82. The Beers We Leave Behind
The beers left in the fridge say a lot about what kind of beer drinker we are; plus, tarot for honing a craft and decoction mashing.
How the Beers We Buy Help Tell Little Stories
I am moving. Still. I know, I’ve been on about this for weeks…months! I’m going to try my best to rein myself in and leave this here, because I keep catching myself acting like the first person who’s ever moved, as if I’m living some new and novel hellscape no one has ever been able to imagine before. That is decidedly not a cute look. In my defense, moving in NYC adds an extra layer or two of WHY GOD WHY, but…move on we shall.
As we pack—and pack, and pack, and pack until we die—we are picking our way through the booze reserves in the apartment. I have heard people have versions of an empty-your-bar-cart party before moving, and that sounds both fun and useful for folks who have not had 80% of their friends move away already. If I were to have one of those shindigs now, about six of us would be on the fast-track to alcohol poisoning. My husband and I have no plans to consume all remaining liquid aboard this ship—some of it can accompany us to the new place, and some of it will have to get tossed.
Some of the members of the latter category have bummed me out, like a bottle of Amarula we got in Johannesburg and never even opened. Seeing these bottles that have memories and sentimental value attached all lined up to get dumped is…chilling, tbh. I’ve lately stumbled upon podcasts and stories where people are talking about the stuff we are reduced to when we kick the bucket. Having to call 1-800-GOT-JUNK when your parent dies, watching the entire life of the person you love get carried out into a truck before your very eyes. Perusing an estate sale and stopping to really register the entire life these tables and racks of things represents—memories and experiences and gifts and hopes and passions, all 50% off so now you can cram your shelves with stuff that will now speak to your life, that someone will be tasked with selling and donating and recycling when you take a seat at that bar in the sky. I feel this mix of emotions, of nostalgia, of happy connections to people and places, of regret, of why-the-fuck-did-I-buy-this, when I look at all the things we’re donating and the bottles and cans we’re pouring out. Beyond the very simple fact that I don’t drink at home nearly enough for the laughable amount of beer and spirits I have excitedly purchased and hauled home, often with great pains from cities far away, these poor, unfortunate beverages make me think about why we buy what we buy and what it all means.
Obviously, a very large portion of the drinks we purchase are…to drink. I get that, I’m not an idiot nor am I reaching too hard for a topic on which I can wax poetic. From person to person, some vast majority of the beer, wine, and spirits we buy are because we like them or want to try them, case closed. “This tastes good, I would like more of it, please.” And/or, “I am having people over / I am heading to a party, and need to bring something decent.”
But what about things like that bottle of Amarula? I bought it because we went to an elephant sanctuary and met an elephant named Amarula and I never wanted that day to end, and because we got engaged in South Africa, and because I’ve never loved anywhere I’ve visited more. I bought craft schnapps at a market in Munich because I thought it might be interesting to be the kind of person who had a little glass of schnapps in the evening; I think I consumed approximately 1.5 servings from that bottle over two years. Olive bitters at Amor Y Amargo because I was going to really “get into making cocktails.” A six-pack of mini Malört bottles in Chicago because I was going to have so much fun forcing my friends back home to learn to love it and I completely forgot that most of my friends do not live “back home” anymore. I would argue that, for many of us, there’s at least a tiny percentage of our beverage collections that we bought because of the way they fed some narrative. A story about ourselves, that we tell ourselves, whether it’s already true or whether we’re hoping it will become true soon.
Take this a step further into more specific territory, and you’ve got the beverages we buy to support the specific narrative that we are discerning, knowledgeable, and enthusiastic connoisseurs. It’s the sort of conspicuous consumption that exists within the beer world. Your cellar might be stocked with rare Belgian ales and spontaneous fermentation experiments from revered breweries because you love these things, but that physical collection also paints you as a certain type of beer lover, doesn’t it? You’re not kicking back and cracking open just any of those bottles on a Tuesday night, which has to do with certain aging you want to do, or saving and savoring, or even gifting. But it also has a little to do with the fact that the actual presence of the collection serves its own purpose separate from beer’s original, obvious purpose, which is to be consumed. A rare bottle collection also exists, a bit, to be consumed by the eyes. Maybe you visit it every now and then to admire it. Maybe when a friend comes over and you show them the collection so the two of you can pick a bottle to drink, you relish the part where you get to actually guide a mini-tour through the repertoire, broadcasting the story it tells about you.
