Life as a Beer Geek: The Lessons I’ve Learned

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I’ve learned a lot about beer in the years I’ve spent being a nearly obsessive beer geek, including some unexpected things. There were some hard truths that were revealed through studying the history and the styles and the processes of making beer. If you’re a craft beer veteran, I’m sure you can relate to my experiences, and if you’re new to the flavorful world of craft brews, here’s a preview of some lessons you’ve got ahead of you.

You’re gonna need a bigger boat
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We’ve all played bottle-Tetris while trying to squeeze one more six pack into the fridge, and I naively thought that adding a dedicated beer-fridge to my apartment would free up some space for, you know, food. It may have helped for a time, but now I’ve got two iceboxes brimming with beer.

It’s not just the refrigerator that filled up either. Living in Los Angeles, I lack a basement or cellar, and soon the few special bottles I was saving turned into boxes under the bed. A utility closet was re-purposed for storing beers that could stand a few months (or longer) of age. A membership in The Bruery’s Reserve Society didn’t help matters any, and soon enough the closet too was overflowing.

My wife abides the fridge take-over and the wall of boxes in the closet—she’s happy to have the selection on-hand—but she’s less excited about all the glassware. Cabinets, counters, the top the fridge—it’s all overflowing with glasses. I’m willing to admit that the collection of pints, half-pints, tulips, stanges, snifters and flutes might be a bit excessive, but in my defense most of them are freebies, and it’s always a good idea to serve a craft beer in the appropriate vessel. At least I can have a weekend’s worth of beers without washing (or re-using) a glass.

You’re gonna need to spit that out
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Bad beer is everywhere. I don’t mean beer that you don’t enjoy or beer from a brewery you don’t like. I mean beer that’s objectively bad, flawed, or served improperly.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of craft beer appreciation is experiencing your palate’s development. In the early days of enjoying craft beer, the flavors are so intense and so different. It can be difficult for an inexperienced palate to resolve them all; it is all so exciting that it’s easy to overlook a beer’s shortcomings. As palates expand and are tuned, the nuances of beer’s flavor are seen clearly. Unfortunately, all-too often those nuances can be off-flavors—blemishes in the beer’s flavor profile due to brewing process, improper handling, or any number of other factors.

As my palate grew more fine-tuned, it forced me to realize how common these flaws are, even in commercial craft beer. Some local hangouts fell into disfavor—no matter how good their happy hour deals were—when I could no longer endure poor pints from perennially dirty tap lines. Some favorite East Coast breweries fell off my shopping list when I could never find fresh bottles on shelves. It’s not a matter of being snobby, and there’s no shame in sending a bad beer back, or the dreaded drain-pour on a beer that’s just not palatable. Life’s too short to drink bad beer.

You’re gonna need a second job
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I remember when paying $10 for a sixer was an uncomfortable proposition. Those days, clearly, have passed and now I’ll hardly bat an eye at spending $10 (or more) on a single bottle. It isn’t just that craft beer has gotten more expensive over the last 20 years (though it certainly isn’t cheaper), my tastes have also become more expensive. As anyone who’d developed a taste for sour beer knows, looking for new flavors and traveling along the cutting-edge of craft brewing means paying more for a bottle.

Beer culture in general is also more accepting of a pricey bottle as beer’s stature has grown. It has created a feedback loop that’s led to exciting developments in craft beer. As prices rise and beer gets more credible as a serious beverage, people get more comfortable paying higher prices for special bottles. Brewers buoyed in the newly spendthrift market realize they can experiment with ingredients and processes previously too expensive to undertake. This leads to expanded palates and drinkers thirsty for even more daring and adventurous brews (and willing to pay a premium for them).

As my palate has expanded, I’ve grown to accept the occasional specialty bottle, pricey pour, or tony beer-pairing dinner. A month’s beer money 10 years ago would probably not last a long weekend these days, but it’s tough to put a price on these beer experiences. Anyways, it could be worse. I could be into wine (or worse-yet: scotch). Beer is an affordable luxury, and the dividends it pays in flavor and camaraderie are worth the (ever-expanding) expenditures.

You don’t know sh$!
Delving into the world of beer has taught me of my limits of space (to store beer), money (to buy the beer), and patience (for bad beer). It’s been an elucidative experience, and it’s only the beginning of the lessons that beer can teach. Just when you think you’ve tasted it all or read every book or understand every style, something new comes along or something old is rediscovered. It’s a fulfilling journey, and it all starts with beer.

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