Tap takeovers, festivals, special releases and events of that nature have been exploding in the last year as Craft Beer in Ontario hits new highs in sales and prominence. We can find something happening almost every night if we look around and it is hard to miss out on anything our friends go to. But is there an underlying problem that we are ignoring and covering up by claiming we are drinking better beer? Do we have a quiet issue that remains unacknowledged because the community doesn't want to talk about it? I'm probably the last guy who should discuss excessive consumption but maybe I'm the perfect one to do just that.
As chronicled in my Truth in May and the follow up, 150 - The Real Truth in May, I tracked every beer I drank for a month and was shocked at just how much I had consumed. It was far more than I had envisioned and in the next few months, I took greater care to slow down and consume less, not stopping, but definitely no where near that much. As I look around my social media, I notice there are an awful lot of folks who are just like me, posting one or more beers every day and being fine with it. We got this under control we say, no drunken stupidity coming out of here and look at how I don't drink a dozen MGD's anymore. But is it all a shaky premise built on a façade that is at best pretty loose with the facts.
Reading back on those two posts, I can see a distinct chip on my shoulder as I tried to justify a really ridiculous amount of beer for anyone in a month. Regardless of your situation in life, 5 beers a day isn't a thing you should be okay with. Last night I had just one and it was a little weird, I kept wondering if I should just have another to take the edge off the day, troubling as that thought was. It took a bit more discipline to keep myself from heading outside and another round. I was honestly struggling with it and as I look at my friends, in real life and online, I know many of them are in the same boat, consuming almost daily with a wink and a nod about sharing our love of this community. But perhaps we are missing the bigger, more shady picture that is developing.
Addiction is very real and I have no doubt that it plays a large factor in what some of us are doing. Chasing that darkness is perhaps not at the forefront any more but is drinking two huge ABV barley wines really different from pounding a sixer of macro lager? I would have to argue no and am the prime example of how we justify a few pints a day by talking about it and posting a picture on social media. I have no doubt that I have a need for beer, I think about it way more than I should and although I don't let it interfere in my work life, anything after hours is fair game. Frequent day drinking is something we joke about, but I see it often enough to wonder what is really going on.
We know what beer does, regardless of its' origins and to try to be cute about why we drink is part of the problem. We want to engage other people, go and do fun things with our friends and try the new and exciting creations of our favourite craft brewers. But I have begun to wonder if this pursuit of the pint allows some of us to be alcoholics with a good cover; I can take great pictures and put words to them as well as talk to anyone about my love of beer but do I use that to allow me to drink more than I should? Is there a rush when you get "likes" or comments on your latest post? Do we begin to create things so we can get more people following along and gain some sort of prominence in the craft beer world? People are paying actual money for fake followers to help promote their "brand", which boggles my mind. The end game is always personal promotion but once again are we overlooking our addiction for the false feeling of being on the inside. Everyone always wants to know the scoop on new releases or special things their local brewer is up to and being part of what is now the cool thing has it's own feeling of superiority and exclusivity. For most of us, we are just regular working stiffs, so getting to feel like we matter and have a stake in this burgeoning world gives us something that may be missing from our everyday lives. We cannot overlook the factor getting access to things others can't plays into all this. It's human nature to want to feel special and when you become a grown up that is something that rarely happens. Being a craft beer fan allows us to join a unique club, one that is growing everyday.
The long term impact of Craft beer is mostly positive. Smaller breweries are more involved at a local level in community work and it is pretty awesome to be making new friends as an adult through sharing our favourite thing. They provide jobs, fun experiences and a chance to explore things we could never have imagined from our beer. But it should not cloud over the very real addiction and mental health issues that still are with us because it is, at the very end, alcohol. The dangers exist no matter the way in which it is made and some people cannot help but over consume because of their personal mental health issues.
This is not to say that there isn't an inherent difference with Craft Beer, I believe there is something that can help us to curb our consumption when we really start to experience each beer for what it is. My concern is that some of us are getting our fill and then going over the top without seeing a problem. I don't come home to a fridge filled with macro lagers and want to get hammered. It's become a more nuanced approach to consumption and I believe in some way that this community has helped me to change and grow in my personal approach to my beer. I just think it's time to have the conversation and make sure we listen when someone needs help. I know I have problems with limits and will take care to continue to work on myself, but I also know that my world is indeed different than it was just 2 years ago. I can have just one beer and not feel angry. I don't actively try to get drunk to hide from my problems and want to be a better person who is engaged in life and not slurring his way into an early grave. Should I quit drinking altogether? I honestly don't know, I hope I have grown enough to recognize the nature of every beer I drink and my relationship to it. But the question persists.
