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.

  19. Pingback: September 2017 - Ølmåneden der gik – Levemand

Comments are closed.