Unusually, today I am not writing as “we” but as “I”. I am not soliciting you on behalf of one of the most exciting new breweries in the UK. Instead, these are solely the words from a regularly misbehaving and mostly flawed human being.
I say all these things because I am well aware that personalising a brewery blog is about as narcissistic as James Watt starring in Brew Dogs. As such, I do not believe I am special or above and beyond the pitfalls and vices that entangle others.
Being far from perfect, I only hope to not come across as hypocritical or self-righteous. As mentioned in my last blog post, I think we can all agree that it’s time for the craft beer industry to grow up.
The ascent to maturity will not be easy. It will be painful and full of hardship. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you are already too familiar with the sexist and toxic workplace practices that have seeped into nearly every pore of the craft brewing world.
Something else in our industry has also concerned me for a long time: the prevalence of alcoholism, alcohol abuse and alcohol-related anti-social behaviour that is generally accepted and oftentimes encouraged. I’m not only talking about beer festivals and large events.
The binge-drinking behaviour of the industry has permeated nearly every brewery, taproom, bar, and pub today. It’s not uncommon for some breweries to operate with several hungover employees on an almost daily basis.
As a brewer, I have often struggled with thoughts like “am I an enabler?” or “I’m just a drug dealer/ manufacturer”. Maybe these thoughts betray my own anxieties and insecurities. My personal booze journey was at one time a legendary tale in my own mind. Most importantly, it served as the optimal social lubricant no matter where I lived or travelled.
But in my 30s, it often feels like a distraction, although one that is welcome on occasion. Drinking steals time away from hobbies like practising the guitar, reading, exercise and many other things. Personally, once I have a drink, I am unlikely to have much motivation to be productive or do many of the things I normally enjoy.
It all begs the question, what would my life be like without drinking?
Luckily in regards to this topic, I was raised in the corporation that is LDS (Latter Day Saints) Inc [note from SiWC - this is a genuine fact]. Those experiences would likely fill up several Book of Mormon sized volumes. Perhaps we’ll save that for another time. TL;DR: I was essentially raised in a cult.
From birth, I was told that alcohol was “evil” and I was trained to look down on others who drank. In fact, I actually felt peer pressure in high school to not drink! I didn’t really start drinking alcohol until my early-to-mid twenties.
Anyway, let’s jump straight to my time at Uni. Unlike most US students, at university, I was doing something else, studying! That’s right. No keggers or frat parties, and more importantly no drunken one-night stands. (And yet despite a lack of these distractions, I still managed to underachieve academically).
During that time, my dating life was, well, rough! Not to mention, in social situations, I found myself increasingly lacking confidence. The typical “alphas'' and “type As” easily overpowered me in conversation at dinners, parties and other events. I was mostly dating my guitar during this time.
When I discovered tasty and local craft beer, it changed something in me. All of the sudden, after a beer or two, I realised I wasn’t bothered. I didn’t care what people thought about the way I looked, what I said or how I acted. It was truly liberating and the rest is history.
As I continue to fail at “adulting”, I’ve found that drinking alcohol in general just doesn’t hit like it used to. As my testosterone and energy levels continue to dip with age, pouring a depressant down my throat has less appeal.
And then there are the hangovers! The severity of hangovers seems to rise exponentially with age. Not to mention I find myself needing a day or two to recover from a serious hedging. Sounds fun right?
What’s even the point? Ageing is tough. I’m sure I’m not the only one who was able to get away with outrageous nights out and then go to work or school on a mere couple of hours of sleep (or none).
I’ve actually run through the Dry January gauntlet several times. Despite the great vengeance and furious anger of my brewery boss at the time, I was able to navigate each sober month successfully,
It was important for me to get through each month following strict guidelines. I wanted to prove to myself I had a level of control and self-discipline. It wasn’t easy. There were certainly cravings: the taste of the beverage, the effects, the nights out.
Currently, I don’t feel Dry January as a concept will work for my long-term goals. Despite that, taking a month off the booze is good for reflection and self-evaluation for everyone. And you will likely never hear someone say “I regret not drinking anymore.” But abstinence isn’t what I desire.