I don't have all the answers, but I know it's time we stopped pretending there isn't a problem. I want us to be a better community of drinkers and help those who need it. So think about what your consuming and try to make moderation part of your evening, the beer tastes better when you take it one at a time.
26 September 2017
|A good night.|
|Grotto Beer par excellence|
The work day was supposed to be short with only a quick few hours but as nothing I ever plan about my life, it turned into another 10 hour shift. So when I got home tonight (yesterday?), I was of the mood that it would again be a multiple brew night, including a few big Imperial IPAs I had picked up on the way home. There is a constant threat of that kind of behaviour and despite my ability to keep it in check (most of the time), I do still slip into Old Polk mode when the stress of the day gets to me or I just feel like it.
Tonight had that vibe as I rolled in and quickly shed the trappings of my work life. I am all about comfort at home and am most often found in sweats with a loose shirt allowing for maximum fat guy relaxation. Pausing to say hello to Kat and Jinx, I headed to the garage for what was to be the first of many beers this humid September evening. A delightfully refreshing Beau's All Natural Cranberry Oat Ale was perfect and at 6.3% ABV, a nice slow sipping, slightly tart beauty that would allow for maximum ramping up as the night went on.
|Tonight's only beer.|
As I tried to get a picture before the sun was gone for the night something clicked and I knew I was going to be one and done. I can't describe it, there's never a plan to drink 1, 2 or 6 beers, I just come home, have a bite, drink a beer and see where it takes me. The freedom of being childless comes to the front most often when I get 4 deep on a Monday night and don't have to worry about a little one needing Dad's attention. It can also lead to too much self indulgence but that's the price you pay for being a guy like me. Kidding, but sometimes I wonder if I would walk away from the whole craft beer thing if we had been able to conceive...
We watched a few season premieres of some of our favourite TV shows and I felt no desire to open another beer. I thought about it, I always do, but it seemed to me that after 675 days of having at least one beer, I was good with that single on this particular night. That's the thing with how I live, it is completely without pretense or plan, I do what I have to for survival but the rest is all a huge crapshoot most days. Not to say that I hate my life or live without purpose, it's just that I let myself embrace whatever catches my fancy after my responsibilities are taken care of and that's how we get here. One night, One beer and a happy Polk letting you in on a day that wasn't about anything but a nice mellow evening of a boring married couple who know enough to know they know nothing.
Plus I am off tomorrow (today?) so there is always Day Drinking as a possibility...
|Raised to you from me!|
One beer at a Time.
20 September 2017
Driving home from work and I was looking forward, as is usual for me, to a few pints in the Grotto with the next day being my first off in a week. I had missed many dinners with the late nights and overtime but since we don't have kids, it didn't really impact us that much. Kat and I spend a few hours together and then she heads to bed while I stay up a little later for some quality time alone with a beer to settle my mind. I started thinking about how different our life would be with kids, how the hell people afford them and what I would be doing if we did have them. I pretty sure I'd be different too and chances are I would but I also started to wonder about what I want to do with the back half of my life.
Life without kids isn't really something people like to talk about. Some give their time to charitable and community organisations. Others concentrate on their extended families, becoming integral to nieces and nephews and involved in their lives to contribute something. I thought about some of these things, but my work schedule sees me home long after most everything that would like my help or on the weekends when I almost never am off. It crossed my mind to go back to coaching but in reality, with my schedule I would miss almost every game and practice, rendering me at best an ineffective assistant who would be missing 80 percent of the time.
So where does that leave me? I ponder what I am doing, working so hard and despite the financial rewards, do I need to pursue money for the sake of money? When you have children, your focus obviously shifts to making sure they have a better life than you did. You strive to give them the best you can and sacrifice to ensure that happens. I don't have to do that, the only people I have to worry about is Kathryn and myself if you get right down to it. I love my extended and immediate family but through the combination of lifestyle, work and just plain neglect, I have become a peripheral member at best. I wish them only the best things, but I am not involved enough to be considered anything but a member in name only it feels sometime. Perhaps as we get older, things will change with a little more effort on both sides.
