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Session #21: Your Favorite Beer

The Session, a.k.a. Beer Blogging Friday, finally comes of age as this month it’s our 21st Session. Hosted by Matt C., from A World of Brews, the topic this month is What Is Your Favorite Beer? He frames the question like so.

No one has asked the one question that I am guessing all of you have heard. This question has probably come from friends, family, strangers from the bar, etc. every time you bring up you are really into beer.

That question is: What is your favorite Beer and Why?

Before you say I don’t have a favorite beer or how do I pick just one. I say BS everyone has a favorite. There will always be a beer that you would grab above all others, your go to beer per se. The one beer you will almost always choose over the others. When I get asked that question I almost always say I don’t have one but then when I came up with this topic I realized I did and I know you do too.

Actually, I’m afraid I must disagree not only that “everyone has a favorite,” but also with the notion that having a favorite is even desirable. In fact, this is one of those questions that quite frankly drives me to madness, and has done so for almost as long as I can remember.

A moment’s thought about your own drinking habits will likely reveal that you’re like most craft beer enthusiasts; you like to drink a variety of different beers, and in fact will seek out the new, the seasonally new, the unique, the different.

Last week, I interviewed Sam Calagione from Dogfish Head Craft Brewery for an article I just finished, and in it he said much the same thing, citing “how promiscuous the beer industry is, where we all share secrets with one another, where the consumer is generally catholic with their drinking habits, celebrating the breadth of styles available in the world.”

And demographic data collected by IRI and Nielsen, among others, seem to bear that out. Back in March, I wrote about Anheuser-Busch’s own market analysis, when they were announcing the debut of Budweiser Ale. They referred to craft beer drinkers as “experimenters,” which they elaborated as follows.

“They love beer, they just try a lot of different things,” said Dave Peacock, vice president of marketing at A-B’s domestic beer subsidiary. Although Peacock acknowledged that some craft beer enthusiasts won’t try a Bud-branded ale, the company expects that a sizable portion of the market will have no problem with the concept.

I wasn’t particularly thrilled with that characterization, but had to admit that, as I said at the time, “[m]ost craft beer enthusiasts do like to sample the many different flavors that brewers come up with, or taste new versions of existing styles. That’s part of the better beer culture, trying new and different things. But when I’m out with friends and just enjoying an evening out, I don’t suddenly start drinking one, and only one kind or brand of beer. The reality, at least for myself (and I’m going to hazard a guess that I’m not alone on this), is that people simply don’t just want one kind of anything, not all the time.”

And then there’s that question — sigh.

Whenever people I meet discover that I’m involved in the beer business, invariably the question they can’t help but ask is “what’s your favorite beer?” This question just exhausts me — I hate answering it — but I put on my brave face and try to explain why I don’t have one, and why I never will. My wife insists that it’s an “opportunity” to educate someone and I suppose she’s right (she usually is), but I can’t help but view it as someone asking me if I have a favorite child. I know they mean well, but just asking this question says more about them than they realize. That so many people think there is — or should be — just one favorite anything shows how notions of brand loyalty and marketing have worked their way into our thinking. Do people have a favorite food, one food they’d eat every single meal? Of course not, so how is this any different? That so many people find it a reasonable question to ask about beer tells me that not only do they expect that I will actually have one but also that they see nothing wrong with limiting oneself in the face of such diversity. Corporations whose marketing has created such ideas must be absolutely giddy with their success in planting this idea so deeply into our collective psyche.

There are, of course, dozens of very different beer styles and some are better with this food or that, are better during a particular season or weather, or might just be the right match for whatever else we’re doing or what mood we’re in. … To anyone who’s moved beyond that narrow definition of what beer is, there are many different flavors and no earthly reason to stick to just one. That’s not experimentation, but a common sense approach to making beer a part of a diverse, healthy lifestyle that includes many different breads, cheese, wine and all manner of local and artisanal products.

That’s what I said then, what I’ve believed for many years, and what I continue to believe. I don’t even have one favorite beer style, much less a particular favorite beer. And here’s the thing. I don’t think you should have one, either. This is not what we should aspire to.

The whole pint .. er, point, IMHO, is that craft beer is meant to, or at least should, encourage the notion that different beers are appropriate for different scenarios, be they food choices, time of the season, weather, mood or whatever.

I’d accept that you could have a few different favorite styles that you think go well with something particular, such as wheat beers are refreshing in hot weather or hoppy beers go nicely with spicy foods. I can even see having a favorite beer for a particular scenario. For example, I loved pairing Pike’s wonderfully spicy Auld Acquaintance with Thanksgiving dinner, before they stopped brewing it (though they have announced they’re bringing it back again this year). For the last decade or so, I’ve enjoyed Anchor’s Christmas Ale, Our Special Ale, though the last few years they appear to have restrained he spicing more than I’d like (though I know I’m in the minority opinion). Those kind of favorites seem perfectly reasonable to me, but trying to pick one all-purpose beer does not seem so. And beyond that, I just don’t want to. I constantly want something different in a beer all the time. Life’s just too short to drink only one beer.


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