The Events of Beer
Dinners, tastings, festivals, seminars, gatherings of all sorts. It’s that time of year, folks, when every weekend and most weekdays there is an “event of beer” within driving distance of you. People coming together over beer. It’s why I like this job: people, beer and events.
I go to bars with great draft systems, where the beers are well cared for and served correctly; to festivals where other beer lovers congregate; or dinners that bring food and beer to the same table, seasoned by good fellowship. I suspect it is a genetic disorder, because my father and I use to frequent a couple of bars in Maine and sit, leaning over the table, with our hands around a craft beer, grinning and talking.
I believe this is unique to modern beer culture. I’ve tried a couple of wine events and didn’t find them as much fun. The pretension was palpable. I know that’s a cliché, but I’ve been there and watched it. I can’t speak about whiskey events, but I can imagine there’s some nosing going on, with quips about legs—oaky this or butterscotch that. To be honest, I really don’t hit bars where either wine or spirits are de rigueur and, therefore, don’t speak with any depth of experience with the non-beer drinks event culture.
Before the explosion of craft brewing, beer gatherings had more of a tone of desperation. Keggers, where speed and volume were the critical concerns. Measuring pleasure by consumption. Playing games that could bring an empty can sharply to the forehead.
But the rediscovery of craft beer styles has given us the chance to reinvent old occasions. As the nights start lengthening and a snap gets in the air, the beer world shifts and, come fall, the real beer events kick into high gear. Conventional wisdom suggests it’s all the legacy of a 19th century German wedding in a field outside of Munich. But the gusto of the beer event season seems to go way beyond the singularity of Oktoberfest. There’s a delicious pairing of the season, specialty beers, and that yummy feeling that all’s well with the world.
Fall is a transition season, a passage from one state of being to another: that alone seems a good reason to celebrate. For mysterious reasons, the beer holidays of spring, the other transition season, seem to have largely languished: the maypole is a thing of the past, the Hallmark Bunny is all that remains of Easter’s pagan roots, and St. Patrick’s Day has become an embarrassment to anyone of authentic Irish ancestry.
But as the harvest ends and preparations for the winter begin, people gather around tables and share the joy of the human spirit. Symbolizing this notion of a transition season, our beer event season concludes with a noble observation of thanksgiving. We’re particularly proud of that one here in the United States. However, it turns out the holiday goes back to the Greeks. It’s an event that celebrates passages, transience, variety and abundance. The emergence of the new beer culture seems to have redefined the beer event culture to reflect these ancient sentiments.
The craft beer revolution, here and abroad, has tricked out the world of beer with an exciting array of flavors, stories and heritages. From Belgian cafés, English pubs and German biergartens come an older aesthetic, more compatible with this new world of exotic, seasonal beers. The confluence is delicious. A fall afternoon sampling a range of IPA interpretations with a few friends on a ball field, with some food from local eateries, is a far cry from the rush to oblivion that was formerly the hallmark of a beer-based event.
In short, this shoulder season conspires perfectly with the specialty beer world, which bridges old brewing traditions and new brewers’ imaginations. Both wrap around those special feelings of friendship, camaraderie and humor. It makes a gathering of good beer lovers a cut above anything else you’ll find during this fleeting season.
This editorial originally appeared in the January 2010, Vol. 30, No. 6 issue.