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We’re afraid to talk about beer and health

When do our beer-loving habits become detrimental to our physical and mental health?
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shutterstock_4986991The Session is an opportunity once a month for beer bloggers from around the world to get together and write from their own unique perspective on a single topic. This month, Tasha of MetaCookbook hosts The Session and proposed the topic “The Hard Stuff.” She asked: “What do you want people in beer culture to talk about that we’re not?”

My answer: our health, both in terms of physical and mental wellness as it relates to our beer-consuming habits. As beer writers, brewers guild administrators, brewery sales reps, brewers and craft beer fans, we consume more beer than an average American. And we have to, if it’s our job. We suffer the morning’s hangover, clutching our cardboard cup of locally roasted coffee like a talisman at yet another beer festival or conference: “Wow, long night? I was out till like 3 a.m. Rough morning.” Then we pop an aspirin, and pat each other on the back, and go to work.

Much is left unsaid.

As Great American Beer Festival approaches, I hear knowing sympathy from my colleagues: “You’re in for an exhausting week. Good luck with those back-to-back sessions…” Though sometimes there’s a glimmer of sympathy in their smiles, we still, as a collective, valorize the all-out, days-long drink-a-thon that GABF is for a lot of attendees. “It’s gonna be a shitshow.”

When does the shitshow become a health issue? Where do we draw the line between enjoying our hobby or profession and harming our well-being? Stick around beer festivals long enough, and you’ll see some people drive under the influence, stumble out of the convention hall, get in shouting matches with each other, or just generally build up a pattern of heavy drinking, unhealthy eating and inconsistent rest. It’s something I’ve never heard discussed at a professional conference, or even with any seriousness among my beer-drinking friends. I’m loathe to bring it up and risk being labelled the spoilsport, doubly so because I’m a woman working in the craft beer world and am acutely aware that I must, at all times, be able to hang.

But there are times when I see a brewer or a rep who just looks worn out and tired of the grind. I think we’d benefit if it were more acceptable to ask: “Hey, you seem burned out. You OK?” without being told to lighten up. A small percentage of people in the craft beer world have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, just like any other demographic pool. But when beer is your job or your major hobby, it’s easier to hide your problem drinking, especially if we’re collectively afraid of calling that what it is: a problem.

This is an industry that built on enjoyment and indulgence—and I like that. It’s part of why we drink beer. It’s social. We’re kicking back. Inherent in the idea of indulgence, though, is that it’s a break from routine. Once this becomes our daily regimen, it’s taxing on both our physical health and our mental state. (Ask me how I was feeling on the last night of the days-long Craft Brewers Conference if you want a more descriptive picture. It involves a lot of Emergen-C.) There are plenty of professionals and hobbyists in the beer world who have figured out a balance: exercise, a good diet, some nights in to recover from the nights out.

I’m encouraged by the number of beer people I know who are also cyclists, runners, yogis, backpackers, dancers, or just generally have hobbies outside of beer. They seem grounded, happy. They have a pressure release valve. I’m less encouraged by a recent beer message board thread asking whether any fellow users had experienced symptoms of gout and whether that impacted their beer drinking. Plenty of people responded to say that, though they’d experienced goutlike symptoms or other negative health effects, damned if they were going to give up their nightly beers. Am I wrong to see this as concerning?

It raises the question of why we drink beer in the first place. If it’s to enhance our lives and provide enjoyment, then it better do just that. From its farthest back historic origins, consuming beer was hardly ever the end in itself. Beer was a celebration, a part of meals, a social liquid. At the end of the night—and the next morning—we should feel good having consumed it.

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