Don't Drink Water
Thoughts On The Drunk Elephant In The Room
Sometimes I believe that all of our thoughts are up in the atmosphere (troposphere, to be exact) connected in some bizarre nature – like a human internet. The brain is such a vast, complicated system, that I believe there’s more facets untouched, comparing in such a way to the dark, depths of the ocean blue. Obviously, I have no data to even back this up, just anecdotal happenstances and coincidences that make me go “Hmm…”. You’re just going to have to accept it (Edit: I found out this is an actually thing called the Noosphere.).
Apropos, the idea of writing about drinking in relation to the brewing industry has been at the back of my mind for quite some time. In need of another blog post myself, and the thought tickling my frontal lobe, I was coincidentally greeted with Shaun Hill’s thoughts on the very subject last week (despite the fact Hill has since disregarded the interview).
This was a good jumping off point, as any, and I’ll start my thoughts off by being pretty frank:
We, the brewing industry, have a problem with alcohol, and it’s continuing to grow out of control.
John Mulaney, easily one of my favorite comedians of the past several years, has a short, but great joke on the subject of drinking. Mulaney begins by stating: “I don’t drink, I used to drink, but than I drank too much, and I had to stop.”
I’ve always resonated with John’s bit, even if the special is over 6 years old. That one specific line hits a point of reality for half a second, but then suddenly returns to a comedic ‘normalcy’. At the time of hearing the joke, I didn’t laugh, but thought “Why would a 28 year old suddenly stop drinking?”. After being in the brewing industry long enough to realize how alcohol has become romanticized, John’s decision is starting to make more and more sense.
I was never a big drinker, nor really am I now. My first sip of alcohol was senior year of high school, with a mix of old New Belgium Fat Tire(s) my parents had won at the Catholic school auction, probably 5 years prior, and some grain alcohol – Yum yum. Fast forwarding to now, my drink choices have (hopefully) drastically changed. Though, the longer I’ve been in the industry, the more I actually find myself drinking less. Maybe it’s dependent on personality, but the more I’m surrounded by beer, specifically, the more I’ve come to respect it for what I create, rather than consume… Drawing a mental line of disposition, in some sense.
Regardless, this is not to say this mentality has always been the case, and there have been quite a few times in the recent years where I’ve questioned my own sanity when it comes to consumption.
Ukraine was a big defining point, in regards to the above. For the first few months of my arrival there, it was an all out war on drinking alcohol (probably a poor choice of words). Floods of emotion, concerning both those of missing home and being in a new place, with new friends and adventures to be had, were deafening. Ukraine, for a very long time, has been pro-alcohol, as with a lot of post Soviet countries (Note: It’s a serious discussion for another time, but if the average lifespan of your country is 66 years old for males, and the leading cause of death is heart disease in relation to alcohol (world rank of 2), then there’s a problem that needs to be admitted and fixed.). These emotions combined with a societal relentlessness to just keep drinking, stirred up some debaucherous decisions.
Honestly put, I was drinking a lot, and it seemed like all the time. More in the first few months, than I had in the past several years. Was it fun? Fucking hell right it was fun. It always is, this mentality that adding alcohol to any situation will make everything exponentially better, like a black box of mystery awaits any of those who dare consume.
Once I had settled into the country, and the nervous honeymoon jitters wore off, I really started to calm down and look at my actions. Coming into work off of a (bad) vodka hangover and trying to function off a couple hours of sleep is the absolute worst. Having a few samples off the zwickel made things a tad better, but now I’m just perpetuating the problem. My process was shit, and my mind was an absolute mess… It’s disappointing to think back, and come to that realization.
Something downright needed to change, and the solution had to come from myself. I had become something that affected not only my job, but my quality of life. Blaming the distance from home and all that jazz was easy, but adding a dangerous component like alcohol didn’t solve the problem; it only exacerbated it. I realized I needed a restart. I didn’t want to give this perception like I’m the crazy American mascot head brewer; while from a marketing stand point, this might be seen as a positive. Not that I wanted to be ‘super serious guy’ either, but in my eyes, the team I lead looked up to me, and pushing that look of hungover stupor doesn’t come across as a positive influence. Getting back in running helped immensely, along with finding a few friends and hobbies to occupy my time outside of work. While I focused on trying to keep a balance, it meant turning down a lot of (very) late nights with people. I tried to keep those times for the weekend, or the occasional easy next work day. Still do. Everything in moderation, I suppose.
