76. Let's Just Let Beer Be Fun in 2023, K?
Taking 2022's depraved opulence into 2023 in the form of accessible, inclusive, brand-boosting fun; plus tarot for ~times of abundance.~
Hang On, Is Drinking Supposed to Be…Fun?
One of my favorite things I read recently is (legend) Jaya Saxena’s “The Year We Wanted to Be Fancy Little Bitches” for Eater. Never been more jealous of a hed, btw. The piece is about the food and drink trends of 2022 all exuding this devil-may-care, caution-to-the-wind excess and luxury. Truffles where they have no business being, caviar bumps, everything-tinis.
2022 was deliciously superficial. We were seeing how many gold-flaked chocolates we could fit in our mouths while the world burned. We reached a new level of realizing just how bleak the state of this planet and our government and our futures are, one where we figured, “Eh, might as well have fun while we’re still here!” We were live-fast-die-young-ing it. We were Darby Crash. We were Marie Antoinette. We were Anna Delvey. We were Sally Bowles at the beginning of “Cabaret” and let’s not talk about the messy business of where that goes, right? In the earlier days of the pandemic, everyone from casual tweeters to culture writers to economic experts promised that all that icky death and financial ruin would calm down soon and then we would live, feast, toast, and DANCE! We would surely see a revival of the Roaring Twenties—something about the neatness of this, being exactly a century later, and following similar circumstances as the OG Jazz Age, made it almost seem perfectly logical. What we got, of course, is more Weimar Republic than Great Gatsby, inflation and all. Society is quite frankly falling apart at the seams, and we’re putting on our sparkliest, skimpiest dresses and being wheeled to the 11pm champagne-and-caviar party in wheelbarrows stuffed with useless cash.
It’s getting meta here, but because things are indeed so dark, and you do as much as you can do and fight as much as you can fight and then a night comes when you need to let it all rip, I completely understand this desire and this behavior—and, maybe even more, I fucking love watching it happen. It’s not about ignoring our current reality, or giving up on our work in arenas from sustainability to social justice. It’s about tempering that with a bit of letting ourselves live, and choosing to, for example, seek the best revenge on christofascists by doing that living loudly and boldly and for us. It’s a short stay we all have on this rock, right? And if we’re going to let loose, I say, let’s really do it up.
Of course, martinis with blatant cocaine-referencing caviar garnishes aren’t what we’d call “accessible” for all, and while I do think I had some fun navigating awkwardly licking caviar off of a wooden hand in one of New York’s most serious cocktail bars by myself—not a friend in sight to laugh at the ridiculousness of it all with—I think we can take this “letting ourselves live” attitude into 2023 with a bit more responsibility, intention, moderation, balance, affordability, etc. Because we don’t want our Bianca Jaggers to turn into Little Edie Beales when the clock strikes 12. And we can take a break from the decay of society without being the cause of the decay of society, you know? So, there’s one thing I think we can keep from 2022, Year of the Fancy Little Bitch. FUN.
I didn’t even have to leave Eater’s homepage to see one of the many examples of how FUN is frolicking its way into the world of beverages, albeit, especially looking forward into 2023, in a more easy-going sense of the sense of the word. Less “does anyone still wear a hat?” doomy fun, more cartoonish, cheery fun. Another writer I love, Bettina Makalintal, reported on coffee getting more fun: “Specialty Coffee, But Make It Fun,” breaking down how coffee brands look and feel different in the hands of Gen Z compared to millennials. Like, you know millennial minimalism was lame and felt like the death of creativity and individuality, but I don’t think the stark comparison of that ubiquitous aesthetic versus truly any other aesthetic from any other time fully crystallizes until you read something like this, reminding you that every coffee shop for the last 15 years has looked exactly the same—clinical—and it took a new generation coming along to give brands in general, including in the coffee space, some joie de vivre again.
