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Confessions and compulsions (Or: This broken jaw of our lost kingdoms)

The Session is a monthly topic that beer bloggers all write about. This month beer is your friend chose the topic “compulsion.” As I talked about it with friend-of-the-blog Alex he encouraged me to follow my instincts and not be afraid to get personal. My apologies in advance.

I have a confession to make: I do not think I am a beer geek anymore.

I want to be. I really do. It’s not that I’ve gazed upon the sea of Untappd checkins and turned my back on the whole thing. It just sort of… happened.

Being a beer geek, I think, has a few components. You need to know about beer and be able to talk knowledgeably about it. I’ve still got that, because once you learn about hopping schedules you don’t really forget it. But there’s also a certain amount of having your finger on the pulse of the beer world that, try as I might, I simply cannot get back to.

I’ve written about this before. Hell, it was the impetus for the “My Embeered Life” blog series in the first place. Yet here we are, four months later, and not much has changed. There’s a red queen effect, where unless you are eternally vigilant you suddenly find yourself behind the times.

Beer costs money

I don’t think anyone would argue that being a craft beer enthusiast implies a certain amount of privilege. A story I like telling is that my wife has only ever liked one beer that she’s tried, and she’s tried pretty much everything I have: it was Duchesse de Bourgogne, and I didn’t have the heart to tell her that my goblet cost more than her dinner.

Think about that for a minute. One beer (not the only one I had that night) cost more than a meal.

I’m not complaining about price gouging. It was an excellent beer and quality is worth paying for. It’s important, however, to periodically step back and recognize that good beer can very easily and quickly add up. I can spend $50-75 on bottles at VBM/Consumer’s/Premiere in the blink of an eye, and, well, I generally do whenever I walk in full of piss and vinegar and a desire to get back on the craft beer horse.

Not everyone has the ability to try the latest and greatest. I can, to a certain extent, and that makes me lucky. On the occasions when I cannot, trying to is a mistake.

Beer takes time

I haven’t been caught up on my beer blog rss feeds since Google Reader announced its impending demise. I read everything there was to read and then switched to NewsBlur (which costs money, yes, but see above re: quality). When a brewery releases a hot new beer I either never know about it or have to sheepishly ask someone what it is.

Even if I had an encyclopedic knowledge of all beers I would need the time to actually drink them. Last week Greg and I were leaving the brewery at the same time: I had finished washing kegs and he had been working on some financial paperwork. “Want to grab a beer at the Blue Monk?”, he asked. I thought about it, and decided that I could have a great beer with a great guy, or I could go home and go to sleep only slightly late instead of very late.

I went home and went to sleep.

Similarly, I have visited an anemic number of breweries. I don’t travel much, and when I do it’s to visit family. They don’t move around very much, so while I get to hang out at Ommegang while staying at my brother in law’s Cooperstown apartment I haven’t made it as far as Great Lakes, or, if we’re being totally honest, Southern Tier.

Every Saturday this summer has been spoken for: either my wife is working or I’m at Bidwell. Every Saturday. That means we aren’t going anywhere (besides a week of fleeing the country). I’d like to maybe see about a one night stay in Cleveland, because I hear it rocks, but vacationing with kids is actually the opposite of relaxing because you need to do everything you would at home except without all the amenities. We spent half our Boston vacation one year in our hotel room for naps. And it had bed bugs. So that was a great trip.

A matter of priorities

I really like a saying I think I read on Lifehacker a while back: “‘I don’t have time for’ really means ‘I’m not prioritizing’.”

This absolutely means that I could have the time and money to be the Great and Powerful Oz of Beer, but that beer isn’t my top priority. That sounds pretty bad coming from an owner of a brewery, doesn’t it? Especially one who writes about beer and his brewery online twice a week. I sound like a fraud, pretending to be an insider while frittering my time away on, I don’t know, boutique paintball supplies.

Instead, I’ll play the entirely predictable and boring trump card of “I have kids.” Did you know you have to feed your kids almost every day? They also expect you to play with them, or at least make eye contact occasionally while they tell you about a dog who ate alphabet soup and can talk now.

Were I faced with the choice of “go have a beer with my friends” or “watch a few episodes of Bob’s Burgers and call it a night” I would choose the former, at least 51% of the time (it depends on how much Tina will be in the episode in question). When it’s “go have a beer with friends” or “leave your wife alone with two kids, which nearly sends you into a panic after half an hour”…

The platitude of “once you have kids, you live for them” is true. I could adjust my priorities to make more time for beer, but that would also be adjusting my family’s priorities for only my gain, and I can’t do that.

The compulsion

Stress is the gap between expectation and reality. I want to try five new beers a week and have read all the latest books, blogs and trade reports. The reality is that I will do none of that, and so here we are.

The easiest thing to do would be to adjust my expectations. Right? That seems obvious. Lowering, or changing, expectations might reduce my self-inflicted stress, but it also injects complacency. Should I be happy with my current amount of beer experience, or should I strive to be better? It would be great to say that I need to be okay with my son being a picky eater, but then that ends with him eating sausage and hot buttered toast for dinner each night.

And thus I carry on, unhappy with my situation but unwilling to do anything to change it.

Here we come to the meat of the “compulsion” angle: absolutely no one has ever, in any way, made me feel as though I am in any way an unfit beer geek. I don’t have to submit receipts and a written essay quarterly or be greeted with the McKayla Maroney face: one of the best things about the beer community (besides the beer) is that everyone is just so damned friendly!

The compulsion to learn more and taste more and experience more is all internal. When someone wants you to do something you don’t it’s easy to tell them to shove it. This is all on me: I want to go to the Good Beer Club at Mister Goodbar tomorrow not because I “should” go but because I want to go, which makes it that much harder when I can’t.

Be free!

A decree: there are no rules anywhere. Ninkasi Prevails.

If I can’t live up to my expectations and I won’t change them, I’ll rewrite the lexical underpinnings. I hereby decree that no one expects anything of you but that you like beer. In other words, I’ve just moved the goalposts closer to where literally everyone else has probably placed them.

I’ve talked with enough other people to know that it’s a common if not universal belief that everyone else knows more than you and is more qualified than you and is way more on top of things than you are. Except those people feel the same way about you, and since nobody is willing to admit it we all carry on feeling stressed and inadequate and alone.

Screw that. I’ll be off having a beer, and it won’t be Heady Topper or Hill Farmstead and I really don’t care. You should do the same.

4 comments on “Confessions and compulsions (Or: This broken jaw of our lost kingdoms)

  1. Mike on

    I think an appropriate term for this condition is “Dis-embeered”…but don’t worry, it won’t last forever (kids grow up and become relatively self-sustaining…).

  2. Dennis K. on

    really, really nice piece. this captures so much about a familiar and challenging life state. just great. and don’t worry too much: nothing stays the same for long. keep writing, though — don’t stop doing that, ever.

  3. Gator on

    It is unfortunate that sometimes you have to mortgage your home in order to enjoy some of the better beers and ales in the world. This is always the crux of the argument of my four 20 something sons who insist on drinking the bargain basement beers that exist for the youth and beerfully disengaged of our society. I was often forced to drink 6 packs of beer for the fiscally restricted in my youth as well. I can only hope that with age, wisdom and bigger paydays my boys will someday see the light.

  4. Scott on

    Excuse me. Martha Speaks is awesome. Although, Sophia the First is the most popular in beerbecue’s all female (except for me) household.

    Nice post. Hang in there. And I agree that liking beer is all it takes.

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