What I want is something more sustainable. An approach that represents a change in behaviour and lifestyle. As such, I decided to “not drink” for as long as I felt like starting from Jan 2nd (sorry, I had a beer with a kasekrainer in Vienna on New Year’s Day).
Unlike a rigid month of abstinence if I felt the urge to have a beer or a whisky, I was free to do so guilt-free. I also wanted to spend the month focusing on other activities and hobbies besides drinking.
Having little to no self-imposed restrictions had very little effect on the end result. Let’s get it straight out of the way, from January 2nd until the 31st, I had a total of three alcoholic beers.
So what else did I discover? In the past 15 years as a mostly beardless beer neckbeard (say that seven times fast), I’ve had my fill of nearly every beer style, brewery, region and homebrew. I’ve been to a billion breweries, taprooms, beer bars, and festivals.
In other words, I didn’t miss any of that stuff. Not even one bit.
What I did miss was having a nice beer with my food. My partner and I cook at home a lot, and sometimes a beer or a glass of wine feels essential to bring out the complexity of a dish.
Three other activities seemed to call for a beer:
A month isn’t really that long is it? Well, it was long enough to open my eyes about several things.
I was able to find a range of beer styles to pair with home-cooked meals. Lager Day Saints with its toast malty, hop spice, and crispness was perfectly refreshing as a bathtub beer. Not to mention, that the 0.5% lager went perfect with our sourdough pizzas.
One of my three “real” beers was in a lovely pub after a walk in the countryside. I felt the pull of the cask but was burned with a slightly sour pint (figures) anyway!
While technically a challenge, one can hope that non-alcoholic brewers will be able to enter the cask market in the future.
While I didn’t go out often, I was impressed with the amount of NA availability in pubs, bars, and restaurants. This made it easy to drink something that wasn’t sweet and sickly but also non-alcoholic. I can only hope this is a permanent change and not a monthly one-off experience.
You’re thinking, of course, you drank less you idiot! But some of these beers were really tasty. I thought maybe I would session on them once or twice. It never happened. After having roughly one or two half-pints of NA beer, I was completely satisfied. I didn’t feel the need to drink anymore and am certain my calorie intake was much lower.
Time seemed to form like condensation builds clouds. Most of my time gains were felt during the evening. Instead of falling into a food and drink coma, I found myself feeling alert and productive. This meant more time to spend getting frustrated while practising the guitar, or injecting political rhetoric and literature straight into my veins.
No hangovers meant fewer sightings of grumpy Kendon in the mornings. (Although, I think I did feel the need to make sure he returned at least once a week). Weekends were just fantastic! After a much shorter lie-in, a leisurely cooked and tasty breakfast would start out the day. And each was a full day with no lost time spent in the recovery position or staring at subpar Netflix programming.
Maybe it’s just old age or a gained semblance of maturity, but it felt quite normal to not be hammering beers once or twice a week. Not to mention, most cravings were conveniently satiated with the nearly ubiquitous no-alcohol offerings.
Always a critic of my own beers, I am simply impossible to please at times. I was once told I’m a brewer who “doesn’t like beer”. Until recently, I thought non-alcoholic beers would never taste like the real thing.
Scepticism aside, I found several tasty NA beers. Beers like SiWC’s Easy Rinder Wheat and Newtown Park Brewing Co’s collaboration with Lowtide Brewing Co., Promises I Made Myself, were so damn delicious I would drink them anytime and anywhere. I was also fortunate to attend a local tasting at the Alpha Bottle Shop which opened my eyes to the growing NA drinking culture here in the UK.
Well, for readers like you, probably not much. My eyes have been opened to a new world though but don’t just take my word for it. Try taking a break from keeping up with your craft beer habits and explore the results. If it sucks, learn from that and don’t do it again.
But I think taking a month to reflect and actively pursue other things will lead you to discover something new. And remember, you don’t have to give up the refreshing and moreish taste of craft beer to do it. Try non-alcoholic beers from breweries like Sheep in Wolf's Clothing and find out what you won’t have to miss out on!