There’s some overlap here with the beers (or wines or spirits) we buy in anticipation of a special occasion. We see them in stores or read about them and seek them out and, beholding their “special”-ness—how limited their release is, how painstaking their creation is, whether they’re the result of a one-off collaboration—we cellar them away, whatever our “cellar” actually looks like. We plan to enjoy them to celebrate something: the beer will be worthy of a milestone moment, it will lift that moment and the moment will lift it right back. It’s not incredibly ~fancy~, I know, but I snagged a bottle of Mount Saint Bernard Abbey’s Tynt Meadow English Trappist Ale and placed it in my beer fridge with the intention of savoring it…when? I didn’t know. I felt confident that I’d know when the time came. That time ended up being a Monday night, in my sweats, while I boxed up my record collection. Not exactly momentous and certainly not elegant.
For years now, I have preached and tried to practice what I preach on making any moment a “special occasion,” on not waiting for some magical event to tick some theoretical checklist—it may never come, and that’s okay! I think we buy these beers and beverages because we’ve been sold the narrative that they’re for certain moments in certain lives for certain people, and we want to be those people. Rachel Hendry writes about this beautifully in “Traditional Method — Exploring Champagne’s Influence on the Brewing Industry” for Good Beer Hunting. We buy certain things to tell ourselves another story, which is that we will live lives “worthy” of champagne toasts or breaking out the proper lambic basket. The reality is, 99% of what we imagine when we hear that story is manufactured marketing magic. We make our own special occasions, whenever and however and for whatever reason, and the drinks can help in doing so.
There’s one more purchase incentive I recognized looking at the picked-over remnants of the beer fridge and this one, dear reader, is a bit more embarrassing and frankly cringe to admit. There are beers you buy…for the ‘Gram. Not solely, I swear. I tell you all my deepest and darkest beer secrets, so you know I would admit if I ever bought a beer in which I had no other interest aside from photographing and posting. But Instagram-ability has absolutely factored into some of my buying decisions, and I just know I’m not alone. I would bet the range runs from influencers who actually make some amount of money from their Instagram accounts and so can to some extent justify buying a beer 100% for a post to people like me, who want to try a beer anyway and can’t help but clock that it’s a trendy little treat that could help drive traffic to the account they’re trying to boost for community-building and/or career-promoting.
Perhaps no beer in my dwindling portfolio better embodies this than Omnipollo’s Raspberry Maple Pancake Lassi Gose. I can actually see it through the beer refrigerator’s clear door from where I sit writing this, its bubblegum-pink can glaring at me. A couple years ago, I had a flight of three different flavors of Omnipollo’s lassi goses at Twelve Percent Beer Project; the vibrantly hued lineup was fun and novel and the beers in those small amounts was tasty—it was a total dessert-like treat and interesting to explore flavors I don’t usually go for in beer. I’m sure on some level, however subconscious it might have been, I knew I would never have the urge to casually crack a whole can of one of those candy smoothies while catching up on some TV at home, but when I saw the raspberry variant in that eye-catching can at a bottle shop, I just thought, “Ooh, I liked that in that flight, and this beer is hot-hot-hot. I could do a fun post with it.” Of course, I never ended up craving it, and while maybe I still would have popped it open to share with my husband or something, I insisted on saving it until I had the time and energy to produce some grandiose photo shoot for it. Guess what: such motivation never appeared, and it’s probably been about a year and a half now.
This brings me back to something that comes up a lot in this newsletter, which is the rocky romance I think a lot of us have with Instagram in general and also ~beer Instagram.~ We want to be on there for the community we find, to stay up on brewery news and releases, and maybe to promote some aspect of our careers, but…is it me or is it just getting exhausting to produce content? It’s so much work for a comparatively small pay-off. Especially since if you’re not doing Reels, your stuff is buried, anyway. Again, unless you’re a bona fide influencer making money off your posts, I’m not convinced beer-Instagramming is a sustainable pursuit long-term. And I’ve got the poor, lonely beers to prove it, cans punished for the fact I once thought them worthy of special posts and then could never actually be arsed to make those posts and so there they sit, certainly undrinkable by now. What a waste. They were supposed to support the story I told myself that I could add yet another spinning plate to the ol’ juggling act that is life, this one the increasingly time-consuming endeavor of social media viability, but of course, that story ended up landing in the fairy-tale genre.