I used to be involved in all sorts of family events, hosting and planning them because I wanted to ensure a strong bond and a history of family traditions for my future children. Not having them means that any tradition becomes moot after I die, perhaps the memory of what I did carried for a generation but then I become a picture in an album that eventually finds its way to that dusty attic. A little dark but not untrue. I can tell stories of long ago relatives, but do the children of my cousins and brothers know them? How long before they are left to the past and a world that goes on regardless? Its a weird way to look at life I will agree, but it's where I am right now. The best thing about writing down my thoughts is to help me see what is bothering me and when I am finished, they tend to recede to the past.
With holiday season approaching, I become more introspective about what they mean and how I want to deal with them. Thanksgiving has long been avoided, along with easter, because they never felt like fun. Having to choose which side to go to makes it a minefield and I am not even going to get into Christmas, that mess isn't made better by hosting. I see nothing of value in forced bonhomie with anyone and since we really don't celebrate any of them with the verve of those around us, I am always left with nothing to say when we get together. We don't exchange gifts or have anything near a traditional holiday. It isn't necessary to perpetuate the myths of the santa or the rush of presents and family time when it is just two people, we buy the stuff we need and occasionally what we want when we can afford it. Just because it's December doesn't mean we suddenly have more money for things we don't need. So not being part of that and stepping out of the larger family gift giving takes us further afield. It's not the season of my youth obviously and while I do enjoy the trappings of the season, the specials on TV, the beer and the food, I cannot get excited about something I no longer participate in. I don't hate Christmas or anything like that, it's just different for me now and I don't know if I like that or not.
It's not a "pity party" as one wonderful member of my family said of my work last week, I just write what I am thinking to help me understand it. None of this is ever intended to ask for sympathy, it is and has always been a way for me to convey my feelings, work out the problems I am having and maybe help someone who is suffering in silence to realise that they are not alone. I don't want anyone to think I hate my life or how it has turned out. I write because it works for me, no one has to read it if it bothers them, I would never want that. My social life has shrunk but thanks to my online friends I can always find someone to talk to and that has added value to my life that I can't measure. Do I want to go out more? Sure I do and I hope we will as my work life returns to a more normal pace.
It is easy to become inward looking when you don't have to look outward and you see the march of time ending with your own demise. I get a little maudlin when I realise all this comes to an end when I go and no one carries on the lessons I would teach. But it isn't all doom and gloom, I intend to squeeze every moment of enjoyment I can out of whatever time I have left. I will do what I want to and make decisions about my life that enhance it wherever I can. It's been a weird way to arrive at this conclusion, but that is what this process has always been for me. Write and understand my own mind, it's taken me far and I don't want to stop now. The depression and low feelings are a thing of the past and it is though this medium that I have found peace with who I am. I'll be as surprised as you where this all ends up,
18 September 2017
It happens every year. Your favourite seasonal release is eagerly awaited and talked about with rising anticipation on social media. Maybe you plan a special trip to the brewery or anxiously scan their website or your LCBO app for the moment it appears in stock. Your glee at its eminent return is finally met with fruition on release day when you acquire and then prepare for a return to the glory of yesteryear. Pouring carefully so as not to spill a drop, your happiness grows and you take your first sniff and sip...and are left pondering what your purpose in life was and what the hell did they do to my beer.
"It's not the same"
"They changed the recipe"
"It used to be so Juicy/dank (or whatever)"
The beer nerd in me sometimes agrees and we look to the brewer for answers. Did they change something about the recipe? Cut corners on costs or perhaps it was the new equipment/staff? We want accountability and ask these questions privately and often very publicly. When you anticipate something for so long and then it doesn't measure up, you are disappointed writ large. I get messages from friends all the time about how this or that beer has changed. I experienced it myself with the year to year release of Mill Street Brewing's Vanilla Porter, finding it falling from my favourite beer in 2015 to a watered down mess in 2017. But did it really change or is there a more plausible explanation. While Labatt's acquisition of that particular brand had me walking past them on principle, they didn't suddenly forget how to brew great beer just because they now answer to the lizard people of macro beer and pseudo craft.
