The Seven Ages of Beer Geek?

Illustration: SEVEN.

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:

  1. They learn to like beer.
  2. They become Beer Drinkers. It is part of their iden­ti­ty, their default choice in the pub.
  3. 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.
  4. They start to think about beer. They start to ask ques­tions, buy books, read arti­cles, and per­haps begin keep­ing notes.
  5. 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.)
  6. 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.
  7. 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 appeared report­ing com­ments from Mark Tran­ter, for­mer­ly of Dark Star, now the brew­er behind Burn­ing Sky, in which he bemoaned 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.

32 thoughts on “The Seven Ages of Beer Geek?”

  1. Inclined to agree -I feel like I’m around a 7 now, and most­ly go down to clas­sic bel­gian brews as my default option. I default to mild when­ev­er I can find it.

    (nb re 2013 inter­view with Wild Beer – some­thing iron­ic about Wild Beer com­plain­ing about this btw when their line up is so large these days I would say that across the coun­try there are cur­rent­ly around 20 dif­fer­ent Wild Beers cur­rent­ly doing the rounds).

  2. I’m most­ly a 7, but I lis­ten to buzz too and if the hype seems sig­nif­i­cant, I’ll usu­al­ly give it a go. That’s how I got into, say, Burn­ing Sky, Five Points or Cloud­wa­ter. And I dare­say I’ll give oth­er new brew­eries a go in future. But I’ll let the fives sort the wheat from the chaff.

    What I would say is that with the num­ber of brew­eries soooo much high­er now, I think there is arguably an *objec­tive* ele­ment, too. In a UK mar­ket with 1,500 beers, there are lots of new brews and lots of bad new brews. When the spe­cial­ist bars go for the nov­el­ty approach (because that’s where the drinkers are tak­ing them), that means a lot of our “best” bars often have some poor beer on show.

  3. It’s part of the nat­ur­al human con­di­tion to ratio­nalise our var­i­ous jour­neys through life. Coin­ci­den­tal­ly or not, we always cre­ate a nar­ra­tive that appears to con­ve­nient­ly cul­mi­nate as journey’s end at the stage we hap­pen to be at when we put that nar­ra­tive togeth­er. Time moves on, and we struc­ture anoth­er nar­ra­tive, that ratio­nalis­es the route to wher­ev­er we have got to by then on that par­tic­u­lar jour­ney.

  4. Real­ly inter­est­ing and hon­est blog that struck a lot of chords, either per­son­al­ly or look­ing in on the ‘scene’.

  5. This brings back fond mem­o­ries of when I’d write beer notes obses­sive­ly. On an old com­put­er, there are well over a thou­sand. A lot of them are more like hal­lu­ci­na­tions. It orig­i­nal­ly start­ed with me writ­ing a list of beers I knew when Nor­folk was the focus of my uni­verse. I think I’m still split between 5 and 6: highs and lows.
    Maybe one day zythophil­ia will be a recog­nised men­tal ill­ness.

  6. I found myself nod­ding at each of these. I think I’m a 6 and 7 at the moment, with occa­sion­al bouts of 5 if I go to a new city or event. But I can’t bring myself to blog about beer any more…

  7. It’s tempt­ing to char­ac­terise the progress from 5 through to 7 as a jour­ney, by way of a lot of dis­ap­point­ments, from “holy crap, it’s a beer, maybe it’s amaz­ing!” to “ah, it’s this par­tic­u­lar beer in this par­tic­u­lar sit­u­a­tion, it’s almost cer­tain­ly quite good.”

  8. 8. You don’t even have to drink it to know what it tastes like. The ver­biage and design are so famil­iar you don’t need to expe­ri­ence it to con­firm it is yet anoth­er dry-as-dust grape­fruity pale ale or what­ev­er.

  9. Because I came into beer through the home brew and import beers of the world there is an added lay­er in 1–4 and then I side­tracked around or through 6 with the Oxford Com­pan­ion fias­co into bet­ter his­tor­i­cal research for my own plea­sure which has kept the rest of 6 and 7 a bit at bay. Know­ing how lit­tle is known it keeps it fresh and, you may find inter­est­ing being the big com­plain­er that I am, it makes the obses­sive­ness of 5s more man­age­able. Plus I like sher­ry. Always have.

