Beers with a Stoic: Stop “curating” beer. Start “thinking” beer.

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Among the beer-related buzzwords that I’d like to see dumped from the top of the Burj Khalifa, then stomped, incinerated, drawn, quartered and dowsed with a flagon of Budweiser fresh from heating to a low boil in the microwave, is “curated” in all its varied and chronically over-used tenses.

“Curated” is making me so ill-tempered that I’ve no real choice but appeal to the court of last resort (it’s called a dictionary, people) and take note of what this poor, abused word actually is supposed to mean.

Curated … carefully chosen and thoughtfully organized or presented; selected, organized, and presented using professional or expert knowledge.

From my vantage point there’s an immediate and obvious problem.

Most of the time when I see the word “curated” being used to describe an establishment’s beer selection (usually on draft), my inspection of these offerings in search of a discernible pattern reveals little or no indication that expertise has been applied to the task in any way.

I’d even settle for “well-intentioned amateurish” as opposed to “professional,” because at least then someone on staff might be interested in learning how the process best works, but even this low bar is seldom cleared.

Rather, yet again I find myself viewing a pell-mell, random mustering of beers, as destined to senselessly rotate in perpetuity, representing a fraction of beer’s stylistic diversity, tied to nothing in terms of organizational principle, and evincing no intelligent design whatever.

Of course, no restaurant would dare approach its food menu in such a scattershot, predictably futile way. Perhaps that’s because fewer chefs than bar managers can afford to don blindfolds and leave money on the table; meanwhile, as it pertains to the beer we’ll be drinking with these thoughtfully executed meals, the serially misused word “curated” has come to describe something that’s very nearly polar opposite of what it should:

“See, next time you drop by and all our taps – well, all except that wretched dog shampoo PBR – are pouring a different beer than last time, it means we’re curating like a house on fire.”

Sorry, but it doesn’t. This actually means you’re “shuffling,” and on top of it, “curated” is not a synonym for “mindlessly rotated.”

What’s worse, “mindlessly rotated” means you’re engaged in a lazy and clueless kowtowing to a relatively small segment of disproportionately loud untapped app compilers, abetting the scourge of atrophied attention spans, and worst of all, ignoring the ever-present silent majority of your beer drinking customers, who’d really like nothing more than to be allowed to equate the notion of “curating” with a pleasant, consistent, reasonably approachable pint of good beer (as opposed to Lite or Ultra), one that tastes good with food, doesn’t knock them backwards off their stools after ten ounces owing to high alcohol content (this being booze’s job, anyway), and welcomes them back like an dear old friend when they return the following week.

But hey; whatever. Tap another trendy, wildly unbalanced IPA, and if any remains in the keg after a few weeks, use it to strip the barroom floor.

At this juncture, don’t get mad at me, sulk and stalk away. Instead, get even with me by asking the obvious retaliatory question, which goes something like “if you’re so damn smart, then tell me how you’d curate a draft beer selection.”

Shucks, that’s an easy one.

I’d do it just the same way I always have.

But first, by now it should be readily apparent that had Dr. Frankenstein chosen “craft” beer as his chief inspiration, the subsequently sapient creation would have emerged from the laboratory as a Sour Barrel-Aged Pastry IPA – in short, an amalgam of the handful of beer styles that have come to dominate new-school draft line residencies, consequently crowding out whole parcels of worthy beer-style real estate.

As much as this annoys me, deep down I’m aware that these many bad outcomes aren’t the result of a conscious conspiracy, especially when the right to underachieving ignorance is constantly being trumpeted as guaranteed somewhere amid the yellowed, crumbling pages of the US Constitution.

Rather, as with mindless repetition of the word “curated” itself, it’s about beer literacy (or its absence), and as such, my personal point of view remains unchanged.

As time passes, ‘Merican attention spans shrink amid the corrosive influences of visually-oriented social media, and the base of communal beer knowledge among consumers grows wider (i.e., more consumers than ever before are vaguely aware that beer can be about more than watery golden lager) but also correspondingly more shallow, because fewer consumers than ever understand the neglected dimensions of the non-watery golden lager territory they’re missing.

When the average consumer is confronted with seemingly endless permutations of IPAs, Sours and the stray Captain Crunch Tequila Barrel Aged Imperial Cream Ale, to the exclusion of English Mild, Munich Dunkel and Oatmeal Stout (and dozens of other styles), the non-depth of comprehension becomes hegemonic and self-reinforcing. When just a few styles are all they see, other interpretations might as well not exist.

Think about the kitchen again, and consider these words from Martha Stewart’s website:

“Orchestrating a meal is just that: It’s a carefully composed combination of ingredients, textures, and flavors that come together to create wonderful new memories.”

But for beer:

“All our beers are rated really high at the websites where the beer geeks go. That’s as far as we’re prepared to go when ordering beer.”

Cult-favorite extreme beers, while perfectly fine in a calculated context, have the potential to confuse and perplex many consumers; however, because human nature ordains a reluctance to “look bad” by asking for guidance, these guests quietly retreat to mainstream beers, which at the end of the day do the job and don’t offend – not to mention those who reject beer entirely and look to other alcoholic beverages.

Here’s my answer: To properly “curate” a beer selection is to intelligently compartmentalize and be able to teach it.

There should be a few fixed session-strength beers to encourage multiple, repeat sales (making it easier to calculate one’s fitness to drive safely), with others in the middle in terms of alcohol content, as well as a handful of higher octane selections.

There should be a sprinkling of imported beers to accompany the “craft drafts,” given that some beer styles are better when brewed “over yonder” (think certified Trappists or Baltic-style Porters from Poland). You need varied price points and pour sizes, with maltier beers available for food, and hoppier ones for stand-alone consumption and aperitif capability.

And: It makes no sense to have three or four IPAs (or sours, or any style) on draft all at once when you can make restricted choice work, because one or two IPAs will concentrate the attention of hopheads and deplete kegs all the more quickly.

Remember the profit imperative? It matters.

In closing, apart from this tortured “curated” usage, other fingernail-scratched blackboard words for me include speakeasy, artisanal, handcrafted and crispy boi.

Aargh.

How I detest the words crispy boi.

Hearing them almost makes me want to give up my life’s work and drink hard seltzer with an Underberg chaser – though not quite.

As a precaution, it would be a good idea to drink those remaining New Glarus Two Women lagers we brought back from Wisconsin, so if you’ll excuse me …

Photo credit: Relaxing in Haarlem with a Tripel Karmeliet, Haarlem NL (2023).


Beers with a Stoic closes a circle that dates to 1978, when my first college class was “Intro to Philosophy.” Later, philosophy and history were my major and minor, respectively. Stoicism comes to us from ancient Greece, positing that to embrace the virtues of wisdom, courage, justice and moderation, we can attain “ataraxia,” or a sense of inner tranquility and harmony in our own lives, focusing on matters we can control — thoughts, emotions, and actions — while accepting the things we cannot, like the actions of others, or the natural course of events taking place in the world around us. No one is perfect, least of all me. But we all keep trying, pausing here and there for a beer. For more: Stoicism.

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