I’ve learned loads during this cleaning-out. One major takeaway is that I’m definitely going to buy a lot less beer. I hate to write those words at a time when breweries are struggling and I want to support as many as I can, but first of all, as we talk about when we talk about Dry January, we can’t feel pressured to sabotage our own well-being and wallets to keep a business afloat as if it’s solely up to us, and second of all, for me, it’s very much a matter of how much I prefer to be out and about—I can certainly keep up my rate of brewery support on-premise; that’s different for everyone. This all makes me think that, whether you’re moving or not, a check-in with your beer inventory every now and then to register what you’re drinking, what you’re not, and why is a good idea that will help future purchases.
I absolutely don’t think there’s anything wrong with buying some things to buttress these stories we tell ourselves. Apart from buying the things you just like to drink, sure, buy something that you can look forward to for a special occasion—just don’t forget to make the special occasion actually happen sooner or later. Buy something that feels like you’re treating yourself, that feels like an expression of your tastes and of the way you engage with beer—just don’t forget to actually enjoy drinking it at some point. And in most cases, I think it’s safe to recommend really never buying a beer just to orchestrate a hopefully traffic-driving social media post around. I think it can be a lovely thing to make your beverage collection so personal, and so expressive of yourself and your interests. Just make sure the stories those beers or wines or liquors are telling are non-fiction.
This week, I pulled the Eight of Pentacles.
Pentacles speaks to money, property, and achievement. Specifically, the Eight of Pentacles speaks to ~practice makes perfect~ — repetition, apprenticing or interning, honing a craft. It comes to either encourage you on this path if you’ve already embarked upon it, or to tell you that doing so may be a wise idea in the near future. This could be the result of a changing financial situation—perhaps you need more income so you’re learning something that will be a side hustle, or even thinking about going back to school for an all-together new career. Or maybe that’s all the result of changing interests and passions, leading to changing goals and ambitions. You have a new vision for your future, your calling, and your bank account, and the road to that requires some process of hard work and learning to varying degrees. You’re studying, taking classes, maybe evening finding internships. The Eight of Pentacles says, “Good on ya’!” and that you can rest assured this is the right move and will take you somewhere both exciting and stable. And if you’ve just been considering starting all this, know it’s a good idea to take that first step. At the very least, you’ll have a whole new skill set and area of expertise.
This card always makes me think of especially time-consuming, painstaking brewing methods when I associate it with beer. Decoction mashing, or the most finely tuned lambic blending. The first brewery that springs to mind since it’s right in my backyard is Wild East Brewing—if you can, grab yourself an Amadeus Vienna-style amber lager brewed with a single decoction mash, and taste the dedication.
This Week’s Boozy Media Rec
I have not read or listened to anything industry-related in nearly two weeks. I hate it, because I feel completely disconnected from what I do and what I love and it’s not even because of some magical vacation. Anyway! It gives me something to look forward to—I can’t wait to dive in and catch up on all the things, and we can flip the script: if there’s something you’ve read and loved recently that I shouldn’t miss, let me know! Also, I have been letting a lot of more comedy-skewing podcasts babble on while I pack, and this episode of Jon Gabrus’s High & Mighty show with his wife Tiffany Gabrus on “going to restaurants” was extremely satisfying content with a lot of topics relevant to things we might discuss here, like the need for good non-alcoholic beverage options and how tipping well and being nice is imperative.
Ex-BEER-ience of the Week
Writing this section this week smarts because another thing moving ruined was being able to go to the event I look forward to all year, the New York City Beer Week Opening Bash. Compared to that, this may seem dull, but I would be remiss not to mention a fantastic beer I did enjoy as part of the aforementioned fridge purge. I am 99% sure I snagged Brouwerij de Molen’s Rep & Roer Whiskey Barrel-Aged Orange Imperial Stout from platonic ideal of a bottle-shop-bar Lager Lager in Berlin, back in December 2019 (the label is very helpfully printed with the date on which it was bottled, but also the date it’s best by, which I believe was sometime in the spring of 2024). The stout succeeded in making packing significantly less unpleasant—chocolate-covered orange vibes but with more roasty coffee and some warming booziness. I’m quite sad I do not have another now but I’m thankful for its service of making a not-special occasion special!
Until next week, here is Darby looking out the window in our new place—it’s the first time she’s been able to reach a view, and I love this for her.