  10. I appear to be a curi­ous blend of 5, 6 and 7. My ‘five­ness’ isn’t unman­age­able, though, and the old Excel spread­sheet gets updat­ed once a month rather than twice a week, these days.
    I usu­al­ly go through my 6 phase when pre­sent­ed with ‘new and excit­ing’ craft IPA/Pale Ales, and heav­en for­bid, I even found a can of Drygate’s deli­cious Orinoco Break­fast Stout a bit ‘samey’ last week­end, yet I love the beer. (I ran away from an FB Craft page recent­ly because of the appar­ent ‘hatred of Twig’ and the tun­nel visioned wor­ship of Brew­dog that pre­vailed there­in).
    My 7 is my stub­born devo­tion to Cale­don­ian 80/-. St Austell HSD and Mena Dhu, Fullers Lon­don Porter, most beers by Williams Bros or Inveral­mond, and my propen­si­ty to drink black beer above any­thing else. Inter­est­ing arti­cle, made me scratch my head a bit.

  11. Of course, most beer drinkers do a much short­er, shal­low­er ver­sion of this path: from total­ly unin­ter­est­ed in beer, to vague­ly curi­ous about beer, to large­ly unin­ter­est­ed again, but per­haps a lit­tle bit more knowl­edge­able and/or picky.

    A side ques­tion is: if you go into a pub and see two beers you know well, and two beers you have nev­er seen before, you do stick with the tried and test­ed, or try an unfa­mil­iar beer to see what its like. Unless its some­thing I active­ly don’t want (like a sour beer or a 7%er) I tend to do the lat­ter.

    1. @PY – It will depend on how long we’re going to be there and how many units we can spare. And of course going in a pair means you can have one safe choice, one new, and split the risk. If I was on my own, the deci­sion would be influ­enced by a num­ber of fac­tors – e.g. is it a local beer? (I would drink Pride in a trust­ed Lon­don pub and Trib­ute in a Cor­nish pub but wouldn’t drink Trib­ute in a Lon­don pub.) Am I try­ing to get to know a pub? (In which case I’d drink what­ev­er they sell most of.) Or is it strength? (I would almost always select a beer under 4% if avail­able, whether new or a favourite).

  12. I’m not sure about this. Near­ly every­one I know not imme­di­ate­ly involved in the indus­try gets to and stays at 3. I think 3 is a place I’ve returned to. I nev­er real­ly went through your 6 and 7. Those seem like phas­es of tem­pera­ment, not devel­op­ment. How­ev­er, the con­ceit of the post is inter­est­ing and I may need to explore it a bit fur­ther. Thanks for con­tin­u­al­ly com­ing up with inter­est­ing ideas.

    1. Jeff – we prob­a­bly should have said explic­it­ly that *of course* not every­one goes through all sev­en stages. It’s just that, if you’re going to go deep­er, this is the way we think the path lies. (In gen­er­al. To gen­er­alise. Gen­er­al­ly.)

  13. I’ll agree with the first 5, but I cer­tain­ly didn’t go through 6 and 7 isn’t a very accu­rate reflec­tion of where I’ve been or where I am either. I am less obses­sive than I was, but still hunt out new beers. I will some­times pick a beer I love over one I’ve not tried, but cer­tain­ly not always.
    How­ev­er, I sus­pect that I’m in large part a prod­uct of my era; when I was a 5, to hit 200 beers a year was hard work and took a lot of trav­el and sev­er­al beer fes­ti­vals. Now I can do it with­out leav­ing town. As a result, many of those beers were very famil­iar to me, and although I was always look­ing for some­thing new, with­out the range of rad­i­cal choic­es there are now I was more than hap­py with some­thing just slight­ly dif­fer­ent. I think that people’s palates have become rather jad­ed with the sheer assault of choic­es avail­able now – and the hype – and that’s why 6 exists on your scale, and why it doesn’t exist for me.
    Also, I guess the 80s was the time for dis­cov­er­ing British beers for me; the 90s, Bel­gian ones; the noughties, US brews; and back to Blighty for this decade in a beer­hunt­ing sense. I’ve got favourites from each peri­od, or rather loca­tion, but I’ve nev­er stopped look­ing.

  14. I believe I’m a 4–5 most of the time. It’s def­i­nite­ly a pre­ferred state to 7 imo.
    Hav­ing said that, I’m def­i­nite­ly a 7 when it comes to some brew­eries, par­tic­u­lar­ly Greene King and its var­i­ous attempts to hang with the cool kids.

  15. There’s a branch point – 6a: joins the beer indus­try, quick­ly becomes deeply cyn­i­cal about the beer indus­try. 😉

    [Right, I was cyn­i­cal to start with! And some folk I know in it main­tain opti­misim… but the join-the-beer-indus­try part fur realz.… quite a few (former-)bloggers/nerds in it at all lev­els from total­ly dif­fer­ent back­grounds.]

