This month's Session* topic is hosted by Doug Smiley at Baltimore Bistros & Beer who asks a seemingly easy question: Why do you drink? But then Douglas provides a different context for the discussion:Hmm. Okay, I'm going to challenge Doug in a way that hopefully adds to the conversation and doesn't come off sounding like a contrarian jerk. For one, Doug and I appear to be reading different internets. I don't see article after article telling us alcohol is bad. Frankly, I'm more tired of seeing article after article questionably touting the benefits of alcohol (Beer will make you run faster!). That's not to say the "alcohol is bad" sector isn't prevalent (the temperance movement is alive and well in the UK, for example). It just doesn't cross my particular wires.
It's easy to find article after article on the internet telling us that alcohol is bad. As beer bloggers it's safe to say we all disagree. Let's take the opportunity as a group to tell people why we do drink and how it improves our life for the better. I know the default answer a lot of us fall back on is "it's nice to sit back with a good beer after a stressful day of work", and while that's true, I'm looking for answers that aren't so obvious to people who aren't fans of our hobby. Beer is bigger than a liquid "chill pill" or we wouldn't have gone about setting up a blog and dedicating so much of our time discussing it. So, what is it that compels you to drink and what would your life be missing if beer was no longer an option for you?
For two, I also challenge Doug's request to provide "answers that aren't so obvious to people who aren't fans of our hobby." The answer to the question "Why do you drink?" is a personal one.** My default answer isn't anything like "it's nice to sit back with a good beer after a stressful day of work." Not that there's anything wrong with that. Indeed, it is nice to relax after work with a good beer. But that's not why I drink.
I could make up a non-obvious answer, but aren't you more interested in my real answer?
Here it is: I like it. I enjoy the flavors. I enjoy learning how various brewers interpret a style or strike out on their own. I like seeing how my own homebrewing experiments translate into aromas, flavors, varying levels of bitterness and a lighter or heavier body. I like how changing my mashing temperature can significantly alter a beer. I drink because I enjoy what I and thousands of others can do with a few ingredients.
The part of Douglas' topic that got the thinking the most is his request for us, as a group, to tell people how beer improves our life for the better. It's a request that begs the question on a variety of levels. Plus, in the context in which it is asked it sounds defensive.
My reaction upon reading this month's topic was to immediately ask: does beer improve my life?
Alcohol is a dangerous substance and people - beer bloggers included - do not enjoy being reminded of that fact. It sounds preachy. It's something we know to be true, but we continually think we handle it far better than the "bums" I can see from my office window passing around a bottle of cheap vodka at 9:30 in the morning.
Let ye who is without intoxication cast the first stone.
British beer writer and broadcaster Pete Brown writes of resetting his relationship with alcohol by going dry each January. It's a simple yet very interesting and contemplative phrase. (My take, which includes the line, "Hangovers suck. They're major time wasters," is here.) As a conclusion, Pete invites us to share in his personal new years' resolution: "be a grown-up around alcohol, and take responsibility for your own decisions."
Closer to home, Chad Lothian writes a blog for Maine's Bangor Daily News called If My Coaster Could Talk. Chad wrote a post recently about responsible drinking. He'd reviewed his blog analytics and discovered someone found his blog by using the search term "I'm not an alcoholic because I drink craft beer."
The fallacy of this phrase should be immediately apparent.
It's anyone's guess why this anonymous visitor was using this particular search phrase, but it caused Chad to reflect upon an important point. As beer writers we tend to glamorize beer. We combine this glamorization with a near total absence of discussion about responsible consumption. Chad challenged other beer writers to join him in adding links or other information to our blogs about responsible drinking. I'm going to take up that challenge. Neither I, nor Chad, nor Pete are telling anyone what to do, but it is a conversation worth having.
I'm not going to presume beer improves your life. Of course we have great fun gathering at our local breweries and swapping stories with friends over a couple of pints. It's easy to conjure up a plethora of examples of how beer is integrated into the enjoyable times of our lives. But is that the same thing as saying beer improves our lives? Let's dig a little deeper.
The positive psychological effects of pursuing an interest we enjoy are many. I have two main interests outside of my professional life: running and beer. Through each I have made new friends and gone new places (both literally and figuratively). I love to learn and I crave information and discussion about both. I am better at beer. I need running to help continue that. Beer gets in the way of running. Running gets in the way of beer. They also combine beautifully when enjoyed in the proper sequence.
Brewing provides the perfect intersection of research, application, tinkering and reward. Blogging offers an opportunity to practice creative writing, something the structure of my daily legal writing does not permit. Running provides mental and physical challenges with the reward of better health and a clearer mind. And less guilt about beer.
So yes, in the general sense beer improves my life, but only because I've chosen it as an interest to pursue. It is an interest I obviously relish and I do plenty of beer cheer-leading on this blog. If it disappeared I'd be sad, but I would replace it with a different interest. Probably cooking and baking, something I'd readily pursue more if given additional time. My co-workers wish I'd return to my days of having a huge garden overflowing with excess vegetables. I suspect that will change when I roll out my latest IPA.
In reality I don't have any particular reason (or need) to drink. There is nothing I can do with a beer in hand that I can't do without a beer in hand. And if that phrase is ever not true, there is a much bigger conversation I need to have with myself.
Why do you drink?
*Today is the first Friday in February which means it's time to take part in The Session, a collective effort of beer bloggers around the world to write on a common topic once each month.
** It is a far different question than asking, for example, what do you like to do when you drink, or reflecting upon how "beer" is such a social activity that makes fast friends of perfect strangers.