Did Great Lakes change the hop bill of Lake Effect or Karma Citra? Unlikely, in fact if you ask them, they'll tell you it's the same beer, year after year, Mike Lackey doesn't skimp when it comes to quality and you can see every time you crack open a GLB product. This is true for the majority of our Ontario Craft Brewers and their commitment to making good beer. I am not naïve enough to think that it never happens, but I think the reason we are seeing more people questioning their beer is much more personal.
Maybe we are the ones who've changed.
There is little doubt in my mind that my palate has grown. My ability to perceive flavours I didn't know existed 3 years ago continues to amaze me and when I talk about beer with my pals, we are getting deeper into it every time. Is it possible that as we grow and change as beer drinkers, our perceptions of past releases is tinted with rose coloured glasses. My first foray into IPAs left me hating them, all pine tree bitter and nothing else was what I got out of it. But for the sake of Untappd and logging new beers I kept at it, pour after pour. Slowly I began to perceive the citrus notes, the complex relationship between the malt body and the hops used. Did they suddenly make Headstock better or did I understand what was in my glass because I had worked to train myself to? There is truth to learning flavours, I grew up with a pretty boring approach to food and drink, simple was best and I didn't venture far from the cores of middle class meat and potatoes, so to speak. As I've grown older, I have tried to open up to new culinary experiences and with beer it has been even more dramatic. Where before we would look to a sixer as a way to escape reality, we now turn to our fridge for flavour, texture and an experience to transport our taste buds to a magical place. We want our beer to be special, unique and offering us a chance to transcend from the everyday. But from your first stout to the 15 % Bourbon barrel aged bombers you'll find as the snow flies, you have changed and that has to be part of the conversation.
For me with Mill Street in 2015, the Vanilla Porter just clicked one day. It went from being a bitter coffee to a smooth dessert in a glass. I bought it every week and lamented its disappearance as the spring came around. My pursuit of great beer continued and when the next year headed for its last few months, I couldn't wait to get my favourite beer back. Spying it on the shelf, I bought a few and headed home with great joy. Turns out it was short lived and I was left with a bad taste in my mouth and a beer that I felt let me down, Truth was I had learned so much about myself through my beer in the year that despite my memory, it was the same beer but I could perceive it differently now. The growth of our own ability to pick out flavours and textures has to be part of what we discuss when we talk about the changing nature of any beer. The influx of new and very creative craft beer makers has challenged our long held notions of what is normal and we are confronted with things we couldn't have imagined not so long ago.
This isn't to say that variations and changes don't happen. There have been instances when I have had a beer that doesn't measure up and I always check with the brewery privately to see what's up. Most will be straightforward, a conversation is always better than a confrontation in my books and they are still a business trying to sell beer and grow their market share. So it doesn't do them any good to put out substandard beer or treat an inquiry with disdain. Do some of them do those two things? Sure, but they don't last long and the quality of your product and the way you treat your consumers flies along the craft beer pipeline really quick. Certain brewers are avoided just because their attention to detail or lack thereof is well known and time will bear out the pretenders.
I try to approach every beer with an open mind. I want to understand what the brewer is doing and if they are on point with the style they have chosen. My memory of a beer is often tinted with the happiness of the first time I had it because it was so new. That IPA you gushed about last year led you to try so many more and now you have a better grasp on what to expect. Maybe when you had it this year, it was still a great beer, but the wow factor was gone. Your personal growth didn't change the beer but it did change how you perceived it. I am living proof that we can and do become when we are more attuned to what's in our beer. Going from only perceiving the outside to digging deep and learning what true flavour is there.
First love is always bittersweet, be it human or beer. So take a moment and look inward to see what has changed about yourself in the last year and then go deeper into the beer. A true examination requires you to be honest and understand what the pursuit of the perfect pint has brought into your life. You know more than you think you do and that knowledge has given you insight you didn't know you had. And as always, remember that it's just beer...try and enjoy it while it lasts!
Raise your glass and your standards
One Beer at a time!
12 September 2017
I still wonder what my life would be like if we had been able to have kids. The vision of being a father is fading fast in the rear view mirror of my life and the empty canvas of the unplanned back half is unknown. I often find my connections to other people can be difficult because we don't have children. The shared experience of having a family as a parent is lost on me in absolute terms; I understand it but I don't really "get" it. That undying love that a parent feels isn't something I can pull from my life and to be honest, I find myself leaning inward and becoming more withdrawn sometimes as we pass further from this time in our lives. It's not depression anymore, more a numbness on an old wound that never healed properly.
