It’s weird that, in today’s big craft beer boom - where we no longer have to choose between IPA and stout but now choose between seventeen different brands of IPA and stout from each brewery’s off-shoot seasonal Harvest Moon Series - I can still stand and stare blindly at a row of coolers, my choices overwhelming me to the point of numbness.
It’s not unlike writer’s block, which is a real thing that some columnists face once every two weeks (I won’t name names) - an occupational hazzard, sure, but mostly a pain in the you-know-where. I can’t write about THIS thing because I’ve already written about something similar, and I can’t write about THAT thing because it’s too much to take on on short notice, and I can’t write about THAT OTHER THING because it’s not even relevant. So nothing gets written. So nothing moves forward.
We’ve all been in this situation, staring at rack after rack of beer (or chips, or a restaurant menu), our mind battling itself over whether it’s okay to grab the Same Old Standby or try something new. We don’t know if we want to grab a sampler or grab a few singles, and we panic when the beer we came for is out of stock and now must make a quick decision. It’s the eternal craft brew fanatic’s struggle: to explore or enjoy.
First world problems, etc. I know.
I don’t know what this means - have I gotten too old to make decisions, or am I just burned out on the sheer amount of choice - and, consequently, the amount of potential failure or change that’s required to shift from the familiar to the new.
This past week I spent a few days in Wichita, Kansas, and after that I landed in Ardmore, Oklahoma. I was tied to my surroundings - I had no open vehicle with which to fly around town looking for the most prestigious craft brewery or sample the local barrel-aged stouts. Instead, I was stuck where I was - in hotel bars and restaurants that included the kinds of craft beer many of us no longer see as craft: Boulevard Pale Ale, Shiner Bock, Sam Adams.
What we forget when we get too deep into our experimental hops and sour hybrids is that the entire craft beer industry is built upon these gateway craft beers - beers that are so solid to create a fanbase beyond the racks at the bottle shop, sneaking those who may have otherwise relied on the same ol’ American lights into the circle - or, really, blowing the circle apart in the first place.
Faced with a thousand options, there’s no way I choose one of those beers. No. Way. Why would I? They have nothing to prove - they’re standard-bearers from a generation past, ubiquitous as safe craft beer but forgotten for their quality. The lonely Shiner Bock doesn’t fit into the Bud-Miller-Coors set, but they’re having a hard time fitting in with the “cool craft beers” now, too.
I’ll say one thing: it felt a little refreshing this past week, when I only had two real choices. It felt fun to have a go-to beer that was available everywhere, despite how it rated compared to others within the style. It felt comforting to remember that even the beers we think we don’t like are probably miles ahead of the standard swill - and sometimes, even, that standard swill isn’t so bad in the first place.
Sometimes, the only way to fight writer’s block is to wipe away most of the options. Sometimes, that’s when we learn to settle down and just enjoy what we have.
- Corey Vilhauer