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97. Getting Back in Touch with What Inspires Us to Give AF About Beer
Underneath the burnout and the question lies a community of passionate people, and we just need some reminding; plus, tarot for forging down your newly cleared path.
The Necessary Recharge of “The Bear” and “Final Gravity”
To be completely honest with you—and when am I not, to a fault, lol—I am feeling completely and utterly uninspired lately. I really don’t even know what that is or where it’s coming from. I don’t feel a particular block regarding much else in my life that requires any extra thought or creativity. Are these other pursuits stealing precious brain power from the ol’ newsletter here? Maybe. But more likely, I’m experiencing a very focused sort of mini burnout on beer topics, the kind I’d write about here.
As I’ve covered so regularly that I think it’s one of Hugging the Bar’s main throughlines, the uphill climb toward better diversity, equity, inclusion, safety, and access within craft beer is a fucking exhausting one, thanks to the many, many roadblocks and how many of those roadblocks are stubborn, ignorant human beings. Don’t mistake this for waning passion about this crusade, as there will be no loss of steam here. But, I think all of us actively engaged in this know that sometimes you need to come up for air, and get a bird’s eye view of progress, because if you stay locked in on a granular level 24/7, it will feel like nothing’s changing at all. And, that’s not a great feeling when you need to remain motivated.
The beer industry of late can also feel like a machine generating almost exclusively news of mergers and acquisitions and closures, with less galvanizing tales of innovation. The latter is there, sure, but perhaps it’s just something to accept and ride out that current craft beer is a landscape of shrinking, stabilizing, seeing who’s “selling out” and how few people give a shit, and breweries expanding into the expected beyond-beer categories or sticking with what works.
Right now, I’m in a period of reassessing and gathering ideas for future newsletter issues, from interviews I’d love to feature to the opportunity to get into some more sciencey-science, as that’s one of the areas I still get jazzed about in beer these days. In the meantime, dear reader, I scrolled through a list of possible things to write about this week, oh, I dunno, 47 times? And all it resulted in was quite a lot of sighing.
Then, I accidentally watched four episodes of “The Bear”’s second season in a row. I’m not normally a binge-er, but I got so pulled into the world of this season that I simply…did not get up. I loved the first season and its claustrophobic chaos, but there’s something about season two…it doesn’t take its foot off the gas but the walls have been smashed down, letting us feast on so much more culinary inspiration. From Sydney’s absolutely incredible research day in Chicago to Marcus’s stage in Copenhagen, with Carmy’s almost uncontrollable, force-greater-than-himself compulsion to open this restaurant and cook even though he’s starting to realize it’s not necessarily something “enjoyable,” this show has dug down beneath everything I’ve learned about and come to track in craft beer over the last seven or so years.
At the very core of why I ever cared about craft beer in the first place is the artistry and passion of the people who make it. Those stories were really all I ever chased before I started writing about beer professionally. And then when you do start covering beer professionally, every other branch of stories you begin to understand and follow starts to bloom with so many leaves that sometimes you can’t even see your original main motivation anymore, your roots…? This tree metaphor was ill-advised. You need to understand and follow all those stories, you should and you should want to. But if you want to keep caring, a lot, and if you want another way to avoid burnout, you’ve got to be able to see that core. There are unfortunately a lot of shit people in craft beer. But I still believe there are more good than bad, and that there are people exploring levels of creativity even under the unbelievable pressure of the industry right now. And I’m starting to realize they have to remain at the center of every story, even if not overtly mentioned each time.
Cooking and brewing are obviously closely linked, more so for some than others but always significantly so, and therefore it’s little wonder that while watching Carmy and Sydney strive for impossible goals for a restaurant at the cost of nearly everything else in their lives, I keep thinking about folks in the brewhouse. You read the both unsurprising and still astounding results of Infinite Ingredient’s burnout survey. You watch average weekly wages at breweries ever on the decline, always below the national average for private employers—per this tweet from Bryan Roth, who is always a great source for this info. And you think, why the hell does anyone still do this?
I left my laptop for the evening at this point, the question of what motivates people within craft beer today considering what the industry looks like these days lingering in the air. I figured I’d return to this the next day and wrap this up with, obviously, some feelings on the passion that still drives brewhouse workers, as well as anyone in any corner of the industry fighting for change.
