I drink a lot of beer.
Since my first notable beer in college — an Allagash Dubbel, junior year, at Granny’s Burritos in Portland, Maine — the beverage has been a companion to my social life. I drink beer for the reasons I assume everyone else does: because I like how it tastes, and how it makes me feel. Craft beer has become a hobby, elevating my meals and providing inspiration for travel near and far. I got this column partly because I was already a writer, but also because of my passion for the subject matter.
You can, of course, have too much of a good thing. And while I've striven for balance, cutting alcohol out of my life on weeknights in the last few years, there are times when I wish I drank less. The holidays this year, with beers pushing 8, 9, and 10 percent ABV lining my fridge, were one of those times. Beer has become so ingrained in my celebrations and time off that I haven't stopped to consider why.
I’ve never done Dry January, the monthlong abstention from booze that marks the New Year for many resolution-seekers. But it was important for me to commit to it this year, based on the reasons above and as a reset to my relationship with beer, and alcohol in general.
Here are a few beer-centric observations more than halfway through my beer-free month.
It's both harder and easier than I thought.
I’m not gonna lie: I miss it. As I write this I’m in the middle of my third week, and there have been some challenging moments: a date night with my wife (she’s doing it, too, which helps a lot), dinner and drinks with friends on a Friday, and a couple of football Sundays. The first weekend, I found myself to be pretty irritable, and while that went away, I do miss the stress-release I get from that first drink. On the plus side, I had more fun than I thought I would (feared I wouldn’t?) being out at a bar while sober. It’s a confidence-builder to know I don’t need a drink to enjoy myself while out.
People like to talk about Dry January.
You know that friend on social media who eats healthy for a week or starts going to the gym and posts constantly about it? That’s pretty much everyone who does Dry January. I realize I’m being that person right now, but I’ve found it empowering to share my commitment with others. In brief conversations, many fellow Dry January-ers revealed themselves to me, including several co-workers, my barber, my editor, and total strangers on the commuter rail. Search #DryJanuary on Instagram and you’ll find thousands of others in your position. There are a lot of bad parts to social media, but people bonding together to make positive changes to their health seems to me to be very good.
Restaurants still aren't ready for non-drinkers.
Try going to a crowded bar and ordering a mocktail when none are explicitly listed on the drink menu. At one place, the response we got was, "I'm not really sure what you want." At another, they offered to make us anything from the cocktail menu sans booze, but creating your own drink on the fly with other people impatiently waiting around you isn't easy. Because of that, seltzer with lime has been my default drink of choice.
I miss the taste of beer.
Did I mention I miss beer? I specifically miss the pungent juiciness of a New England-style IPA while cooking; a roasty coffee stout while sitting by the fire; the ripe banana or candied sugar notes of a Belgian tripel or quad. I miss the Harpoon and Whistlepig barrel-aged Baltic porter that’s sitting in my fridge, and the Hill Farmstead imperial stout mellowing in my cellar. My beer habit is shaped largely by variety, and it’s a lot to give up.
But . . .
Nonalcoholic beers are a very good thing.
There's nothing that quite replicates the taste of your favorite hop-bomb, but nonalcoholic beers from two breweries have been suitable stand-ins. Athletic Brewing Co.'s Run Wild IPA is my favorite. The Connecticut brewery's flagship IPA is brewed just like a regular beer, using a special process that leaves it below 0.5 percent ABV. It's delicious, and has enough piney bitterness to quench my IPA cravings. Athletic's Upside Dawn golden ale is also good, as is Brooklyn Brewery's new Special Effects hoppy lager. The latter two are a bit sweeter/more bread-y. All three are below 100 calories.
I don't miss hard seltzer.
I’ve had hard seltzer — I’m a drinking adult who exists on this earth in 2020, after all — and it’s fine. And while I’m well aware that hard seltzer sales are way up, that sales of some beer brands are down, and that Bud Light is incongruously just slapping its name on another version of boozy bubble water, I haven’t been swayed by the trend. Hard seltzer, to me, is a vehicle to inebriation. Part of what I love about drinking beer, bourbon, or a glass of red wine is the experience, of identifying flavors and comparing them to others I’ve had, of connecting to a brewer or place.
At its best, beer is a rewarding hobby. Some time away from it makes me glad it’s mine.
Gary Dzen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.