We still get the adoption question and while I know people are well meaning, the process is something we looked into and for our own reasons feel like it isn't for us. Our lives are careening toward a future we couldn't envision and our options have been exhausted. It can be frustrating when you know the barriers to your reproductive health are both medical and financial and there is nothing you can do about either. We contemplated IVF with the announcement of Ontario's funding increase but it became apparent that even with that help it was beyond our means to afford, emotionally or otherwise. To know you came up short and are leaving an important part of the human experience in the dust is unsettling some days, despite an overall happiness with our lives.
The great unknown of what could have been is what will always linger in the back of my mind. Having been raised by parents who did everything they could to give us a good life, I envisioned being a very involved Dad. Coaching sports, helping with school projects, playing made up games, healing hurts and all the other million things a parent does. Late nights caring for a sick kid aren't high on my list, but I would have done it because I would have loved my child more than anything in the world. That kind of love transcends anything I have experienced and knowing that I will miss out on that is probably what kills me the most. I wanted to feel that kind of joy when I looked down at my sleeping child, heard a first word, watched a first step or even shared their first beer.
Long term, life will go on, joy will be present in other forms but I know that I will never get to hold my child in my arms. That one is tough to take, I have had loss and disappointment in my life but I never saw being childless as a possible outcome. It's not that there is no value without kids, many of our friends and family have gone through this and live rich and fulfilling lives. I love what I have built with Kathryn and have no wish to be anywhere but here. I have a good job and am almost at the point where the mistakes of the past, financially anyway, are behind me and repaired. I get to drink amazing beers all the time and am constantly meeting new people who quickly become friends. But there are going to be quiet moments when I will be caught off guard and feel that longing to be more than I am. Dad is one title I shall never acquire and that will always be the saddest thing I can imagine.
10 September 2017
There is a moment every day that beer drinkers know and look forward to. That first sip of beer to make it to your lips is sweet ambrosia, be it a long day at work or a mid morning eye opener on your day off. Nothing quite compares that ripple in time when the world stops and you get to embrace yourself. Choosing the right style sets the mood for the ones that follow or perhaps it is your only one of the night and it has to be perfect. Do you choose an old favourite or let caution fly and grab something you've never had before. The pop of the top and a scent should grab you, enticing you further into the zone. The pour is perfect, tilted and then straight, for maximum effect. Swirl and sniff, it's getting good now, you can almost taste it. Raise up the glass, look at the colour, embrace what you hold in your hands and smile because it is time.
Close your eyes and experience with joy the reward of being alive to experience this moment. Texture, flavour, nuanced responses as you sip, smell and savour. Is it a heavy stout, slow sipping and mind bending? Crushable Helles lager, making you feel like you could stay here and crack another one? Simple saison with citrus, banana and clove reminding you of why you love this so much? It matters not what you do for a living, your bank account or love life, craft beer is there for you.
Slowly taking the time to understand the flavours, complex or simple, as you take another sip is part of what makes this different. You are not mindlessly pounding macro after macro, chasing oblivion, you want more. You want flavours you never considered, new and exciting. You want funk, barrels and fruit. You want to be tested and tempted to push the boundaries of what you know. The art of enjoying your beer may be new or perhaps your palate is refined and educated, this matters not to the beer as it does what the brewer intended, nothing more or less. The communication from conception of recipe to brewing to your glass is done with care and if you let it, the beer will speak to you. Hopes and dreams fill the bottles and cans we buy, there are people behind these beers with stories that match our own. We are one in our pursuit of that perfect moment when expectation meets reality and we can finally let the world drift away.
The final sip always seems to come too soon, there is never enough when you find the right beer for your day. You think about your life as you stare into the glass, its contents now down to one final test. Did it hold up? Do you? Pause before you finish, savour the happiness you have just experienced and give thanks to be here, right now. You let the glass rest a moment and then let the end come to you. You don't immediately head to the fridge for another one, you sit and wait, giving this time to be thankful we live in the time we do. Can you have another beer, another moment? Of course, but it will not be like this. The first beer is always special because it is the time you have given yourself to truly be who you are. The world may not always be fair, we may not always have sunshine in our hearts but your first beer is waiting and if you let it, it can bring you light in the darkest of days. Don't rush through life, stop and make sure you have time to just be, you deserve it.
