I apologize thoroughly to the writers I left hanging by delaying this second part of the Session round-up. Like I said on Twitter, I have lots of excuses, but none of them are very good, so I’ll just say I’m sorry.
Quick recap: Inundated by politics and petty internet squabbles, beer had me feeling lower than lager yeast. I asked the internet if it was just me, or a larger trend. A bunch of people in the first round-up seemed to think it was just me, but what say the other bloggers?
Tom Bedell, beer and golf enthusiast extraordinaire, writes about his own early beer-life crisis and run in with the dread pirate Ralph Lauren, which lead to him taking off his beer writing hat for some time. A bit like me, he thought the sickness ran a little deeper, affecting his wont to write at all. The good news though, is that he never stopped drinking…er…”researching” beer, as the passion that was temporarily sucked out of his pen, never seemed to get sucked out of his glass. Unlike us whiny millennials, Tom’s got the luxury of perspective to help keep him grounded:
“I have a long view, after all, and remember when things were at a nadir. I’m far from jaded about the existing profusion of choice, although also unlikely to be bedazzled by the next new thing.”
He closes with some musing about being a specialist or generalist, something I think a lot of niche writers struggle with. It’s good to see Tom finding his stride though (he’s writing a book!), as it gives me hope that I’ll find mine. The last line of his post might be the best line of all the entries (no offense to the other wonderful writers), as it speaks to why beer matters, or should matter, or shouldn’t be a chore:
“I find beer more enjoyable placed in a wider context, where it engages, or blends in, with more aspects of one’s endeavors, interests and enthusiasms. I suspect if I ever tire of beer in that sense, then I’ll be tired of life.”
Friend of the program, Doug Smiley, came out of beer blogging retirement to answer my cry for existential help. He describes his own tendency to go all-in on a topic, until he’s had his fill, at which point he quits cold-turkey. That’s not how my brain functions, but I know other people a lot like Doug, and I respect ones ability to know exactly what you want for how long you want it, because the flip side is holding onto worthless stuff and feeling bad that you can’t let go of it. Doug describes the come-down from his beer binge, explaining how he used to keep up with blogs and news site until he realized that a vast majority of it was repetitious and shallow. I can’t disagree with that (seriously, no more articles about cans please please please). I do, however, disagree with the idea that it’s not the writers, but the topic that’s limited:
“And it’s not necessarily a case of the people writing about this stuff being bad writers it’s just that the topic is limited. Salsa bloggers would have the same issue. Maybe we should all take our cue from the Salsa blogosphere and ask ourselves if we really need daily coverage of a food stuff?”
I think this is a matter of lazy or unadventurous writers coupled with publications that won’t take a risk on any article that won’t generate clicks, more so than beer being limited. There are outlets producing wonderful, well researched and written beer stories, but those get lost in the sea of listicles and fluff. Tom Bedell’s quote above resonates with how broad beer can be, with the right context and the right writer. Oh god I just said can. It’s happening to me too.
Regardless, I appreciate Doug’s honesty and candid approach. I think he’s right that we’ve gotten a little carried away with romancing the hops, and that some (most?) people don’t need sociological or scientific analysis to drink and enjoy their beer.
The next entry comes from Draft Magazine, which is awesome in and of itself. Zach Fowle answered my question with a resounding “no, it’s not the industry, it’s you,” suggesting what I was feeling was a “natural stage in the life cycle of a beer geek.” The rest of his piece cleverly outlines the stages, and what one might experience at each stage, which is a great idea and something I really wish I had written. The four stages, Birth, Adolescence, The Crisis (me), and Maturity, are pretty damn apt, and you should really just pop on over to Draft to read the whole thing yourself.
My favorite line, which speaks to this topic directly, comes from The Crisis phase:
“I think you have to approach beer differently. You have to rekindle the love of beer by reevaluating what excites you about it, and generally that’s not driving across state lines to try a few sips of draft-only, no-growler whalez.”
