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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