conversation. Neither quantity nor frequency were factors that changed for me during said slump. I’m talking about when you do go to have a beer, whenever or wherever that may be, how does whatever you’re feeling or going through maybe impact what you order or buy or grab from the fridge?
When I say I realized I was ordering beers I didn’t want to be distracted by, I mean—unfortunately!—that the joy of craft beer had—temporarily, thankfully!—vanished.
I’ll admit it: until maybe two years or so ago (tbh I have no idea how long it’s been; I have no grasp on time anymore), I was kind of a hazebro. I had gone from the wonderfully eclectic and diverse experience of craft beer discovery, wanting to get your hands on every style and substyle and riff you possibly can, to the notorious track of forever seeking what’s bigger and hoppier (I would wholeheartedly still identify with old school ticker culture, not Untappd-gamefied ticker culture). I tried other things, sure, all the time. I still loved a good flight. But when I ordered my pint or bought something to take home, it was almost always a hazy IPA. You may laugh, you may shake your fist, you may roll your eyes, you may close out of this newsletter to never return. But, first of all, you know I don’t condone judging or shaming beer choices, so don’t be a jerk, k? And second of all, yeah, I’m glad I moved out of that phase. But while I was in it, I did truly feel like I was exploring. I felt like I was learning about new hops, new hopping methods, new brewing methods within the IPA lane. I was still thinking about each new IPA I tried, drinking them with intention, paying attention.
I expanded my horizons for so many reasons, all the ones we talk about when we talk about things like why lager is the bee’s knees. It’s not sustainable to keep pounding those big IPAs, it doesn’t even feel good to try it. So many of them started tasting the same, and some even started tasting bad. I started to wake up to the entire world of beer I was missing, which wasn’t doing me any favors as a beer writer or someone studying for the Cicerone or generally wanting to work in this field, and wasn’t even doing me any favors as a human who enjoys craft beer. Is this where that “missing the forest for the trees” saying would work? I don’t know, but you get it.
I still love a hazy IPA, thankyouverymuch! A lot of my recent work has involved deep-dive research on hops and new methods and products and I truly enjoy geeking out over that type of thing. I can think of plenty of breweries who still manage to do new and exciting things and bring fresh ideas to the hazy IPA table. But I order them so much less than I used to, because now I’m living my best beer life trying every other style I can find on a menu. It feels like a little reawakening, like I’m falling in love with craft beer all over again. I’m getting lost in the details of altbiers and grisettes and old ales and milds. Again, while I do still appreciate a good hazy, it felt like an epiphany—even if it’s one that should have been obvious—to realize how much more simply fun it was to be in a taproom or beer bar when you’re actually trying all the things instead of the one thing all the time.
But so during this recent funk, I realized I’d gone back to just ordering the hazy IPA. And when I did have that realization, it brought up questions about my present feelings toward hazy IPAs. Does this mean they don’t really bring me much joy, certainly not compared to the joy of trying something totally new or zeroing in on what makes a simple pilsner perfect? Does this mean on a subconscious level, I don’t think hazy IPAs are worth any kind of analysis, so they won’t distract me or demand attention I’m apparently conserving to be sad? Why are hazy IPAs my default “I can’t even” beer?
Maybe it’s not that negative. Maybe hazy IPAs are just what’s comforting to me. Because they don’t necessitate too much reflection—they can, and do when I’m not having a tough time and/or when I’m researching for work, but it’s not compulsory. Maybe I just know, no laboring over any decisions, that I’ll probably like whatever I’m ordering, as long as I’m getting it from a brewery I trust to artfully avoid hop burn, or as long as it doesn’t have lactose. Maybe hazy IPAs are just a beer security blanket, my reliable beer rock.
Maybe they’re a little joyless to me now; maybe they’re a comforting promise of familiarity…who knows! Maybe both—probably both. I don’t mean to hate on you, hazies, we’re cool. But I am thrilled to be getting excited about doppelbocks again.
This week, I pulled the Two of Swords.
Swords is the suit of intellect and decisions. The Two of Swords in particular speaks to dilemmas, tough decisions, feeling like you’re at a stalemate, and weighing options. Should you stay or should you go now, essentially. You’ve got a choice to make, whether it’s a big move or huge job opportunity or which beer to order—all equally important, I guess. And at this point in time, you’re totally torn. The indecision might be paralyzing you, and you know that sooner or later, you’ve got to make a move—there’s a line behind you, buddy! Or, you know, a deadline or something with more weight. The blindfold on this card indicates that a lot of the reason you can’t decide is you don’t know all the facts about your options. Now, that could be willful avoidance, or it could be that you don’t even know you don’t know what you need to know—you know? Either way, you’ve got to do some research and some legwork finding out the pros and cons of your options. You may be surprised to realize how easy it then becomes to make your choice. Even if you think you have all the facts, maybe there’s a person you hadn’t even thought to ask about their experiences, or a deep dive on GlassDoor about how good working for that company would actually be.
I’m compelled to relate this to doing research that’s actually helpful next time you’re hemming and hawing over what beer to buy. Put down the Untappd! It’s not giving you any helpful information on whether that beer is actually good or bad. Learn about beer styles from helpful sources like Pints and Panels. Make yourself mix-packs. Talk to your beer friends. Ask the bartender or person working the shop counter for recommendations. Learn and experience different styles to figure out what you like—decisions will get a lot easier and a lot more fun from there.
This Week’s Boozy Media Rec
I’ve talked before about my appreciation for smaller pour size options in taprooms. Offering the option to try beers without having to order a full pint isn’t just a helpful tool for beer drinkers’ discovery, it’s a step in the inclusive direction. I really appreciated reading Andy Crouch’s “Maybe Beer Samplers Aren’t Terrible After All” for All About Beer, with even more arguments for taster-sized pours—from the perspective, by the way, of someone who has gone from loving them to hating them to loving them again. Andy points out how having so many breweries in the country now—so many in our own backyards, really—makes it especially helpful and reasonable to give customers the chance to try more beers. We can’t, after all, take FOMO off the table.
Ex-BEER-ience of the Week
This Monday night, creator and director Marena Domingo-Young presented her documentary “Girl Beer” in NYC. The event was the result of talking to Marena once the film debuted and seeing how we could make a screening happen here, and came together with lots of planning help from NYC Pink Boots leadership. It was so exciting on so many levels—first and foremost getting to see this documentary that many of us have been eagerly awaiting, a documentary celebrating women and diversity in craft beer and smashing that “girl beer” stereotype. It was so great to meet Marena and get to do a Q&A with her after the film showed. It was also great to have the event be such a team effort, and to see beer friends come out for the screening. Love and beer and working toward change, all around! I can’t wait to see what’s next for “Girl Beer” and the impact it makes. Read last week’s issue if you haven’t, yet, for a full interview with Marena, and stay up to date on the film here.
Until next week, here’s Darby cheesin’ in Jersey City.