Raise your glass and your standards,
One Beer at a time.
9 September 2017
In December of that year, I did my first Beer Advent calendar and began to take a little more care in my photos and descriptions. I enjoyed thinking about what I was drinking and with some encouragement from friends, I put a little more effort into my words. I began the blog and videos to add to the initial Instagram page because it was fun. It was a way to express myself even more and as anyone who follows along here, it has turned into a personal journey as well as a beer one. Revealing parts of my life that I had hidden away helped to heal old wounds and bring up emotions I hadn't felt in years. It helped me connect with people on another level and despite some trepidation at the nature of what I was revealing, it was cathartic and did my soul some good.
While craft beer is always my main focus, I began to see how the platform I was on could do some good for other people. I talked about depression, infertility, starting over and alcohol abuse to name just a few. I believe in being honest about everything I write and I think that's why I have made so many great connections over the last 2 years. People who drink good beer are, for the most part, good people. I've encountered few folks I wouldn't want to share a pint with and for this guy, that's the very golden pot at the end of the Rainbow.
I see new craft beer focused accounts and people all the time popping up on social media. Groups of friends are getting together to share a page and even more great beer. Some stunning photography and creative video clips are showing up and it is only helping to promote the community even more. The enthusiasm of many of the newcomers is infectious and the friendships you see being made are awesome, all because we love great beer. But not everyone is doing it for the right reasons or in an honest and straightforward way.
Within any community there will be people who want to exploit and lie their way to a position of prominence. Whether it is to make themselves feel important or for financial gain, it matters not. Paying for followers, acting like you're better than everyone else and generally shilling for free shit is not what the majority of craft beer drinkers stand for and when I see it, I want to call it out. I don't understand what makes a person pay actual money to get fake followers, fake friends and ultimately a fake life. I do what I do because it is who I am. The Drunk Polkaroo was a persona I created as a joke on my stupid drunken days and the promises I would make when I was snackered to do things with people and then flake on when I was sober. I didn't plan out a "brand" or target breweries with promises of increasing their business. For myself and most of the others who share our pics and stories on social media, we do it for fun, to connect with like minded folk and maybe share a pint in real life. Phony accounts run by someone with an agenda or a marketing plan is, in my opinion, the opposite of what the majority of us do. We share our pics and stories because we care about the beer, genuinely want to meet people and enjoy being part of something that allows us to interact with the small businesses we support.
The community of craft beer is at its core a place where we make friends, real or virtual, enjoy the creativity and design of the breweries we love and the people we follow. It has grown so much in such a short amount of time that I can hardly believe it. New styles of beer and amazing takes on traditional ones keep us hoping for a trade or beer saint gift with others. Road trips mean an opportunity to meet up in person and share a pint with those we've become such good friends with online. Being able to communicate our finds and what is new at our local breweries sparks conversation and inspires us to want to visit. We do it with pride and want the beer world to know about the latest release from places near to our hearts. We post old favourites because we love them and enjoy them regularly. But most of all, we just want to share a little bit of our life, the good and bad sometimes, with the world. We want to be part of something bigger than us and we have found that in beer. Stay true to yourself, always share honestly and keep those photos, stories and videos coming, they bring a smile to my face every single day. And remember to always Raise your glass and your standards, One beer at a time.
3 September 2017
|Legible Dates make me smile.|
Great Lakes Octopus wants to Fight drank 2 days after canning last week!
If only it were so simple for our beer.
So many craft breweries have opened in the last couple of years and a lot of them have begun listing their beer at the liquor and grocery stores without proper date codes. Smudged, illegible or just plain missing, it was a shock to many folks I work with to see this almost negligent omission taking place. Putting the question to my fellow beer nerds on social media, I discovered they didn't want a best before date as much as a canned/bottled on one. "Let us decide if we want to buy based on when it was produced and we are good to go," most said. A lot of them adding that a best before was often arbitrarily decided by the brewer. My novice craft beer friends reach out all the time and ask me how old a beer is too old and how to tell the difference when the codes are missing or unreadable. Of course, storage, temperature and light all play a factor in how long our beer lasts and we all know too well about the famous warm shelf storage plan of our local merchants.
