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Session #23: The New Year of Beer

The new year brings our 23rd monthly Session, a.k.a. Beer Blogging Friday, crashing into being like a newborn. The previous year is often portrayed as an old, decrepit man and the new year a bouncing baby, filled with the infinite possibilities that youth brings with another 363 days of 2008 stretching out in front of us. And that essentially, is what this Session is about. Hosted by Brewmiker (a.k.a. Beerme) at Beer and Firkins, he wonders aloud what the new year will bring to the world of beer and what lessons you may have learned in the year just past, though I’ll let him tell you what he means.

It seems that change is a theme the entire world is dealing with at the moment. Hope for a better future seems also to be on the minds of many. The topic for the next edition of The Session, hosted by [Brewmiker], will be a New Year theme. I would like to write about the yearly mix of the hope for the new rising out of the ashes of the old, as it relates to … beer.

Specifically, what will you miss about 2008 (feel free to list your tasting notes, if that item is a particular beer) and what do you expect will excite you most in 2009, in the “Beer World”? (again, if that is a beer, what about it is special and worthy of being excited about?)

I confess that I’m not entirely certain how to even approach this question. I don’t think I ever consider the transition from one year to the next in terms of what beers I had last year or which I think I might like to try the next. I tend to take them as they come. Unlike wine and some spirits, they’re aren’t very many beers that are vintage dated. So I rarely find myself lamenting the loss of some vintage beer, though it does happen. I wouldn’t mind a few more bottles of Russian River’s Damnation Batch 23, or a Thomas Hardy 1977, for example. But by and large, beer doesn’t change that much from year to year. In fact that consistency is what most brewers strive for.

Of course, there are plenty of small batch one-off beers, that is beers that are only made once and are very limited. Some are anniversary beers, some are collaborations and some are just for the hell of it. While I very much enjoy the opportunity to try one of these, and will often go out of my way to track them down, there are very few I anticipate unless I’ve heard about one from someone else or from a press release (which are notoriously absent for limited edition beers).

While I am eternally fascinated with calendars, dates and anything, really, to do with time, I just don’t think of beer in those terms.

Is there a mood of phoenix-like hope this year? Probably for some people, as the words “hope” and “change” have been thrown around politically for the last several months leading up to our most recent Presidential election. For me, I can only muster cautious optimism. As pleased as I am with the change in administrations looming — and I am pleased — I also fear that the problems our new Prez will be facing are too daunting to respond to quick or inexpensive fixes. The outgoing regime left behind a nation in shambles (including many 11th hour parting gifts). Has there ever been a greater eight-year swing from surplus to deficit? And no matter what he does to raise money to reduce it, Conservatives will say Obama is the tax and spend liberal they’ve always accused him of, contracting a severe but convenient case of political amnesia as to who caused those problems. That’s my prediction for the new year’s political landscape; things will get worse before they get better, assuming that they will in fact actually get better. I’m hopeful, but only in the classical sense of Pandora’s Box. When all the evil has been unleashed into the world, hope is all that remains. For some reason I’ve always been drawn to that story. As cynical as I am (and have almost always been) the concept of hope has usually allowed me to avoid sinking into abject nihilism. But the very fact that hope is essentially at the forefront of political thought I find oddly discomforting, precisely because it’s an emotion of desperation. When there’s nothing left to cling to, hope is all there is.

Or perhaps that should be “hops” is all there is. One possible positive effect of the economy bottoming out is beer will become the affordable luxury for millions of people looking for a little temporary joy in otherwise bleak times. If craft brewers can seize the opportunity and work to present and persuade people that their hand-crafted artisan beers are the equal of many wines — but at a fraction of the cost — then perhaps small boutique brewers can increase their market share. It may seem counter-intuitive but selling less at a higher price (and at higher margins) will yield higher profits. That’s what wine and spirits have been doing for years, while big breweries who rely on volume have convinced most people that beer is a cheap commodity unworthy of true premium pricing. But now the conditions may be ripe for the rise of craft beer in the time recession, a.k.a. 2009.

There’s little I’ll miss personally from 2008, a miserly little year that took more than it gave. I still have a garage full of beer that needs to be sampled before summer begins baking it. That should keep me busy for a few months and I’d certainly rather be writing about the beer than the politics, business and neo-prohibitionist issues that seem to be occupying so much of my time lately. I suppose that’s my overall resolution for the coming year. More beer, less not beer.


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