Friday, May 6, 2016

The Session #111: Surviving a Beer Midlife Crisis

For this month's Session, Oliver Gray asks us fellow beer hobbyists whether or not we're dealing with a beer mid life crisis. Certainly a navel gazing Session topic if there ever was one, but then, if we don't gaze at our navels once in awhile, what's the point of blogging?

I found Oliver's invitation for self-indulgence irresistible given that:

a) I actually went through a real mid-life crisis.
b) With my other hobby, running, I've gone through several different periods of varying enthusiasm over the 36 years I've been involved with the sport.

Let's talk about my mid-life crisis for a second. A little over ten years ago, I went through a divorce, started seeing a therapist, and nearly hit rock bottom. Unfortunately, my finances were got pretty messy so I couldn't afford the obligatory mid-life crisis sports car.
It wasn't until I could change certain perspectives and attitudes that I started turning things around. Sometimes, a change in enthusiasm is a good thing because it signals some sort of personal growth or evolution. But losing interest in something you once loved can also be a bad thing, indicating some sort of general discontentment or unresolved conflict. So it's wise to take notice of any change of enthusiasm over any subject or activity and ask yourself "Why?". OK, that's enough amateur psychology.

Now let's talk about running. When I was twelve, my dad and I trained for a local 10 kilometer (6.2 mile) race. From there, I kept running, dreaming about being an Olympic athlete in my teens. When it became clear by age 18 those Olympic dreams weren't going to work out, I still held out that some day with a lot of hard work, I could at least become one of the top 100 or so runners in the country. That didn't turn out either and by my early 30's, due to a whole bunch of things related to my mid-life crisis, I was barely running and sixty pounds heavier. One way out of those dark days was to get running again, albeit with a new outlook. Now, in my late 40's, I'll never be as fast or as strong as I ever was, but I still go out the door each morning and get a few miles in, and I still enjoy competing in a few races each year.

I must still love running, because there's no other explanation for continuing to do something that at my age, inevitability causes one or more parts of my body to become sore on a regular basis. When getting together with runners my age, the conversation invariably turns to all the nagging injuries we're dealing with. You may wonder what motivates me to continue to engage in this form of self abuse after all these years. Well, running keeps me fit, there's that nice buzz of endorphins that gets me through the day, and there's that sense of accomplishment thing. There other reasons that keep me running, but I'd like to keep those between me and my therapist.

But the important thing is, my approach to running has changed a lot over those 36 years since I've changed a lot myself. Running on the other hand, has remained static. Oh sure, there have been some incremental changes in nutrition, training techniques, running shoes, and you can buy a lot more fancy running gadgets today than you could 30 years ago. But the sport still retains it's simplicity of putting one foot in front of the other and repeating this over and over again to propel yourself as fast as you can over some distance.

While running hasn't changed much in the past 36 years, beer has changed plenty in just the last decade. There was a time when it seemed a reasonable goal to sample the  beers from all the different breweries throughout the country. Now, just attempting this in Northern California alone would involve basically quitting my job, leaving my family, and dying of alcohol poisoning three months later. A bar with 8-10 "craft" beers on tap was once considered a destination craft beer bar I would travel considerable distance to visit. Now this pretty much describes any bar in my neighborhood. I used to explain to my friends with an IPA or Saison was. Now, they're all coming up to me, recommending their favorites I ought to try.

I find these changes in the beery landscape liberating. No longer am I some evangelist, preaching my cause to the unresponsive masses. I no longer feel guilty missing a beer festival, since there's no way I could attend all of them, and there's plenty of new ways to discover new beers or reacquaint myself with the old favorites. With too many breweries to get to know all of them, I just pick and chose the ones I find the most interesting.

One thing I've discovered from this writing blog is how enjoyable it is simply talking with brewers about their beers and breweries. There's plenty more brewers to talk to now than there were 10 years ago, and thus, I'm having far more of these great conversations than I ever did. And yes, I do find the latest wave of corporate forays into craft beer fascinating. The story of craft beer used to be a tired cliche' of David vs. Goliath. Now, it's a nuanced story of complex characters with noble sounding motives but possibly hidden agendas, engaged in careful yet often dramatic maneuvers, creating both new apprehension and optimism. Good and evil is no longer clear cut. Some clearly find these new messier new realities troubling compared to a more simplified past. I can understand why many people find economically driven brewing business developments boring, or even threatening. As for myself, I can't get enough of it.

So these days, I'm no longer breathlessly posting about some new brewpub I've been to. That seems so 2012. There are far more stories about beer and breweries than there were just five years ago to discovering and writing about. This is one of most fascinating times in the history of beer, and if beer bloggers exist a hundred years from now, I expect they'll be writing about how our era dramatically transformed beer as we know it.

So I understand why lots of people, possibly including our host Oliver, might find themselves less committed to beer than they used too.  And that's OK.  But as for me, just like running, my relationship with beer is constantly changing, but has never been stronger.

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