My first foray into beer writing was for a little blog-project-thing called The Beer Money Blog. It was back in 2013, and I was a budding beer nerd who had waded knee-deep into the Wellington beer scene. My time in the Capital had opened my eyes to what beer could be; and no longer content to unconsciously neck green bottles, I had begun to explore the seemingly-limitless flavour variants that were on offer at beer libraries such as Regional Wines and Spirits and New World Thorndon.
The premise behind The Beer Money Blog was pretty simple: I set myself the goal of restricting my beer budget to $20-25 per week, and then chronicled the relative merits of the choices that I made each week in terms of ‘value’ (in the loose sense of the word). The project successfully bridged two opposing realities that I faced at the time: one the one hand, I was fast-becoming a passionate beer nerd on a relentless search for flavour; while on the other, I was the sole bread-winner in a family of four that frequently had too much month left at the end of our money.
As time has drifted on, the second problem has somewhat diffused – climbing a few rungs on the salary ladder has certainly helped in that regard, as has an (arguable) improvement in my homebrewing skills – but my search for flavour remains relentless. An undeniable benefit of The Beer Money Blog was that it not only restricted how much I spent on beer, but since good beer tends to cost more than shit beer it also restricted how much booze I drank in a given week. As such, the Blog served an ultimate good for both my wallet and my health.
In 2018, I’m living in a post-Beer Money Blog world: one in which there really is no restriction in terms of my access to good (often great) beer. For a fervent beer nerd, this would appear to be an immense blessing; but as I dig a little deeper and do some dreaded self-contemplation (as we all tend to do at the budding of a new year), I’ve realised that near-unlimited access to good beer can actually be a curse.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: booze (and thus beer) is a luxury. We don’t need it to survive; and the moment that we believe we do is the same moment that we need to recognise that we have a problem. Make no mistake: as beer brewers, commentators and nerds, we walk a dangerous tight rope when we evangelise and advocate the consumption of alcoholic drinks. The ground that awaits below the rope is brim-full of nasty creatures: addiction and mental illness, cancer and cardiovascular disease, abuse and acute injury. (I will happily supply citations for the body of health research that has established these facts to anyone who doubts them.) In short, as wonderful as our little corner of the booze industry is, anyone who truly believes that we are not playing with fire is either a) a fool, or b) selling something.
The evidence about the ill-effects of high levels of alcohol consumption – both chronically and via binge-style drinking – is unequivocal; however, the evidence around moderate consumption is at least murky. There is some evidence that moderate consumption is good for some aspects of health; but there is also evidence in the opposite direction. As passionate advocates for the proliferation of high-quality beer, and in the absence of irrefutable evidence of harm, moderation is the only space that we can hope to occupy with anything approaching a clean conscience.
I am, of course, no teetotaller; and am certainly not a proponent of institutionalised temperance (which has arguably done more damage to drinking habits in this country than the booze industry ever did). I am, however, a recidivist optimist: someone who strongly believes that we have an opportunity in our little section of the industry to make a profound impact upon attitudes toward drinking and drunkenness. The formula that I struck upon at the conclusion of The Beer Money Blog – that a well-spaced half-dozen of something quaffable, plus a bottle (or pint) or two of something weird and/or interesting, equals a regretless week – still resonates to me as both a potential solution to a bulk of the negative health impacts of alcohol consumption, as well as a useful means of consistently supporting the indie-folk that are making the good stuff.
So I guess the circle of life has closed-in on its tail: the principles of The Beer Money Blog have come back to inform the next phase of my relationship with beer, as well as the manner in which I chronicle it. As such, this year I’m going to dedicate much of my beer writing to ardently advocating moderation in our industry – particularly focussing on the speed and volume with which we are drinking, and the benefits of habitual (temporary) abstinence. I know what you’re thinking: sounds duller than a trip to a used pencil museum – but please bear with me. It’s important stuff that we need to talk about more often.
I remain stubbornly optimistic that a species capable of putting a dune-buggy on Mars is also capable of mastering the art of moderation. And in an effort to do my bit to realise this objective, I’m starting with the man in the mirror.