This Thursday, many of us will gather around tables crowded with turkey, dressing, casseroles and cakes, and we will mutter thanks for the bountiful feast before us. But what about the beer on the table?
More people than ever now opt for beer where once wine ruled. It’s easy to do here in North Carolina, a state that now boasts around 150 breweries (including East Coast facilities for Oskar Blues Brewery, New Belgium Brewing and Sierra Nevada Brewing). From the mountains to the coast, there’s a lot of beer here. You can find it not only at the breweries, but in the many beer-focused bars, restaurants and bottle shops around the state.
We sip it. We analyze it. We photograph it. We tweet it. We review it. We rank it. But do we actually appreciate it? Are we thankful for this cornucopia of beer we have today?
The beer industry in the state and nation has come a long way in a very short time, and I worry there’s a cost for such growth. I believe it’s rendered many drinkers cynical and jaded. Or maybe I just spend too much time on the Internet, haven of the cynical and jaded.
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Here I continue to see the beer-geek hive mind lose interest in or outright denigrate beers and breweries that were their darlings mere months before. One minute a brewery makes the best IPA in the world, the next they’re just OK. One minute they make sublime sour ales, the next they’re purveyors of rotten yogurt.
Much of this might be chalked up to availability. It’s no secret that more limited beers are often rated higher than widely available beers of the same style (in Internet parlance, these are sometimes called “shelf turds”). And so when a medal-winning IPA that was at one time tough to find makes its way to store shelves, a funny thing happens: Our appreciation for that beer doesn’t grow, it fades.
Don’t even think about posting a photo of that year-round beer you can pick up at the grocery store down the street for under $10 bucks. If it’s not barrel-aged, corked-and-caged, wax-dipped or hard to get, you might as well not even mention it. In one of the beer groups I frequent, someone recently shared an event boasting a list of vintage, barrel-aged and one-off beers, many of which I’d never seen. Despite this, the person who shared it deemed it “not much to get excited about.”
There’s no doubt we as a drinking public are more excited about beer than ever. But being excited about beer isn’t the same as being thankful for beer. I’m guilty of it, too – this tendency to sometimes favor the new and shiny instead of old favorites.
But on a holiday in which we often reflect on the meal our ancestors would have had, maybe we should think about what our beer selection would have looked like 10 years ago, when you couldn’t even get a beer with more than 6 percent ABV in North Carolina. Or 20 years ago, when many breweries were just starting to open, only to shutter their doors in the years to come. Or 30 years ago, before North Carolina even had a craft brewery to call its own.
Today, we live in an embarrassment of riches, a true golden age of beer. Styles that were once obscure are now de rigueur. Want to enjoy a sour and salty Gose this Turkey Day? You can probably find more than a few options of this once nearly extinct style. Favor an IPA? Chances are there are world-class examples down at your local grocery store or bottle shop, ready for the taking.
This Thanksgiving, fill your glass with whatever you and your guests will enjoy most. Maybe that’s a rare bottle you’ve held on to for a special occasion, or maybe it’s a beer that’s just as good but bereft of hype.
But whatever it is, remember to give thanks.
Daniel Hartis is the digital manager at All About Beer Magazine in Durham and author of “Beer Lover’s The Carolinas” and “Charlotte Beer: A History of Brewing in the Queen City.” Reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter, @DanielHartis.