There’s a funny sketch that Jimmy Fallon does on his show called Thank You Notes, on which he comments and makes puns on various events in the news. On one program about a year ago, he feigned sincerity behind solemn piano notes, “Thank you, craft breweries, for making my drinking problem seem like a neat hobby.” We all got a good laugh.
When the laughter subsided, it was time to become introspective on the issue. We assume that problem drinking or high-risk drinking is attendant to a mindlessness, to people who are drinking for the purpose of drinking and satisfaction of a need to drink rather than a desire. Does a higher-end product, like our craft beers, somehow absolve us from overdoing it?
The proliferation of craft beer has begun to change the math on how beer fits within in broader cultural place, both in the virtual and real world (see, for instance, the late-night talk show reference); It’s also begun to change the math on how we approach safe and moderate consumption.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) says safe daily consumption is two beers for men and one beer for women; Weekly, 14 “drinks” is considered low-risk. This is true across the spirits and wine world, with their own idiosyncratic differences. Because we’re October, we’ll stick to beer.
We tend to believe that we care more about the craftsmanship and flavor than the alcohol by volume.”
However, this number pertaining to safe-drinking accounts for these “regular” beers clocking in at 5% alcohol by volume. This is likely to be the case because the majority of beer drinkers will still reach for light lagers. In most craft beers, though, 5% isn’t even the beginning.
“The rapid growth of the craft beer industry brought more options for consumers, including options with higher ABV,” said Aaron White, a Senior Scientific Advisor at the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “The average ABV of craft beer is a percentage point or so higher than a standard 5% beer. However, there are plenty of craft beers with ABV two or more times a standard serving ... it is important for consumers to know how much alcohol is in a serving and to adjust their consumption accordingly.”
Yuengling’s lager is a craft beer that fits the narrative of a typical serving, but the top rated beers on Beer Graphs and Beer Advocate do not (8% and 11% ABV’s, respectively). Craft beer's most darling style, the IPA, tends to lean toward the latter, with higher ABV beers trending toward being the new normal. But social media nods and retweets don’t come from well-lighted shots of readily-available amber lagers. Again, the math is being changed on us. Craft beer, too, is about status.
As humans, we’re masters at misleading ourselves. In the craft beer world, we’ve begun to justify our “neat habit” in a cloak of appreciation, advocacy, and artisanship. In other words, we tend to believe that we care more about the craftsmanship and flavor than the alcohol by volume.
Yes, this may be true. We’re no longer drinking those light, inexpensive lagers we bought in college for the sole purpose of determine whether or not we can drink 30 of them before we pass out. We appreciate the aromas and the mouthfeel and the finish more than we ever did while guzzling a beer out of something that equates to an unwashed hose.
It’s less about not drinking delicious beers than about being mindful about our consumption habits.”
Just because you increase the quality of something doesn’t mean it doesn’t still have adverse effects. It’s like jumping from 80% hamburger meat to 48 oz. tomahawk steaks. One is cheaper and kind of disgusting; One is inexpensive and delicious. But it’s still possible you get fat, unhealthy, and sick.
Amazingly, appreciation of the craftsmanship of brewing can still be done with a moderately-ABV’d beer. And, if craft beer is truly about all of those qualities, there are beers that fit this description well.
I write about beer. Drinking it is literally part of the job, and it’s not my attempting to grandstand here, but more just a self-searching that I hoped could get more people to lean toward a self-evaluation.
Have I had more than four drinks in a sitting in the past year? Check. More than 14 in a week? Check. Over-served myself and called an Uber? Check. I’m no saint, nor judge.
As the calendar charges ahead to another January, it’s less about not drinking delicious beers than about being mindful about our consumption habits, and making sure we don’t overdo it. Sure, those pastry stouts, barleywines, and big, boozy IPA were a nice treat at the holidays, but let’s give our livers, our sobriety, our wallets, and our waistlines a breather.
Firestone Walker 805 Blonde Ale
There aren’t many breweries that I hold in higher esteem than Firestone Walker. From their flagships to their brown box series to their one-off’s, the Paso Robles outfit is one of the best in the country. An easy drinking, balanced, west-coast blonde can kick off the “oh crap, I need to shed some pounds” resolutions.
Tree House Brewing Company Eureka
Sure, there are a couple knocks against this beer. Well, not about the beer, which is a beautifully-crafted, full-of-flavor 4% blonde ale. The knock is that it’ll be difficult to acquire if you don’t live in New England of if Eureka doesn’t appear on Tree House’s announce-as-we-package schedule. If it does? Find it.
Modern Times Black House
At 5.8%, this is a bit of a stretch as a low-calorie beer, but hear me out. Find this beer on nitro and enjoy the pillowy nature of a nitrogen-carbed Black House. Serve at or a little above room temperature and this beer is an indulgence, even at a lower ABV than most stouts. I swear you’ll only need one.
Pizza Port Pronto Session IPA
Pizza Port is the OG California brewpub and we love them. California hoppy beers may have fallen out of vogue with the new generation of craft beer fans, but there’s something great about falling back in love with a classic, original California brewery that’s been making world-class beers for 30 years.
Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout
Perhaps it’s in the water; Perhaps it’s the fact that Samuel Smith’s has been around for over 250 years. My take is that this is the best oatmeal stout on the market in America. It takes the roasted malts and combines them with the smooth sweetness of an oatmeal stout. While there are many great American examples of an oatmeal stout, the English do it best.
Manor Hill Grisette
A Grisette is basically a lighter farmhouse ale. Lower ABV, heavy on the hay/grass. This one is nice bright interpretation of the style with a bit of lemongrass shining in the light-bodied beer. It’s crushable, easy-to-drink during an afternoon of NFL playoff watching. A nice, chalky finish really ties this beer together. Feel free to have a few and not feel guilty.