There is a book about Newfoundland, a novel by Wayne Johnston called The Colony of Unrequited Dreams. I read it a long time ago but the name has always stuck with me. That title sums up so much about the thinking about and writing about good beer and the brewing trade for me. It's laced with the false hope that alcohol always brings. In small measure it's a comfort. Then it makes you think you're cleverer than you are. And in large doses over time, it has a scarring effect. Add the writer's itch and perhaps a dream to that and you've got a pretty bad case of something. Chuck in the reality of low wages and weak industry support for anything looking too much like smacking of un-wonderful PR and, well, the opportunity for a broken heart lays right there on the path before you.
Recently, I’ve found my interest in said hobby waning. The brilliant luster of new beers and new breweries looks now, a few pounds heavier and a bunch of dollars lighter, more like dull aluminum oxide. The thing I have embraced so fully and spent so much time getting to know and love, suddenly seems generally, unequivocally: meh. It’s like I’ve been living a lie, and everything I’ve done is for not. I’m having a beer mid-life crisis, yo.
The passion less passionate. We've seen it before. Remember Win Basset? Notice how he moved on or at least found his interests were broader. Perhaps more sober. Clearly better. Good beer writing should be directly dependent on an interest in beer and brewing. But there seems, if social media reporting on tavern and bar attendance at #CBC16 is anything to go by, to be the idea that a commitment to daily strong drink is a requirement as well. Why is that? My drifting - well before this decade began - into beer trade criticism and then brewing history was in part pushed from behind by realizing how little interest I had in the life less sober. I've got family. And a career. Who has time to be drinking all the transient stuff manically populating the market now? No, the measured approach to the joy juice is the better path. Less of the vocation and more recreation. After all, it's not like you need to get arrested to study law.
My interest is actually more about the research and writing itself. I write all day at work. I like to write at home, too. And writing what I like means I can avoid that movable drinks fest. It's the independent view for me. Which is fine given the reality that other approaches can leave you constrained. One pro writer pal recently quipped to me by back channel "can't rock the tree if you're selling books, says the publisher" - which is true. It takes many forms. It's not just that pitches to publications based on actual research are rejected. Some time ago when I proposed BBADD - beer bloggers against drunk driving - I was quite saddened by the race to leave the room first. It was particularly sad to see one writer equate the scourge of criminal drunk driving with accidents due to "smoking, the application of eye make-up, over-tiredness, cell phone conversations or the accidental spilling of tomato sauce off the veal parmigiana sandwich being scarfered whilst at the wheel." Sad. But all too typical. Made me wonder if the creation of a beer community was needed to exempt oneself from the actual community. I hope not. I hope the answer was just the glib lightweight if habitual sort dissing that's too common in this area since long before the worst cracks in the plaster started appearing.
What does that sort of view from the authorized bubble give us? In addition to the tree not shaken, our understanding of it all has been clouded in the past by poor histories, doubtful economics and bad medicine. Junketeers. And, with respect, the weird concept of leadership... implying followership. And knowing your place. This all is, in fact, not what I need. Not what you need either. It's too bad. The study of beer and brewing is too ripe, too unexplored and too interesting to see it lay that low, to be framed as narrowly as it has been. And so I suppose it's inevitable that some may lose their interest, their zip even. Even Oliver, an excellent thinker and writer.
Oliver does not need my advice but I was happy to give him some when I ticked him off about something sometime recently. I sent him a tweet that encouraged him to remember we were strangers. Strangers who had never met, didn't know their siblings names, never once helped move each other's furniture. Once you realize that you do not need to join the herd, you may see there is so much more to explore. Once you realize so much of what's touted in the glass is overpriced yawn water you can detach yourself from the need to impress - or be impressed - and explore this massively rich but still largely untouched seam of human experience, the lode of beer and brewing. You can then just find your own way within good beer. Or beyond it. If, like Win, that means that good beer gets set on the shelf for a while, you may well be all the happier. And likely a better more interesting writer. Which makes us all the better off.