Fatigue is a dangerous thing for a beer lover. It plays with your mind, causing you to question what you know to be true and second guess your old friends. The symptoms of such worrisome weariness are familiar and difficult to avoid, even for the most optimistic craft beer enthusiast.
The longer I am part of the craft beer community, the more acute my awareness of the pressing concerns of beer fatigue. I’m not alone in this. A quick review of forum posts on BeerAdvocate.com shows that the first warning sign of fatigue manifests in an odd reaction to a once favored brand. The first stage is marked by denial: “Maybe I got a bad bottle,” the poor soul mutters. The ailment quickly progresses to anger: “When did the damned brewery stop putting hops in its IPA?” Things spiral downwards from here.
The now jaded beer aficionado next turns to the dark alleys of experimentation, hunting down anything to score the high he once enjoyed. He hooks up with a lot of different, seedy brands, never staying in one place too long, all the time wishing he could just simply return to the comforts of home and earlier days.
These lost beer souls will eventually have to face facts. After a few years of trying new beers, every beer lover hits a wall. Beer fatigue can strike anywhere. Against all odds, I recently found myself bored while attending the Great American Beer Festival, for many the holy grail of beerdom. Surrounded by thousands of beers from hundreds of breweries, I couldn’t find much that interested me or my palate. But this tell-tale symptom was familiar: I had again contracted beer fatigue.
For those beer fans left questioning themselves, I’m here to say, don’t worry. It gets better. In these circumstances, you have several options to combat this disheartening disorder. The first step is simply recognizing and acknowledging your predicament, a difficult move for many. After attaining a certain level of beer knowledge, you just expect your palate will serve as a loyal companion and guide, not turn on you. Instead of belligerently ranting in Internet forums, recognize that your palate may have adapted to its surroundings, taking on a greater resistance to hops, malt, and alcohol. It’s not that your favorite beers have secretly been altered, you’re experiencing palate shift.
In these circumstances, the most effective approach is perhaps the least intuitive: just take a break. A few days or weeks away from beer every once in a while helps clear your mind and refocus your passion. Those lingering frustrations over the hop levels in your once favored IPA will disappear after you’ve gone beerless for some time.
For those who want perhaps a less dire remedy, focus on training your senses to appreciate the subtle differences in beer as opposed to leaning on the palate punishing monsters you’re relying on for your flavor fix. Try blind and non-blind tastings of a single style and focus your mind and senses on appreciating the diverse characteristics comprised in the selected group.
When challenged by the danger of beer fatigue and palate shift, I focus and find a new path. For refuge, I’ve followed the great beer drinker Henry David Thoreau’s advice: “Simplify, simplify.” After unsatisfying affairs with hop bombs and boozy beers, I rediscovered my love of the subtle beauty of well-crafted lagers. After my wilderness years, I’m now never happier than with a half-liter of a zesty German pils in my hand.
Adaptation my friends has long been the key to our survival and it’s no different in the world of beer. Add a dose of self-awareness and you can avoid or at least manage the dangers of beer fatigue.
-Article appeared in Issue 58 of BeerAdvocate Magazine.
Many times I ponder personal palate shift when drinking commercial hoppy beers. Then I drink my homebrewed IPA’s which I know for sure haven’t changed much over the years as far as hopping levels are concerned and still seem just as hoppy as they always have so naturally I come to the conclusion that its not me, its them that has changed.
Recently bought a pretty fresh 6 pack of Smuttynose finest kind IPA – to me it doesn’t have the hop punch as when it first came out which has been my experience with this beer in the last couple of years. But yet a Harpoon IPA still tastes similar to my experiences in the last few years, and even seems hoppier than Smutty IPA is these days. There’s creep going on for sure, but I sincerely doubt its my palate or Harpoon’s beer.
I am always self evaluating and realize its a possibility, but I don’t just assume its me. Sometimes things do actually change at the brewery – it took Harpoon, Stone, and Victory quite some time to dial in their beers after upgrading their brewhouses, and some beers never really recovered the taste profile they were known for – these days, Green Flash seems to be going through the same thing.
Beautiful, thank you
This was a nice article to read. I think it’s good to get over the infatuation stage, but it seems like the craziest beer geeks have to go through a phase of wearing themselves out. I like the Thoreau quote too: Simplify. Simplify.
A friend on twitter read this post and said in response that sometimes it’s good to realize that not every beer has to be an adventure. I agree, I have found myself returning to certain beers that I enjoy drinking because that’s what I want. I don’t need to try all the new stuff anymore, although I do enjoy it when it happens. I’m happy with the damn good six pack that a brewery has been making consistently for years.