16 July 2018

Polk's 5 Stages of Craft Beer Life


  We've come a long way as beer drinkers the last few years and as our ranks steadily grow and our palates change with them, I look back on how we've come to be where we are in 5 stages. Now, granted, these are sort of simplified and reflect my personal journey in beer but I have no doubt you will see part of yourself in each one.  The pride we have in what we put into our glasses now comes from a place of our beer birth drinking macro lagers, the toe dipping exploration of the different styles, becoming a full on convert and then a hard core preacher and judge of what other people drink before finally reaching the nirvana of understanding that acceptance is the key to all.
  Like I said, simple, but a trip every craft beer drinker has taken in one form or another. Some are taking different ways to get there, but understanding that the path to enjoying life and indeed, your beer is never ending and being open to that kind of growth and change will make it an enjoyable one for all of us.

1. Denial
  In the beginning, there were lagers and ales. Perhaps we stole a sip from our father's bottle or a relative gave us a drink and laughed when we made a face at the bitter, sharp flavour we were unaccustomed to. For so many of us, our very first experience with beer isn't something we even remember and we move to those teenage years where intoxication is the only goal, flavour a far off consideration compared to the thrill of scoring a case and getting drunk at a bush party or in someone's basement.
  My own first experiences with beer were as a side to the whisky I chose for its "cool" factor and ability to get me hammered quick. Beer was what we drank once we were good and liquored up. This changed as I started to get older and beer transformed into a more social drink, still trying to get drunk, but finding hard liquor not as much fun once I hit my 20's.
  All through this, craft beer wasn't really on the radar, but as the scene was shifting and as local and imported choices of different styles made their way to the liquor store, we would deny ever wanting such weird stuff, touting the "Real men drink real beer" mantra and shutting down any conversation of trying a fruity, dark or any other beer that wasn't straight up beer.
  To be sure, Sleeman's Honey brown and the occasional British dark ale would sneak in when that one friend would make you try it, but for the most part, we just ignored the existence of any choice and kept on with whatever was our traditional and known choice...but things were about to change.

2. Exploration
  It begins without thought or foresight. Maybe you were at a friends house and out of your regular beer. Perhaps you found yourself at a party or a bar and someone just bought you a beer and you didn't want to be rude. Or maybe you just got curious and finally decided to see what the hell the fuss was all about. All of these or 100 other reasons could be how you started to explore the wider world of beer, but at some point you stopped caring about just getting hammered on the same old stuff and reached for the unknown.
  Today we take for granted the myriad of options and 260 plus craft breweries with taprooms and educated staff to help us try new things. Not so long ago, none of this existed and the tiny craft and import section at the local liquor store was like an exotic wasteland you went into unprepared and unarmed. For me, it began with a few "Guy's Nights" parties when the ladies would be away and we would have Beer around the World themes, each guy bringing a dozen beers not from our normal purchases and sharing them together. We'd still get drunk but once in awhile we would stumble across a new beer that caught our attention. This would be added to the rotation as a special beer and while our macro lager, 24 buying days were not done, the need to find new flavours and seek out interesting things for Untappd started to take hold and we were off. It became almost a contest to see who could find the most new beers and this tepid, toe in the water exploration soon led to the next stage, which sets the rocket alight and we ascend to new heights.

3. Conversion
  For a lot of us, the craft beer revolution was a slow build, a gradual addition here or there of a few new beers or styles as we still drank macro lagers. As the time went on and we began to visit more breweries and connect with like minded folks in real life and online, we started to feel part of something special, something unique and that appeals to anyone. We start to actively look for ways to get new beers into our glasses, we start to plan trips and meals around finding new breweries and places to go. We begin to feel like the money we spend on that 24 of Coors Light every week is being wasted as we eschew it more and more for a craft choice. The basic lager sits in the fridge longer each time, getting drank only when everything else had run out.
It becomes a bit of an obsession and as the macros fade into the background, slowly disappearing from our fridges, we turn and find ourselves becoming acolytes and preachers of a new gospel of a church made of hops and barley.  Eventually, you buy your last case of macro beer and something changes inside, you feel the burn of a fire you want to spread and you turn to the world, alight with energy and a new way to live.

4. Evangelical
  There comes a time for almost every craft beer drinker when you feel the pull of a need to share your love. You post pictures online, perhaps write about what you taste and then share that with the world. You bring a mixed dozen of your favourite craft beers to a party because you cant drink that 'macro swill'. You start to talk about your friends beer choices and deride them if they still drink Blue or Coors or any other non craft beer. You rail against Big Beer buying your favourite craft brewery and swear you will never buy any of their beer again because they sold out. You engage in lengthy debates about government policy and grants to help the industry grow and dream of cracking a higher percentage of the market. You check dates on your cans obsessively and post rants about pseudo craft and forget about one fundamental fact that helped drive you into craft beer in the first place...fun.
  You wanted beer to be fun and it has become a zero sum game of getting that latest, hard to get release and mocking what your friends and family drink. You start to feel like you've lost something on this particular Road to Damascus and begin to come down from your mountain top, enlightened and educated but also with a vision of the future and taking a new path, one of being a true lover of beer and of those times we have to enjoy each other.

5. Acceptance
  The final stage, the one hardest to reach for many Craft beer lovers, is this one. Learning to accept and let people drink what they like can be a difficult path to find, grown over with the sure knowledge that we know a better way and should shout it from the roof tops. Becoming an advocate and an acolyte are two very different things and as I've moved through these stages, it became easy to tap that righteous anger and superior feeling you get when you first fall in love to try to push the needle and force others to see the world as you do. It is easy to slam a fist on the table and openly mock people and their beer choices, forgetting that at one time, we too held fast to our macro lagers, not knowing what the future held.
  We started to drink better beer because it was fun to do. We went to events, visited breweries and met interesting people who had the same interest because we found it ourselves. Sure, we followed others who came before us, but the decision was ours. We sometimes forget that this journey started with one sip of one beer that made you stop and wonder what was happening. We lost sight of the joy felt at finding a new flavour or style that helped shape who we are now. We seek to recapture that moment so many times, we forget that everything was supposed to be about enjoying life, not judging others or chasing things to posses them.
  Be an advocate, an ambassador and a voice of passion. But approach every moment with joy and not scorn. Let light in where there is darkness when asked but be not the scowl of judgement on what other people drink. Give suggestions, share and be open to new things yourself. Be honest and let stand your opinion, with the knowledge that all of our palates are different and no one responds to mockery with acceptance.
  The end game is always to enjoy our beer without being an asshole about it. Pour, sip and ponder life while spending time with people you love. Respect the choices of others and always make room in your fridge for different things. Life is too short and often too hard to let that kind of stress in when it comes to beer.
  Have fun and be cool.



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