Each month, as part of a regular online support group of sorts called The Session, beer bloggers and writers unite to tackle a single topic related to the beer industry. This month’s topic, presented by Oliver Gray over at the Literature and Libation blog, has to do with Gray’s malaise with craft beer as a hobby. Whether due to the politics of aftermarket beer sales, changes within the subculture or some other diabolical development, he says, his interest in beer has waned.
“The thing I have embraced so fully and spent so much time getting to know and love suddenly seems generally, unequivocally: meh. It’s like I’ve been living a lie, and everything I’ve done is for naught. I’m having a beer mid-life crisis, yo.”
Gray asks whether he’s alone in feeling this way. We doubt it. In fact, I’m confident that his beer-life crisis is as common among drinkers as actual mid-life crises, and that the lull he’s experiencing is simply a natural stage in the life cycle of a beer geek. Here are all the stages, as we see them:
Ignore the image of a bawling baby that just popped into your head; the birth of a beer geek can happen at any age. For some, the incubation period stretches over many years—a taste of IPA here, a small sip of a sour beer there—as they gradually steer away from mass-market lagers to more flavorful options. For others, it occurs all at once, usually induced by the so called “epiphany beer” that opens one’s eyes to the breadth of innovative ales and lagers crafted by brewers across the globe (mine was Russian River Consecration).
This is the stage the traders and truck-chasers inhabit. Every brewery trip is exciting, every beer brand new, and so the adolescent beer geek seeks out bottles and brewery experiences with reckless abandon. Beer geeks who live in this stage will travel cross-country for the hottest beer release and wait in line hours to get it. They tend to favor brews with high alcohol content and intense flavors: imperial IPAs, long-aged sour ales, barrel-aged stouts. Friendships with other drinkers are forged in this stage through the shared struggle of finding rare beers or sharing bottles.Like physical adolescence, it’s a time when emotions run high and every new memory seems more important than what came before it. It’s a fun part of the beer geek’s life cycle, but also an expensive one. And it’s a lot of work, which after a time can wear one down and lead to…
It happens with almost any human endeavor: You dive in headfirst, investing yourself fully in a pursuit and expend a whole lot of energy doing so. But after a time, the truck-chasing, beer-rating routine becomes tiresome and dull; the love is gone. When you’re doing anything all the time, how are you not going to get burnt out? And what’s one to do when burnt out on beer? The natural response in an actual mid-life crisis is to try reclaiming lost adolescence—you get a haircut and new clothes; you go skydiving; you buy a hot car. But I think you have to approach beer differently. You have to rekindle the love of beer by reevaluating what excites you about it, and generally that’s not driving across state lines to try a few sips of draft-only, no-growler whalez.
Maturity comes with the realization that craft beer is maybe an integral part of one’s life, but not the only part. The mature craft beer geek treats beer not as the goal of a social interaction but, as has been said many times, as its lubricant. He or she understands that the best drinking experiences usually occur locally and happen organically. He incorporates good beer into his lifestyle but doesn’t spend his weekends chasing down the newest hotness—in fact, a quality pale ale or pilsner is fine most of the time.
What do you think? Where do you find yourself in this cycle? Are you, like Oliver Gray, experiencing your own beer-life crisis? Did we miss any stages? Let us know in the comments.