Remember when drinking beer was carefree? When a trip to the beach or the bar or your own goddamn backyard could be accompanied by whatever beer happened to be in your fridge, or on sale at the local bottle shop?
Drinking beer isn’t like that anymore. Not really. Thanks to apps like Untappd it’s become more of a competition. One in which people drink a bunch of shit they don’t really like just to earn a virtual “badge.” On Instagram, craft beer is its own genre of pornography, a thing to be meticulously manicured and fussed over so that it looks perfect, regardless of how it actually tastes. And of course, craft brewery buyouts at the hands of massive corporations like AB InBev have made the simple act of buying and consuming beer into a revenge sport — if a brewery “sells out,” its products are no longer craft, even if you still love them.
Beer has become big business, no question. And competition follows suit. Craft brewers love to say it’s all good, that more brewery openings mean more and more people drinking the stuff. And that’s mostly true, but at a certain point the rising tide won’t be strong enough to lift all ships. Some boats are going to sink.
The result is an arms race for your wallet. Brewery owners don’t like to talk about money, but this is still a business. If the driving forces of craft beer are passion, quality, and innovation — words I hear thrown around all the time — then the quiet but omnipresent centrifugal force is this: Breweries literally can’t afford to rest on their laurels, so they’re constantly on the hunt for the next best thing.
Breweries literally can’t afford to rest on their laurels, so they’re constantly on the hunt for the next best thing.
The same can be said for other industries, sure. But you’d be hard-pressed to find a larger wave to ride than the one surging through the craft beer industry right now. We’re approaching some 5,500 breweries in the United States, with another couple thousand in the permitting stages. That’s not just unprecedented; that’s precedent-shattering.
All this adds up to a dizzying array of options for the modern craft beer consumer. Which is great! Seriously. But it can also be a burden. The pressure to try new beers and taste the new best thing can be oppressive. Sometimes, it’s okay to go with what you love already.
“As much as we talk about craft brewing and the beer industry, there is no replacement for the connections made on a personal level while enjoying a craft-brewed beer.”
I recently chatted with Paul Gatza, the director of the Brewers Association, who said something that’s stuck with me. “Beer is fun! As much as we talk about craft brewing and the beer industry, there is no replacement for the connections made on a personal level while enjoying a craft-brewed beer.”
That’s never been more true than it is right now. Sometimes, it’s not the beer in your glass but who you’re sharing the glass with that counts. Beer is fun. Let’s not forget that.