You can also follow this trajectory in issues of Andrea Hernández’s essential newsletter Snaxshot. As Andrea covers food and beverage trend with an emphasis on branding, marketing, aesthetics, and design, you can see there—curated and narrated by her expert eye—the shift from stark white or pale pink with as little writing as possible on labels and always in a simple font toward bright, rich, juicy colors with crowded artwork and lots of easily recognizable brand personality. It’s like watching Realism emerge from its cocoon as Art Nouveau, except on the labels of coffee and non-alcoholic aperitifs. Check out Ghia, De Soi, or any of these. It’s as if when these brands emerged on the scene, they were already proving you didn’t need alcohol to enjoy an aperitif, so they decided they may as well also prove that a cocktail or happy hour also can—should?—be bright and fun. Their aesthetics are either on-the-nose Jazz Age-y, or this kitschy kind of 1970s cookbook/party-hosting guide vibe splashed out in rich hues, a little Baroque-meets-chic-tapas-and-drinks-in-Barcelona.
Reinjecting some life into labels and product designs or recipes is about more than branding aesthetics. It does what offering a non-alcoholic aperitif does, too: it fosters accessibility and inclusivity. It’s a point the brands in Bettina’s Eater piece on coffee make, that the performative and perceived sophistication and austerity of millennial coffees, coffee shops, and coffee products created a barrier of exclusivity. It said, “this is not for you,” if you weren’t some overly serious connoisseur. Whereas smiley face-stamped bags of coffee or pastel-colored coffee makers don’t take themselves as seriously, and feel welcoming to everyone. Everything from price points to friendlier aesthetics to an emphasis on loving the drink rather than on being an expert on the drink, it all drives toward bringing more people into the fold.
Interestingly, craft beer has been approaching branding and aesthetics from the perspective of fun for years now, especially since cans started overtaking bottles. Clean labels centering the name of the brewery are the exception, not the rule, in a sea of cans splashed with kaleidoscopic patterns, comic book graphics and cartoons, artsy photography, and candy colors, sometimes all more prominent than the name of the beer itself. More recently, fueled largely by rising lager appreciation, retro vibes are gaining ground, with craft breweries looking to older beer makers from Genessee to Stroh’s. And I’d argue that nostalgic label inspiration is still another branch of “fun.” In fact, I can only think of a few craft breweries who seem to favor earnest minimalism on labels for a result some may find elegant while others find it self-important, try-hard, maybe even a tinge snobby.
2023 feels like a good time to lean into the fun on the inside, too. That means, let’s stop fighting all the wacky trends. It’s exhausting, anyway, isn’t it? We’ve had pickle beer, we’ve had slushie sours jam-packed with every fruit under the sun, we’ve had stouts that seem to be made from a kid’s leftover Halloween haul. What else ya got? Let us have it. I mean, they’re bringing back Jell-O shots and porn star martinis over there in cocktail land. I totally understand why it was once worthwhile to be a sort of guard for some rigid distinctions in craft beer. It had to differentiate itself from macro beer, it had to earn respect, and styles had to form. I still think some of that should stand—in fact, I’d argue for a split: let’s enjoy and educate consumers on styles in their original forms, with all the traditional methods and ingredients that define them and make them special, and also wild variations on those styles, whatever brewers dare to dream up. Even if that means extracts.
I recently worked on a story on flavored whiskey (oh, hey, it literally just went live). Longtime whiskey connoisseurs may be quick to turn their noses up at birthday cake bourbon, just as longtime beer connoisseurs did with hazy IPAs and pastry stouts, but there is absolutely value in something like birthday cake bourbon! And if you truly don’t want to try it, or do and don’t like it, that couldn’t be more understandable, but don’t fight it happening. Try instead getting excited that distillers are doing new things—in addition to the old things—and that in that process, they’re engaging new drinkers. The distillers I spoke to discussed the success they’ve already seen in introducing whiskey to people who would have never tried it before. Some of those people continue on a whiskey journey, developing an appreciation for traditional examples. Some don’t, but, hey, their dollars help distilleries keep making said traditional examples for the rest of us. And, these distillers have also seen plenty of longtime aficionados let down their proverbial hair and consider brownie batter bourbon a fun option for a different kind of occasion or craving.
Craft beer could stand to do well by blowing the roof off of limitations and barriers. Breweries can, like those distilleries, engage more and more new drinkers, whether they’re Gen Z or never thought craft beer was for them before. That’s good on two counts: business for breweries, and inclusivity for everyone. More accessible styles and flavors means more craft beer welcoming more people. And not only is that the direction craft beer should be heading in values-wise, but it’s just good economic sense. I think the key will probably be education, and making that just as accessible, so that maybe, like with flavored whiskey, people get ushered in with—for example—a glittered rainbow fruited sour situation, and over time, start exploring the world of lambics and gueuzes. We need both. We need enthusiasts who will help traditional styles maintain momentum, spreading the word on why these things matter and why they should be appreciated. And we also need to lighten the heck up. I know “let everyone drink whatever makes them happy” has always been the motto of sorts at Hugging the Bar, but for 2023, I’m taking that to a whole new level by requesting we encourage beer to be more fun than ever. I can’t wait to see what comes next.
