Session #111: A Beer Mid-Life Crisis?

Illustration: a pint of beer with Van Gogh textures.

Does our relationship with beer, and obsessing over beer, and writing about beer, go through ups and downs? Oh yes. Is it different now to in 2005? Definitely.

This month Session host Oliver Gray asks:

Do you find it hard to muster the same zeal for beer as you did a few years ago? Are you suffering through a beer-life crisis like I am? If so, how do you deal with it?

When we first started to take an interest in beer, we were like those wide-eyed kids walking through the doors into Willie Wonka’s factory for the first time: ‘Come with me/ And you’ll see/ A world of pure imagination…’

That Michael Jackson coffee table book that was our guide told us about beers, breweries, entire types of beer, that we’d never heard of and that needed hunting down. If we wanted to taste, say, a particular American IPA, we needed intel, a full day off, and probably at least two forms of public transport. Every weekend brought us a new experience, and every holiday abroad was an opportunity to learn something new.

Then a time came when we’d done all the easy stuff, the obvious stuff, and even the slightly less easy and obvious stuff, and we had what we’ve always called A WOBBLE. Nothing seemed fresh or exciting, even though lots of exciting things were clearly going on, because we’d become jaded.

We were on the verge of giving up blogging (not beer — we didn’t go completely insane) but somehow weathered the wobble — kept the interest ticking over — and found ourselves emerging from the other side more obsessed than ever, in a different, dare we say deeper way. We took the toy apart and began to fiddle with its workings and realised that we weren’t done.

Beer style guide 1901

And these are your options, really, neither less worthy than the other:

  1. Leave the learning and exploring phase and enter steady state, drinking what you like where you like with a decent bedrock of knowledge to help you make informed decisions, but enough mental energy and time to enjoy things other than beer on the side. (Wine, for example.)
  2. Embrace the mania fully: become a social-outcast-nerd, or a scholar if you’re flattering yourself. Someone who says things like, ‘Oh, that’s a rather interesting example of a Burton ale, judging by the sugar additions specified in the recipe.’ The beer equivalent of a train-spotter, the non-league football fan, the 78 collector, or the expired military ration-taster.

Except that in a sense we’ve chosen both. Last weekend in Bristol, we comprehensively failed to take part in a brewery trail, didn’t visit any new bars or pubs, and the only exciting new draught beer we tasted was… Sam Smith’s India Pale Ale. We switched off and concentrated on seeing friends and family, chose where to drink based on what worked in that context, and chose what to drink based on… what we wanted to drink.

5 thoughts on “Session #111: A Beer Mid-Life Crisis?”

  1. Difficult to do a full review from one half, but it struck me as quite a faithful historic recreation – heavy on solid aroma hops but this came through more in the taste than the smell, and definitely orangey rather than tropical fruit (I would guess Goldings). Pleasant and interesting, but not zingy. Not much help to you but it tasted a lot like when we made one of Ron’s historic Whitbread Pale Ale recipes.

  2. I liked it quite a lot when I had it at the Malt Shovels in Altrincham. Mostly an old-school English IPA, but quite light-bodied with it – low on the caramel. If you say ‘keg’ and ‘IPA’ it raises certain expectations these days, and as a beer it certainly wasn’t up there with Damage Plan or Human Cannonball – but it cost about 1/3 as much as they do, and it was more than 1/3 as good.

  3. A mid life beer crisis? Glad I never suffered such a thing. I do sometimes get bored with the beers on offer at my favourite local pub, all chosen from a limited selection available from its pubco owners, and some of the flat lifeless things the many micropubs in my vicinity serve up, but every day there’s something superb to look forward to. Back from a trip to London today (pubs not on agenda, sadly) I’ve since tucked into two lovely hoppy bottles from the Cheddar brewery, Hardrock and Crown and Glory, and a White Shield. I shall finish my evening with a Fuller’s 1845 then maybe a bottle of their Past Masters 1910 double stout. Beer has been a constant joy since I was 16, now I’m nearly 60, and the choice and quality has never been better (though I dearly miss some, fallen by the drayside, such as Gale’s and King & Barnes).
    You’re probably thinking too deeply about it all, but I guess that’s your job. Crisis? What crisis ..

  4. I genuinely get bored with beer and I think my problem is I easily become a ticker (soon to be recognised as a mental illness). Though I don’t make notes, my brain seems to remember every beer from every brewery its ever had. When I get like this I like to turn away from beer exhibitions and reacquaint myself with things as simple as London Pride or Landlord. Otherwise, a little break away doesn’t do any harm either; my zeal for ale recently turned to tea instead but it led me straight back.

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