(DING is back as our host for The Session #94, this time asking us to consider our individual roles in the beer community/industry)
As I downloaded the pictures we’d taken in Gettysburg after my wife’s birthday-turned-photoshoot, I had to briefly pass through hundreds of shots of bottles and cans of beer in front of our guests. I’d hooked my laptop up to the TV, and my previously imported beertography spilled out all over Lightroom, too fluid and legion to clean up or hide quickly. My wife’s friend noticed, and laughed. “Did you really need to take so many pictures of beer?” The rest of the room laughed with her.
I felt a flush of embarrassment. There are a lot of photos of beer on my computer. Nearly 200 GB, if I’m being honest. Lots and lots of photos that are nearly identical, short of a slight change in depth of field, or a minor adjustment in framing. The nested folders of images translate to many hours behind the viewfinder, and exist as proof of my obsession that few people ever see.
Did I really need to take so many pictures of beer? Yes, I did.
To me, every photo contains a story, or at least the potential for one. The old adage parrots “a thousand words” but to me there’s more than just the details in the arrangement of the pixels. I spend so much time and take so many pictures trying to capture that one fleeting second, the one perfect microcosm of me, in our culture, at that exact moment, all so I can tell a story.
Not so I can promote a brewery. Not so I can earn money. Not so I can show off.
Only to tell a story.
It’s the same reason my mind builds narratives when I’m scanning beer labels, or wandering around a brewhouse, or ordering another round for friends. Beside all those proto-photos rest skeletons of stories, bones and structure with no meat, frameworks waiting for an infusion of reality to reanimate them.
I’m a writer who lives in a beerish world, and as a result, I’m always trying to mine the veins of our culture for some literary truth. I feel obligated to tell the stories that make up my world, that make up our world, so writing about beer becomes a literal manifestation of “writing what I know.”
Contemporary beer writing has been plagued by a decided lack of storytelling. It’s not completely systemic, but I do see a lot of writing that, while functionally fine, reads like technical documentation or corporate copy. The latent sex-appeal of beer has been supplanted by a strange utilitarian slant, where brewing details, tasting notes, and arguments over semantics have wrestled importance away from engaging a reader and potentially teaching them something.
We’ve gone full-throttle on the science and the details, but forgotten that industry need not be mechanical and cold, and that a lot people have difficulty connecting with data and flat exposition. We’ve forgotten that humans are hardwired to follow narratives, connect to characters, to start at the beginning and stop at the end.
In short: we’ve built the rituals and canon of beer without developing any of the mythology. Joseph Campbell would be pissed.
I try to populate the empty pantheon. I try to weave all the loose threads into cohesive forms, move past the liquid in the glass to stories that people want to read. I’m not always successful, I know, but that’s my “role” if I had to pick one.
Writers have more competition for attention than ever in the history of writing, so I feel it important, if not downright necessary, to write something that’s free from errors, creatively composed, fundamentally worth reading. Either because it has a point that makes one challenge presupposition, or because it’s legitimately fun to read or intrinsically beautiful.
That’s it. No other secret plans or ulterior motives or special considerations. I’ve always enjoyed reading stories (I might even argue that I participate in them), so it only makes sense that I’d enjoy writing them, too. To me, human history is one big book, and American beer is a chapter that’s still being written. Let’s make sure it’s a good chapter, a chapter worthy of all this cultural passion, one story at a time.