My Montana buddy Alan offers his own mini re-cap of the Session to kick off his exploration of beer burnout. He’s not having a crisis, he says, but admits that he needed a break from writing about beer. I like the idea, as I’ve always found breaks useful, too – a day or two off from running rejuvenates, a day or two off learning a new piece of music somehow helps the melody sink further into your brain. In typical Oliver style, I had over analyzed my sagging enthusiasm, and probably gave it more credence than it deserved, but Alan set me right:
“It’s not so much a midlife crisis as a useful pause. Somewhere in converting from “fan-boy” to knowledgeable, objective observer, there are many choices to be made about how to continue writing about beer.”
Alan goes on to explain that his understanding of beer has changed dramatically since he first started his journey in the 1990s. Which makes sense, because the whole industry has changed, too. His new perspective of the importance of simple quality over hype has brought him back around to writing about beer, and he hopes his readers will respect that his time off will lead to better writing. He’s also looking for help nailing the Belgian character in his homebrew, which leads me to…
…the Belgiany and phenolic Chris Barnes of I Think About Beer! He describes his own issues with the culture that drag his optimism through the mud, mainly cynicism and entitlement (of which, there is way too much to go around in the beer community). I think a lot of my own disillusionment came from interactions with the type of people who would rather condescend than converse, so it’s nice to hear that I’m not the only rampant optimist annoyed by those hop garblers. Chris goes on to describe the niche he found as he settled into consistent writing, and how that niche presented him with some wonderful opportunities, personally and vocationally. He echoes a lot of what other people have said in his closing advice:
“To me, it’s less about each individual beer but what that beer led me to: friends, community, and passion.”
Dave, of AnnArborBeer.com, opens his post with Sam Calagione’s “99 percent asshole-free” quote (which I should also note Alan used, and disagreed with too), but suggests it might need updating:
“Craft beer’s exponentially increasing popularity has brought a host of new people into the fold, and when one takes a look at the larger beer community these days, one has reason to suspect that Calagione’s estimate may need to be adjusted downward.”
His take, which he worries borders on curmudgeon status (I don’t think it does), is a refreshingly honest and candid tirade about how silly a lot of beer trends are. His break down laments the sameness of a lot of “fad beers” and a community who routinely puts rarity and novelty over quality and heritage. Dave and I share at least one of these beliefs: beer is made for drinking, not storing or coveting or using to boost one’s ego:
“All those pictures of your Founders KBS bottles or Alchemist Heady Topper cans you post to Facebook groups? No one cares. It’s beer, not a status symbol.”
Dave’s piece seems to be touching on another common thread: a lot of beer burnout comes from dealing with the worst kinds of people in the community. He worries it’s him (as I did), but maybe, just maybe, it’s actually them. If so, overcoming boils down to having a thicken online skin or rising above the less savory people that will inevitably join the industry as it gets more popular. Either way, Dave, I don’t think you’re an old grouch, and even if you are, I’m starting to think curmudgeon is a synonym for wisdom, not bitterness.
The last entry in this Session comes from Derrick Peterman, of Ramblings of a Beer Runner. He opens with an admission that he’s been through an actual real life crisis, one he couldn’t even resolve with an expensive sports car. He segues into a discussion of the natural waxing and waning of enthusiasm for things you love, in his case, running. I run too, and can very much relate with the off and on love affair of destroying one’s knees while improving one’s heart. Derrick’s description of running (and how even with enhancements in shoes and tech, remains pure and simple) draws a whimsical parallel for my love of the basics of beer:
“the sport still retains it’s simplicity of putting one foot in front of the other and repeating this over and over again to propel yourself as fast as you can over some distance.”
Ultimately, despite any crises or slight down turns in energy, he finds talking to brewers and developing an understanding of the complicated reality of beer as a business drives him and keeps him motivated. I can get behind that idea.
So I understand why lots of people, possibly including our host Oliver, might find themselves less committed to beer than they used too. And that’s OK. But as for me, just like running, my relationship with beer is constantly changing, but has never been stronger.
I’d like to thank everyone who contributed to this iteration of the Session, and apologize again for taking so long to finish my recap. I plan to participate in Boak and Bailey’s 113th Session tomorrow, as the topic is equal parts investigatory and voyeuristic. You should join in too!