So that’s me, my brief side of the story. I could go deeper into other instances, but the gist of my point comes across. For some of you reading this, the issue may be hard to see. You’re thinking, “He’s a minority in this situation”. Maybe you even read the title and sneered. If you’re not apart of the industry, you’re probably blind to it. But it’s possible you see it in other facets of your life. And if you are in the industry and don’t recognize it, you’re not looking hard enough.
Last fall, I woke up to a thread on TheBrewery subreddit, that in a very sincere, bittersweet way, drove a sigh of relief in my mind. Having always assumed I was the odd one out for never going super hard, either after work or in general, it was extremely welcoming to read (from complete strangers), the tribulations many of us in the industry have experienced. Additionally, the urgency of wanting to make a change, either by filling those holes with more wholesome activities, or becoming mindful of your consumption (subbing La Croix for beer, as I’m pretty sure we all just have a carbonic acid addiction), was quite refreshing. I urge you to read through the entire thread, as it’s a microscopic view on a niche problem within a large industry.
I’ve also seen it with my own eyes, as many have describe in the post above. When you’re out at beer festivals, or any brewery related events, the veil between the appropriate amount of consumption and just pushing the limit is significantly blurred. I mean, you’re literally there to drink. You’re soon 6 beers deep and someone pulls out a 10 year vertical of *insert famous stout here*, and your night just got a hell of lot more intense. Hell, even recently at CBC, people were going at in within the early morning, even though the BA posted a time limit when beer could be served at the conference.
Take a look on social media at beer festivals as the best example of what I mean. Great American Beer Festival is the first on the chopping block, as it’s just a shit show to begin with. Even more niche festivals, especially those catered towards brewers, have maybe an even deeper rooted problem. Mikkeller Beer Celebration was just a few weeks back, and while I wish I was there, the amount of alcohol you see being consumed is just outright insane. Everyone is scrambling for pours of rare/hype beers, and it just looks sloppy.
Psychology and social acceptance have a large impact on these types of things, and I don’t even have a glaring chance of trying to break them down. In the deep recesses of our minds, we all know that the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism describes moderate drinking levels of 1 drink a day for women, and 2 for men, with binge drinking occurring when you’ve exceeded that level for more than 5 days out of the month. We can scoff, laugh, and disregard this information all we want, making quippy jokes about how “we’re just having fun”, but this shit is not a joke, nor was it ever. Drinking at beer festivals or events is like the mentality of eating tons of bad food on the weekend – calories, or for this instance, consumption levels, don’t count.
It’s little hard to even admit, but those that have who have worked under me, sometimes can’t function after a night of hard drinking without a glass of beer. Hell, I even mentioned it above with taking samples of the sample valve. Hair of the dog is a literal thing to them. Alcohol use in such a way just snowballs, affecting everything in the whole brewery organism, from process to safety. Plus, they’re always just so moody.
Hopefully, in no way am I trying to come across as some ‘holier than thou’ character, casting my innate judgement on those who operate in such a way. We’ve all been there. Again, everything I’ve articulated here is an experience I’ve gone through myself at some point or another, and come to the realization that it’s not healthy. Awareness of how we function and perceive ourselves to the outside world, especially as craft beer expands, is all I’m after.
Sadly, I don’t have a direct, absolute solution for any of this. I just know the romanticized drinking in the industry is a discussion that absolutely needs to be taken more seriously, and talked about much more often. And the issue extends far outside just the brewing industry. We’re constantly surround by a culture that deems excessive alcohol consumption as a cool thing to do, and you’re a weird one if you don’t. How many of us brag about how fucked up they got last night? Taking a look at any alcoholic related advertising, especially those for hard alcohol and cocktails, and you’ll see how the nail is really being driven in. South Park put this reality into perspective best.
The right way to build a solution, is to begin to talk about the problem in the first place. Speak up, talk with others about this issue, both in the industry and outside of it. With every addiction, lies an underlying scar of what started the abuse to begin with. While mental health in the brewing industry almost sounds like an oxymoron (“How can someone who makes beer for a living have stress?”), as someone who’s been apart of this community for awhile, it’s very real. Low wages, high standards & expectations, and a competing marketplace (for both growth and careers), are all serious topics that need to be brought to the adult table.
When you’re constantly surrounding by a solution to stress, for 12 hours (or longer) out of your day, sometimes 2×2 does equal 5.