Then, I binged something else. Again, I hadn’t meant to. I had been saving the first issue of “Final Gravity, A Beer Zine” from David Nilsen and Melinda Guerra until I had a moment to really dig in. And I got totally lost within the beautiful writing on those pages. I looked up and realized it was far later than I’d intended to try to go to bed, not that I cared. When you don’t normally consume nearly entire television series or zines in one sitting, it really makes the things about compelling content that can mesmerize you sink in.
Melinda Guerra’s “Beer and July 4th in a Mexican Family” was so transportive that I would like to formally request here that she write a book. Mark Lafaro’s “Non-Alcoholic Beer Has a Story Problem” made me sit up and shout (in my head, thankyouverymuch), “YES! I couldn’t put my finger on it but omg, that’s what made non-alcoholic beer feel…weird? And how cool that people are changing that!” David Nilsen’s “Creating Space: Esoteric Brewing” was a case study of how a brewery can truly create real, meaningful inclusivity, welcoming in all with intention while maintaining comfort, safety, fun. Betsy Lay’s “Why We Gather Around Beer”…made me cry. If you can’t tell, I’m trying not to spoil too much about these stories—which also include intriguing and informative writing and reporting from Betty Bollas, Laurin Mack, Anna p.s., Ale Sharpton, plus art from Annabelle Popa—and I urge you to get on the “Final Gravity” train. That Betsy’s piece ends this first issue is perfect: it’s beautiful, and sums up the glue behind this entire collection. Beer is something that brings people together, a constant companion to life and community.
There it was. There, within the pages of “Final Gravity,” issue 01, was a harmony of different stories from different people highlighting different aspects of beer, all with the common thread of passion and care. These are people who are passionate about this thing themselves, and who recognize the passion of others, and capture all of that on the page. These are people who remain in tune with that core, that driving motivation that keeps all of us here, whether it’s brewing through the tedium or speaking out against the injustices in the industry. These stories helped answer that question, that “why do we do this?”, and it also hit the reset button on the inspiration I’d been needing. It’s proof we could all do well to remember why the hell we’re all here.
This week, I pulled the Eight of Wands.
Wands is the suit of communication, intuition, and travel. Eight of Wands in particular speaks to action, fast movement, and change. Because this is all under the umbrella of travel and communication, it could quite literally mean you’re about to travel somewhere by air (and may be a good sign you won’t be bogged down by delays) or that you’re switching to a better wireless provider. But, that’s boring, innit. Let’s think about what the Eight of Wands could mean for our lives and/or souls.
Essentially, your path forward is being cleared, and more than that even, you’re getting some momentum going. There were challenges in your way before on whatever goal mission or work project you’re on, but you’ve been knocking those out of the park and/or they’ve been taking care of themselves, leaving you to free to move forward with some exciting speed. In fact, people may have even been really impressed watching you clear those hurdles, and now they’re helping you and spreading the word about your promise. You’re not just going from obstacles to no obstacles, you’re going from obstacles to wearing a jetpack of support-, confidence-, and excitement-fuel. Don’t sleep on this momentum or take it for granted. It won’t last forever. When this project is completed or this goal is achieved, keep going onto ever bigger and better things. Let each success further propel you. Seize this moment.
Move full steam ahead with the appropriate beer: Full Steam Ahead California Common from Valdez Brewing. You can’t go wrong with a classic style, and its tried-and-true nature is its own momentum to remain—albeit niche and with a small following—a favorite.
This Week’s Boozy Media Rec
Hat-tip to Brew York for the link that reminded me to check out Ash Croce’s Time Out New York story, Meet the Many Feline Workers of NYC’s Breweries. It was obviously fun to see some familiar feline faces and read their origin stories with their breweries, but this piece dug deeper than “look, cats!” Delivered with an engaging level of care for the subject matter, Ash reports on the jobs these cats have in their brewery homes and even how and where breweries find them. Absolutely a 12/10 delightful read where you’ll learn something, too.
Ex-BEER-ience of the Week
After writing about it in a recent issue, I actually drank an Asteroid City lager from Dogfish Head, while watching “Asteroid City.” What a hoot of an immersive experience! “Asteroid City” is perhaps the peak of self-referential self-referential-dom from Wes Anderson (until his next film, presumably), and there was something appropriately meta and branded about drinking the movie’s own beer. But importantly, the lager is very, very good!
Until next week, here is Darby, just happy to be here.