Being into beer — being into anything — takes you through phases, and it’s hard to empathise with people who aren’t where you’re at.
We found ourselves reminiscing the other day about the early days of our time as beer bloggers and the hunger with which we pursued new beers and new breweries.
In 2007, arriving in a strange town, we would want to know where to find beer from all the local breweries even if that meant walking away with bottles to drink at home. Whether the beer was good was almost irrelevant and we probably wouldn’t bother with a pub, however charming or interesting, that didn’t have something new for us to try: we wanted input, experiences, information. It was great fun and there was always some new discovery around the corner.
These days, we’re much less interested in trying new beers for the sake of it and take fewer risks: if a beer sounds terrible, and is from a brewery we don’t trust, we’ll tend not to waste the units. (We get hungover so much more easily now than a decade ago for one thing.) We drank multiple pints of St Austell Proper Job on multiple days every week for six years down in Penzance and really got to know it, which was great. (Our thoughts on that should be in the next edition of Original Gravity, by the way.)
The point is, 2007 Boak & Bailey were having fun; 2017 Boak & Bailey (grey round the edges) are also having fun, just in a different way.
So we wondered if it might be possible to generalise about the path a beer geek takes. The key word being ‘generalise’ — this might not reflect your experience — here’s our effort:
- They learn to like beer.
- They become Beer Drinkers. It is part of their identity, their default choice in the pub.
- Beer becomes one hobby among others. They begin to take an interest in beer beyond social situations and pubs, attending festivals and exploring the bottled range at the supermarket.
- They start to think about beer. They start to ask questions, buy books, read articles, and perhaps begin keeping notes.
- Beer becomes an obsession, overtaking other interests. Books are acquired and ticking begins. There’s so much to try, so many places to go, so much to learn, that drinking the same beer twice seems like wasted time. Everything is thrilling and exciting. (This, we guess, is when people start blogging if it’s going to happen.)
- The wall of ennui. Oh — it turns out there weren’t that many great and exciting beers after all. Everything is a disappointment, over-hyped, and even previously impressive beers seem to have lost their lustre.
- Set in their ways. Done with chasing novelty and hype the beer geek forms habits, going to the same bars and drinking the same beers often enough to learn their moods and ways.
When you’re at No. 5, Nos. 6 and 7 seem insufferable — so boring, so miserable, so conservative! And, of course, people who reached No. 7 can’t remember what it was like to be at No. 5: ‘Everything is “awesome” with that lot. What’s wrong with a decent pint of bitter, I ask you?’
Some of the bickering on the ‘scene’ (sorry) comes from this divide, we think, and the idea that everything would be great if all beer/bars/pubs were more/less adventurous/consistent; from a belief that one position is somehow correct and perhaps even morally superior.
Here’s a fun moment captured by Twitter — beer writer Mark Dredge, once the ultimate Five, effectively announcing his transition to Seven:
Which brings us to an article by James Beeson reporting comments from Mark Tranter, formerly of Dark Star, now the brewer behind Burning Sky, in which he bemoans a market over-saturated with breweries, which state of affairs incentivises dabbling and the pursuit of novelty:
I’ve been brewing for 20 years but the UK beer market has changed beyond all recognition in the past two to five years. People are constantly demanding new products – if you’re a winemaker you get 30 attempts in your career to make wine, but people expect 30 different beers a week. So where does that leave us as brewers that are trying to focus on quality?
We understand what he’s getting at — we heard much the same from the brewers at the Wild Beer Co back in 2013, as reported in Brew Britannia — but think this is, at least in part, a Seven expressing exasperation with Fives.
And we reckon the market needs breweries and bars serving Fives every bit as much as Sevens and (our familiar refrain these days) the tension is healthy and what matters is having a balance. If your brewery is for Fives, have at it, and ignore the moaning of the Sevens. And, of course, vice versa.