beer fomo fear of missing out
Fear of missing out (FOMO) often manifests in the hunt for rare beers. Illustration by Brian Devine

What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done for a beer? I have waited in line for beer in the snow in February in Vermont and for two hours in the sun on a 90-degree day in Southern California. I’ve dropped everything to run to a bar in Boston to get a pour of Founders Brewing Co.’s Kentucky Breakfast Stout on draft (and missed it by minutes) and stopped literally mid-run at a liquor store to put a hold on a bomber of Stone Brewing Co.’s Enjoy By IPA until I could come back with cash.

Waiting in line for the chance just to buy a beer may sound absurd to the layperson, but to any beer lover who has ever sought out a rare beer, it’s standard protocol, and even unimpressive compared to other stories I’ve heard. I have friends who have driven hundreds of miles to buy a few bottles, met others who flew across the country to wait in line overnight for Portsmouth Brewery’s Kate the Great Russian Imperial Stout and have heard of people paying a “mule” to wait in line for them at a special bottle release.

“Why am I doing this?” I asked myself the last time I was 50-people-deep waiting in line to get into a bar serving hard-to-find beers on draft, while the pizza restaurant and bar next door was almost completely empty and likely had a handful of good beers with no wait. Yet the alternative, to walk away and enjoy a nice pint of fresh IPA next door and miss out on this rare opportunity, was equally unthinkable.

It was textbook FOMO—the fear of missing out—and I fear that the phenomenon, coined in reference to frequent scrolling through social media so you never have to miss out on anything, has infiltrated beer culture.

FOMO manifests in the hunt for rare beers and the lengths people will go to buy and taste them—days taken off work for a beer release, family vacations (and even honeymoons) diverted to visit a brewery or orchestrated beer trades in order to land a white whale.

But once a bottle is acquired, the drinker often enters into new phase of FOMO: the fear of missing out on the perfect moment to enjoy it. I recently opened my mom’s fridge to find a bottle of her favorite cider that I had given her three months ago still unopened in the door.

“It’s just never the right time to open it!” she protested.

I admonished her, albeit hypocritically, as I’ve had a bottle of Westvleteren XII in my closet for more than two years and a handful of 750-mL bottles—of what I can’t even remember now—stashed since spring, with no plans to open them anytime soon.

FOMO also prevailed while I was traveling this fall along the beer-rich West Coast. En route to every new city, I would start culling suggestions, making a list of breweries and beer bars to visit, mapping them out and creating daily itineraries, if necessary. The problem, of course, is that not even the most thorough Excel spreadsheet or hourly itinerary can grant the power to be in two places at once.

Frustration peaked when I was in San Diego for three days and had to choose from 96 breweries (not to mention the loads of beer bars). I panicked on my first morning in town and sat in a coffee shop for far too long, over-caffeinated and paralyzed by choices.

That familiar anxiety—the frantic energy of too many choices resulting in indecision—also surfaces when looking at a beer menu with a handful of new or sought-after beers.

It seems to be a predicament for many drinkers, and brewers, as the beer world is still abuzz with a recent Boston magazine article by Andy Crouch on how Jim Koch and Sam Adams are being left behind by drinkers who are bored by Boston Lager. This brand of FOMO is wrapped up around the word hipster, which, as far as I can discern, is a drinker who values new and obscure over all else.

As Jamie Walsh, bar manager of Boston’s Stoddard’s Fine Food and Ale, is quoted as saying in the piece: “Right now, it’s about what is shiny and new.”

Of course, I suspect that for many beer hunters, FOMO also manifests as curiosity—the need to know and to taste for themselves what the hype is all about, or see if that new brewery’s up to snuff. That curiosity and willingness to try new beers is also responsible for a passionate culture of beer drinkers who actively seek out new beers and support new, innovative and small breweries.

But I do worry about what’s run over in the hunt: the old favorites not often returned to because there are too many others to try, the hurried times spent chugging tasters at one brewery so there’s enough time to visit another five.

It’s a good time to remember this: The time is now.

The only beer that matters is the one that’s in front of you. Don’t miss it.

Heather Vandenengel is a freelance beer journalist and News Editor for All About Beer Magazine. She takes any excuse to travel, especially when it’s for beer.