New Year challenges for the beer lovers

New Year’s Resolutions are, for the most part, systematically destined for failure. As noted productivity fanboy and comic-book lover Merlin Mann often notes, there’s nothing about a new calendar - just paper and staples - that will help us make life-altering decisions. If we really wanted to change, we’d have already done it, regardless of the day.

That being said, New Year’s often gives us the excuse to talk about life change, even if we never really succeed. Change is good. Change is what helps us move forward and adapt and live and be decent people with lots of friends and all of that. Change is the calling card of the craft beer industry - the ENTIRE beer industry, actually - these days, for good and for bad, and we’ll have to live with it.

With that out of the way, let’s set some milestones for the upcoming year. These aren’t resolutions - these are straight up challenges, from one normal-person-who-happens-to-write-about-beer to you.

1. Try a style you’ve never heard of This one’s easy - go to your local fancy liquor store and get a six-pack of a style you’ve never heard of. I’m not talking about getting a pilsner or Oktobefest from a different brewery - I’m talking about looking through the beers and finding something you have never heard of. Maybe it’s a red ale. Maybe it’s a schwarzbier. Maybe it’s a double imperial coffee stout.

Just get it. Try it. You might hate it. That’s okay. Now you’ll know.

2. Drink straight from the source There’s nothing that connects a person to the craft beer industry more than hanging out in a brewery’s tap room, knocking back pulls that are fresh from the kegs, chatting with the brewery staff and sampling things that may never make it out of the brewery.

The best place to do this is in north and central Minnesota, where a four-day vacation could include visits to Summit, Surly, Fulton, Schell’s and Fitgers - and that’s not to mention the several new breweries that have sprouted up around the Minneapolis region.

You don’t need to travel out of state, though. My goal is to finally make it out to Crow Peak Brewery in Spearfish, and I’m sure at some point I’ll land at Heist Brewing in Brookings or just over the border at Brau Brothers in Lucan, Minnesota.

3. Treat beer with the same reverence as wine Seriously. The methods, ingredients and regions within the beer world produce some of the most wide-ranging flavors and styles - far more complex than any wine can shake its cork at. Yet, beer still gets the cold shoulder when it comes to its place at the dinner table.

No more! Take the power back! Crack open a big bottle of $25 beer and discover the complex tastes of a barleywine or double pilsner or imperial IPA.

Then again, don’t worry about the cost at all. Grab some Miller High Life - the champagne of beers, after all - if that’s what drives you. Even the best wine people grab a box of cheap white from time to time.

Which reminds me…

4. Stop slagging on other people’s taste “Oh, look at Mister Beer Blogger telling me of all people to stop making fun of other breweries, when he’s the one that talks trash about different beers all the time!”

Yeah. Maybe. But there’s a clear separation here. I’m not asking you to like every brewery, or every beer. That would be ridiculous. I’m also not asking you to be quiet about what you don’t like, because personal opinion is important in defining taste.

What I’m telling you is that when someone buys a Blue Moon, or a Shock Top, or a Grain Belt, maybe it’s not in our best interest to turn up our nose and explain how what they like is horrible. We can champion what we like and say what we don’t care for, but the second we begin telling grandpa that his beer sucks or turning our nose up at the free beer at our friends’ house, we’ve entered a pretty horrible territory.

That’s where the hated “beer snob” label came from. I struggle to keep from being a jerk every day, so know that this one isn’t easy.

5. Get out of your comfort zone Easier said than done. But once - just once - ask your bartender for something different. Ask your friend to choose the beer this time. Ask your neighbor about the best beer he’s had in the past few months and go buy some. Drink something different, and learn from it.

I’ve spent the last several months forcing myself out of my comfort zone to try new beers. I have to. It’s part of my job as a columnist. Without this push, I’d have never tried most of my new favorites, and I’d have never bothered to figure out just exactly what I liked about beer - what flavors, what ingredients, what methods, what breweries.

Craft brew is entering a new renaissance, and it’s only going to become more prevalent. It’s time to venture out and see what’s out there. You won’t like it all. (I know I don’t.)

But that’s the point. A little experimentation never killed anyone. The real question isn’t just “what resolutions will I fail at next year?” It’s “what can I learn from the experiences I’ve had?”