Don’t Forget to Grab a TapRm x Hugging the Bar ‘Gather Round Variety 12-Pack!
The variety pack I curated for TapRm, featuring craft beer, hard seltzer, hard tea, makgeolli, and more from women-, BIPOC-, AAPI-, and LGBTIA+ -owned brands, is still available, and I know I’m biased, but I think it’s great and you’ll like it!
This week, I pulled the Ten of Pentacles.
Pentacles speaks to money, property, and achievement, and the Ten of Pentacles deals with wealth, success, achievement, family—specifically with a long-term focus. This card often comes up as a sign of completion, in a positive, rewarding way. So, it could signal retirement after a fulfilling career, or the end of one career chapter before another begins, with that first chapter’s close coming as a natural and positive conclusion. Maybe you’ve finished school for something, or a project you’ve been working on for a long time. Maybe you finally reached a financial goal—like, maybe you’ve been working two jobs for several years now to pay off your student loans, and you were just able to do that, so now you can pursue a different job you’ve been wanting. Basically, this time of completion comes with pride, and achievements you’ll always be able to look back upon happily, and, quite possibly, some amount of financial stability that will serve you going forward.
There’s an air to this card that’s like, “done! You did it, you have everything you could ever need, so no more wanting for anything.” I don’t feel this is possible for most of us—permanent satisfaction, in this economy? But seriously, realistically, I mean…how likely is never having to worry about money again for 99.9% of people? Or never changing your mind on career or creative paths or partnerships? What I would focus on now is at least a period of, “wow, did that, what a great journey. It set up me up for a bright future in several ways, whether it’s financial security and comfort, or great experience to leverage for bigger and better opportunities, or a whole new skill / knowledge set…” and so on. The Ten of Pentacles means this is a time of abundance in some way—whether that’s financially or emotionally or creatively—and you can be proud of your success. There are two things you can actually act on here to make this prosperity last. One, think about what you did to get here and how you can sustain or repeat it—did it take a lot of betting on yourself? Financial prudence? Bravery in trying new things? And, two, think about how you can share the wealth. Can you help family? Give to causes that matter to you, or even start some new initiative?
Czig Meister Brewing has a beer called Sacrifice for Abundance, which couldn’t be more perfect, because you no doubt have had to make some sacrifices to reach your goals and this stage of success. Recognize that—good on ya. And it’s a barleywine, which feels quite appropriately celebratory!
This Week’s Boozy Media Rec
I’m a big mezcal fan, and, I’m also someone continuously fascinated by and excited about advances forward in terms of sustainability in beverage alcohol. So, I was very intrigued by Hollie Stephens’s piece for Modern Farmer, “Move Over, Mezcal. A Sustainable Tequila Alternative Is Taking Over.” In it, Hollie introduces us to sotol, and the ins and outs of its plant, the desert spoon, how it’s harvested, and how sotol is made, along with a few different important and impactful ways the entire process is eco-friendly. It’s exciting stuff!
Ex-BEER-ience of the Week
A story I’m working on discussing NYC beer bars has been firing up all kinds of almost-too-much-to-bear nostalgia, and last night, I dropped in on a bar I used to go to constantly but now haven’t been to in years—I don’t know why, such is life. I realized, actually, that Burp Castle walks the line this issue is about. If you’ve never been, this is a Belgian beer bar (primarily) themed like a monastery. It’s dark and churchy with monk murals on the walls, and the gimmick (for lack of a better word, as it’s more delightful than obnoxious) is there is supposed to be a quiet atmosphere—if the din grows too loud, someone will start a “shhh” and everyone will pipe back down. It’s all honestly fun, but it also creates a setting where you can take your beer seriously and really appreciate what you’re drinking. Anyway, last night, I had a Tripel Karmeliet. Perfect.
Until next week, here’s Darby in a snazzy little sweater at Finback Brooklyn.