|Brimstone gets it|
Craft beer is far more susceptible to age than their macro counterparts due mostly to their lack of pasteurization and filtering. To put it simply, they use only all natural ingredients without the benefit or downfall of more processing and that leaves them vulnerable to mishandling, improper storage and neglect. The education of the people selling our beer is just as important as helping the consumer understand what are best ways to keep it at optimal conditions. This, along with proper inventory control (first in, first out) and storage from source to home would go a long way to enhancing the viability of every beer sold. No one intentionally sells sub standard beer (I hope) but far too many brewers/retailers don't give enough attention to the fact that it only takes one bad experience to send an inquisitive macro beer drinker headed right back to that over produced but consistent swill. An educated public will demand more transparency from their beer makers, rewarding those who take care to ensure their products' freshness and punishing those who treat them like they have no idea what they are talking about.
|Easy to read and right up front. Good Job Block 3|
I am not an expert in many things, but I understand that the fresher your beer, the better it will taste. A window of a few months for some styles (Lagers) to longer, think years, for others (some Stouts/brett beers) leaves many people new to craft beer being overwhelmed and unsure about what to buy and when to drink them. Why we can't help with simple guidelines for most styles is beyond me. We have the science and knowledge of hundreds of years of commercial brewing and yet some breweries still keep quiet about when their products should be consumed by or even when they were canned. I understand there is a cost associated with dating every can or bottle and for many small micro breweries that are just starting, every penny is being poured into making better beer. I am okay with that, most people who drop into one are getting the freshest of beer, with a few exceptions (you know who you are). They can also usually engage in a conversation with someone at the brewery who usually understands beer and will explain to them freshness and storage if they ask.
I still think an industry standard of clear and concise labels without insider jargon or codes and in the same spot on every can/bottle (Muskoka, Great Lakes and Beau's are really good examples) would go a long way to helping alleviate this problem. I can't think of another consumable product that isn't required to at least have a legible date of production on it and if we want to keep bringing converts to the good side of beer, we need to advocate for better transparency in our labels. Is there a nefarious dumping of old product and an intentional lack of clear stamping going on? Maybe, but I really hope not. I know that I saw a lot of really questionable dates or none at all on some of the product that first appeared in my grocery store. Without proper training, how would your average retail worker be able to distinguish or answer questions from people who want to try something new.
The big picture requires a rethinking of how we sell, label and store our beer. The lack of a direction from government should not be the deciding factor in this case, I'd like to think craft brewers are ahead of the curve in many ways. I understand that every beer is different and with the proliferation of adventurous brewers and their amazing creativity, we are pushing the bounds of what we knew about everything in brewing. But to ask for a clear date of canning/bottling isn't much and is the first step in helping eradicate stale beer. Getting retailers and brewers on board with proper storage (i.e. the end of "shelf aging") is also paramount and an educated public completes the trio. I know it isn't easy to give a true best before date for every style and I am aware of the cost of making sure every bottle or can is dated, but I think as the industry grows and more people join the revolution, all these factors will begin to matter. Lets strive to give people at least an idea of how long a beer has been sitting there for and let them decide for themselves if they want to purchase it. A handy guide/poster or web page on a craft brewers site (Check out Muskoka's) would go a long way to helping us to understand our beer even better.
Maybe I'm tilting at windmills here but I want to think that it matters to the people that make the beer and those of us who drink it that we are getting the best representation of what the brewer intended every single time we pour it in our glass. Let's hope the future brings a world where everyone drinks better beer and knows it.
One last thing, try not to overbuy. Please. Drink your beer fresh and get more later. There is no need to hoard it. Life's too short to wait and a beer wasted is the saddest story I know. As I always tell people, "Drink your damn beer!"
Raise your glass and your standards,
One Beer at a time.
P.S. - My own personal timeline is pretty simple, I store all my beer either in the fridge or cellar, depending on space, but keep the temp consistent. Beer is best kept cool and constant.
As for how long before they start to lose their freshness, it depends on the style but this is what I generally try to do if I am practicing good fridge management.
IPAs/Pale Ales/Sours/Gose/Saison(most) - 3 Months (still good for a few more, but they tend to lose that juicy, tropical note and become more malty or bitter)
High ABV Stouts/Brett Beers - 6 months to a few years. Check with the brewer about how long they think you should age these beers. Some require time to really mature and become what they were intended to be.
Everything else - 6 months tops. I drank some year old lager the other night and it was less than enjoyable. Pilsners, Kolsch style ales and the like shouldn't sit there too long.