    1. I went to Brew­Dog Brum last night, stared at the list list­less­ly for about 5 min­utes and then got a pint of Punk. It was good. I then had 4 oth­er beers which were under­whelm­ing and decid­ed I should have stuck with Punk. I’m def­i­nite­ly a 6 right now (as well as a 6a)… but I flipflop between ennui and enthu­si­asm… beer bipo­lar! It just takes a hell of a lot to impress me now. (And, frankly, there’s a lot out there that is not even close to impres­sive.)

      1. Sounds a bit 7ish, Yvan…

        I had a bot­tle of Wood­set­ton Pale Ale last night that cer­tain­ly wouldn’t excite those look­ing for the lat­est, great­est thing, but my first impres­sion was how beery in tast­ed, fol­lowed almost imme­di­ate­ly by how old-fash­ioned it was. And then I realised how good it was, in an old-fash­ioned Pale Ale way; pret­ty much the essence of the style. Sure, it was more gold­en in colour than it real­ly should be, but I won’t hold that against it when the taste was right. Now, how many beer geeks would actu­al­ly be inter­est­ed in that, I won­der, and what lev­el would they be?

  16. There’s some­thing in this – but it’s more com­pli­cat­ed than that. Some peo­ple are inher­ent­ly nov­el­ty seek­ers, oth­ers find com­fort in the famil­iar, and they’re like that at what ever stage of knowl­edge they are about a sub­ject. So for instance I’m a pret­ty sol­id 2 when it comes to films, but I’ve had more than one ex who’s been a 4. So going to the flicks would be default date night, although we’re only talk­ing 2–3 times a month at most. But at home one ex in par­tic­u­lar would watch cer­tain box sets and DVDs over and over, where­as I kin­da take the view that once I’ve seen some­thing once I want to see some­thing dif­fer­ent the next time, I’d rather take pot luck on what­ev­er was on a movie chan­nel on TV rather than watch a DVD. I don’t think I’ve ever bought a VHS or DVD for myself.

    My plea­sure cen­tres light up more at a new 7/10 than a famil­iar 9/10, whether it’s films, books or beer. Maybe I just have a very big “5-space” where­as some peo­ple go in and out of 5-ness very quick­ly, but I think it’s more than that. There’s prob­a­bly a gen­der dif­fer­ence, giv­en that it’s well estab­lished that it makes evo­lu­tion­ary sense for males to take more risks than females (not just in humans).

  17. Weird – this doesn’t work at all for me, and I would prob­a­bly have been a bit annoy­ing about it if I hadn’t left it long enough for a whole bunch of oth­er peo­ple to endorse it. So just me, then.

    Any­way, I nev­er real­ly got into beer – not grad­u­al­ly, any­way; I fell in love the first time I drank cask bit­ter. And the near­est I’ve ever got to tick­ing was work­ing my way through Bel­gian beer styles, back when the £ was strong enough for a local offie to stock a wide range of them. Basi­cal­ly I’ve been some­where between 4 and 7 since about 1990. For me it’s been more like:

    0. (not par­tic­u­lar­ly into beer)
    1. Dis­cov­er beer and love it. Absolute­ly bloody love it. It’s amaz­ing. This beer, I mean, I don’t real­ly know about any­thing else.
    Then back to 0. and repeat a cou­ple of times. Then:
    2. Iden­ti­fy as a Beer Per­son. Try new stuff and become a bit knowl­edge­able.
    3. Set­tle back down on nar­row range of Real­ly Good Stuff; ignore every­thing else
    4. Become a bit more knowl­edge­able and realise that some of the stuff I learned at stage 2 was wrong.
    5. Try new things and expand range of Real­ly Good Stuff.
    Then back to 3. and repeat.
    (But repeat on a small­er scale every time; by the third or fourth time stage 5 has become
    5. Occa­sion­al­ly try new things and very occa­sion­al­ly expand the range of Real­ly Good Stuff very slight­ly.
    …although by this stage the range of Real­ly Good Stuff is fair­ly broad, so it’s swings and round­abouts.)

  18. Depends where on the asperg­ers scale you are whether you become a tick­er, obses­sive tick­er or just enjoy explor­ing beer.… and Dredge, the “ulti­mate” beer obses­sive? ha ha! that’s giv­en me a laugh, I was beer hunt­ing in Europe (actu­al­ly dis­cov­er­ing new bars and beers, going to places no-one went to, not just going on organ­ised jol­lies paid for by some­one else) and writ­ing about it before he knew what beer was 🙂

    1. I think they meant Mark was the most excit­ed beery evan­ge­list around.
      You were on a doc­u­men­tary called “Beertick­ers”, think that might be a case of peo­ple who live in glass hous­es…

      Nobody has dis­missed what your did on Scoop­er­gen so I con­tin­ue to be dis­mayed by the chip on your shoul­der and your hang-up about peo­ple doing well for them­selves.

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