On Counting Beer
I found myself scrolling through a blog based on the goal of drinking 100 different beers in a month, an odd variation of the theme behind Julie and Julia. Put me in mind of the old drinking song: Ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall
Ninety-nine bottles of beer
Take one down
Pass it around
Ninety-eight bottles of beer…
That song, along with the Chicken Dance, haunts serious beer lovers. So, what is with this link between beer and counting?
I’m old enough to remember the FAC insult, “Only women count their beers.” And still occasionally stupid enough to provoke the vexed question, “How many beers did you have?”
Even in this brave new world of better beer, counting continues. Have you ever been to a beer swap and watched the dedicated flip out their PDAs or notebooks in preparation for adding a bazillionth review to their list, hoping to the reigning king of beer reviewers? Our own beer festivals promote the number of beers you will be able to choose from: this one has 177 and the last one had 210.
Also, we can’t leave out the arms race for alcohol content or bittering units. I don’t know who leads in either of these, but two facts are a given: there are those that will challenge the veracity of the other guy’s score (or how he got there), and the reign of an alcohol or IBU king won’t last very long. Is counting what it means to be the best?
This affliction seems largely beer-centric. Wine-lovers amass collections of vintage-dated and/or obscure bottles, and they mine the English language in their search for even more obscure descriptors, but counting doesn’t seem to be part of their modus opparandi. Same with the whiskey zealots. They track dates and casks, but counting? Not that I’m aware of.
So why do we count in the beer world? Since I’m not a counter, I haven’t a clue. As frequent readers of this page will grasp, I’m on the other end of the spectrum, an experiencer. I go for romance, for creating great memories, for the indescribable joy of beer. I’ve been in this business for nearly thirty years because I fell in love with the delightful complexity of beer.
I suspect one of the origins of counting had to do with the former alcohol standards for beer. A bottle or a can used to represent a fixed amount of alcohol. That’s ancient history. Beer lovers everywhere have long parted company with that one-dimensional notion. In the face of a plethora of brilliant beers with assorted alcohol contents, the good “beer experiencer” has become acutely aware of their personal alcohol tolerances: the effects of food, of being tired, the company, etc.
The phenomenal range of alcohol content, and the necessity of becoming a very good at understanding toleration, should reveal the flaw in counting. It is all about the experience. Yes, collecting can play a part. However, at the end of the day, it is not about counting your beers, but about the beers that count. Your relationship to the beer in your hand makes all the difference in the world.
As for drinking 100 beers in a month, I applaud. However, experiencing such a range of beers sounds like a true adventure. And why stop at a certain number?
This editorial originally appeared in September 2010 issue, Vol. 31, No. 4