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Zen and the Art of Craft Beer
by Erik Wollschlager
Zen and the Art of Craft Beer
Balance. The very world that we live in is based on this simple term—scientists call it homeostasis, but simple, beer drinking folks like us call it balance. Balance is, in fact, one of the best parts of beer—how someone can take all of those ingredients and make them fit together perfectly is something truly magical. Not since the TASTES GREAT/LESS FILLING debate has balance been so important, but here in Buffalo, balance is indeed making a new name for itself.
Beer culture has burst into Buffalo, breaking down the Blue barrier that once held sway over taphandles pulled at each bar and tavern in the region. With it comes a lot of things one may not expect—new flavors, new experiences, and, of course, a new language. Words like ‘dank,’ and ‘hazy’ flow off the tongue as though we’ve been saying them for years, but most Buffalonians are just now experiencing the greatness of craft beer. Another term that is gaining momentum is ‘Beer Geek.’ Geek, as we know it, has taken on a more endearing term—a geek is an expert of sorts; there are comic book geeks, sci-fi geeks, fantasy geeks, and now, there are Beer Geeks.
The duality of the Beer Geek is a philosophical battle that has seemingly been raging for ages. Historically, the argument is aimed at the ultimate meaning of life, and perhaps the same is true in this instance, but it appears that today’s beer geek adheres largely to one of two philosophies; there are those who seek the holy grail of ales—the best beer ever brewed! and there are those whose favorite beer is this one right here.
The “Seekers,” as we’ll call them are always searching for the ultimate prize. They’re standing in lines on release day. They’re meeting in parking lots on the borders of gerrymandered distribution routes. They’re working expertly coded personal ads on craigslist to find adequate trade partners. “Single, gray Elder seeking Vermonter to Sip the Sunshine,” it may read. Bottles get traded like the cards of our youth, networks are built, and soon, we have an exclusive beer underground society. These ale-seeking agnostics cannot be sated; their thirst for knowledge and wisdom is their defining characteristic. Friend of the Buffalo Niagara Brewer’s Association and noted Beer Enthusiast, Paul Marko had this to say, “...beer can be rated on its intrinsic quality and not just opinion—with concerned appreciation developed through a “palate sharpening” effort of fact gathering and education. Beer is a subject of serious consideration and lifelong learning and a true geek will continue to taste and never stop the process.” Just like the scribes of our ancient past, these geeks are committed to sharing their journeys with us—their wisdom is in every RateBeer post, every Untappd check-in, and even here in the pages of Artvoice. We, as a culture of beer lovers, owe the Seekers a debt of gratitude.
The yin to the seekers yang are the ‘Sippers.’ Their passion lies not in the search, but in the moment. The Zen masters of Beer Geekdom, the approach of the Sipper may be less adventurous. Their focus is on the glass in front of them and the people around them. They’re capturing the moment—the buzz of the room, the jukebox playing a familiar tune. Perhaps they are enjoying the silence of the moment; a brew kettle reaching its boiling point, and bubbling hungrily for the hops to be added. Noted author and brewer, Ethan Cox of Community Beer Works, identifies more with the Sippers. “As a rule, I am more concerned with cultivating the goodwill and positive impressions of homebrewers than of ‘beer geeks’ when I think about the most critical consumers we serve. They have generally a greater understanding of the beer—process and ingredients—and are less often influenced by the consumerist aspects of the industry, since they can and do make beers of equal or greater quality than the best commercial breweries.” The Sipper represents the creative side of the Beer Geek infinity; with dozens of successful batches under their belt, they can appreciate the work that went into the beer. Each sip tells a story of successes and failures, trials and errors. Their tales are written in the lacing on the glass.
Balance. Yin and Yang. Thanks to social networking, there is a place where these two philosophies can meet and come together as one. Willard Brooks, President of the Buffalo Niagara Brewer’s Association, has created Buffalo Beer Geeks—a place for such philosophical debates. While the facebook page acts mostly as a message board right now, Willard has stated that Beer Geeks hopes to organize events where these conversations can take place in the analog world.
With beer geeks, as with life, there is no right answer. There is a certain peace to the Zen of the Sipper, and there is a commendable determination lying deep within the Seeker. Whether you find yourself in either camp or neither camp, you can find a home with Buffalo Beer Geeks. We’ll catch you on the sip side.
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