With apologizes to Star Trek fans and professional philosophers, herein lies my version of the One vs. the Many moral dilemma. Do I stick close to home with Old Faithful or do I prowl the ranks of the many trying out whatever, whomever, whenever?
Every day after the labors of work, family, relationships and recreation have been laid to rest, turned off or ignored, you can find me staring into a refrigerator chock full of beers, or leaning on a bar rail gazing at a magnificent line-up of ready taps, or wandering aisles and aisles crowded with fetching bottled beers. The one or the many. Comfort or adventure. Safety or risk.
People constantly ask me what my favorite beer is and I’ve got a lot of snappy, quick answers. The closest. The last one. The cheapest. The next one. However, the fact remains I do have favorites. I get into jags or love affairs that can go on for months or even years. Then one inexplicable day arrives when I no longer crave that flavor. Was it something said? An evening out of sorts? Who knows, but the relationship starts floundering. The pleasure has waned.
Of course, there are those careening days when any beer could be a good date. Caution thrown, choices become random, behavior patterns flounder. The adventure is in full swing as choices are made almost cavalierly. Leaping from bitter to sweet, from light to heavy, from yellow to black. Selection takes on a capricious quality, with the full spectrum of beers available.
One of the advantages of having a stable group of friends and a couple of pretty consistent local beer bars is the ability to reflect on years’ worth of behavior. There are certainly enough people around here who have expressed opinions on my beer habits. Apparently, I have undergone, during the past three years, a sea change in my preferences. I have moved from a selection largely dominated by malty, roasty beers to one favoring the tang of hops. My relationships, the steady undercurrent, have shifted from styles like stouts and porters to IPAs and other hoppy ales. I’ve even been told I’m now evidencing slight tendencies towards lighter, subtler beers in yet another impending tectonic shift. Is sour in my future?
Not too long ago, our customer survey reveled that our readers drink between eight and nine different brands a month. However, nearly half of their expenditures go to just one brand. In other words, they are, in fact, brand loyal, just not so much as their parents or grandparents probably were. Married, but still fooling around. What I would like to have asked is how stable was that brand loyalty month after month?
Welcome to the mystery of the craft beer category. Marketers pull their hair out trying to fathom us. We don’t settle down forever, and we drift in and out of broad flavor profiles with a lot of experimentation on the side. Therein lies the excitement of this brave new world, where we can boldly go wherever we damn well please.
This editorial originally appeared in our March 2010, Vol. 31, No. 1 issue.