I recently discovered a file on my computer called “Master Beer List.” It was my attempt circa 2010 to compile a record of the different beers I tried. More recently Untapped became the means by which myself and many a beer geek maintained a similar list. More recently Instagram has taken over these duties, my feed giving now revolving almost entirely around beer. The point I am getting at that a part of my enthusiasm for beer is curating the personal collection that grows with each new brew tasted. As a historian I have long been enamored by such things; maintenance of factoids and information, research and investigation of random topics of inquiry. Those predilections have carried over to craft beer nicely.
In an effort to further cultivate this, and to obfuscate the fact I’m a total booze-bag with something I can refer to as “research,” I have created a beer schedule for 2017. Each month I will drink only beers selected from a preset category. The word only is used loosely here. I’ll not turn down a beer given to me by someone because it doesn’t fit within the monthly scheme I’ve set up, nor will I be so stringent as to pass on something I’m not likely to see again, or that promises to be exemplary. The themes are meant to direct my consumption, with the goal of better understanding some aspect of beer as a result; my adherence to them will be strict, but reasonable. It should also be noted that the twelve themes here are intended to be loose. While an overarching principle will shepherd me, there is no telling what each month may bring in terms of trends, availability, and the like. The end result might be wildly different than what I have laid out here. I encourage everyone who reads this to plan their own Beer-Year schedule, or at he very least put in some effort to better educate yourself on beer in whatever ways you can.
January – Research Month
Rather than kick things off by restricting myself to a specific beer, my intent for the New Year is to begin by doing as much research as I can. Read, read, read. In the interest of breadth over depth, I anticipate utilizing mostly magazine articles and journals rather than books, and hope to leave a small synopsis of everything I read, or a proper citation at the very least so that others might find the same articles. No specific beer will be assigned to the month, instead I will stick to the theme of research by trying only beers that are new to me.
February – All Beer Week Related Beers and Activities
This one is based on two presumptions: that I will still be living in San Francisco through February of 2017 (SF Beer Week runs from the 10th to the 19th) and that enough beer will be made for that event that I’ll be able to find it all month. Both are good possibilities. A move might come more suddenly that I can account for, but my experience with SF Beer Week is that there is often enough beer in the form of specialty brews, one-offs, and collaborations, that it can still be had in the weeks following the event.
March – All European Beers
My knowledge of European beers has been hampered by the American Craft Beer movement. There is simply too much good beer being made domestically to spend time on imports. This will be the month I try to find a global beer balance. I’d initially thought to do all Irish beers in honor of St. Patrick’s day, but realized it might prove too limiting and expanded to include the whole continent.
April – No IPA April
This should be simultaneously the easiest and most difficult month to get through. Finding a place with something other than IPAs on the menu is going to be easy. Not ordering one, either out of habit or desire is going to the be the hard part. I love IPAs like everyone else, but they have become my default beer. Too often I’ll give a draft list a cursory glance, spot the IPA, and make my order. They’ve become too easy. Last July I did 31 Days With No IPA on a whim and inspired this while mess I’m concocting now. I changed to to April or two reasons. Firstly, going one month without an IPA is a cruel joke of a kind, making April an appropriate time to do so. Second No IPApril has a nice ring to it and, frankly, will make a great hashtag.
May – Saisons, Sours, Wild Ales, Brets, etc.
By May we should be opening up the summer beer season, so it seemed a likely time to get in touch with saisons. My fear, however, is that on top of being slightly less available than other styles, I’ll get completely sick of them after a couple of weeks. Because of this, I’ve added sours, wild ales, and brets to the theme for May. Sweet, sour, and funky flavors will rule the month.
June – All Local Beers
For June the goal is to drink only beers produced within 25 mile radius of where I live, expanding that boundary should I exhaust everything in that range. This will also be a good change to visit and tour the few breweries near me that I’ve not had a chance to, and to spend money only within my community, a goal I would like to work towards in more aspects of my life than just beer, but isn’t always so easily achievable.
July – All Lagers and Pilsners
With summer in full swing, lagers and pilsners are in order to beat the heat. I plan on revisiting the standard American lagers we all cut our teeth on, like Budweiser and Coors, but also seeking out the many versions of these styles being produced by the craft world.
August – All SMASH, Single Hop, and Summer Beers
I’m a big fan of SMASH and single hop beers. Though I harbor very few delusions about ever having such a refined palate that I’ll have the ability to confidently pick out a particular malt or hop variety from a given brew, I do enjoy the process of trying to get to that place, and spending time with a beer I know has specific ingredients to consider. Though increasingly popular, these might prove hard to find with regularity, so I’ve also added anything that bills itself as a summer beer to my options for the month.
September – Amber and Red Ales
Moving into the fall, this month is good to turn towards dark beer. I want to pivot out of lighter summer beers gently, so amber ales make the most sense. Nothing lighter in color than copper shall pass my lips in September. Ambers and Reds are both styles that I generally ignore, not because I dislike them, but because I find others tastier and more interesting.
October – Anti-Pumkin Spice Month and Oktoberfest
I never cared for pumpkin spice beers to begin with, but in the last few years they’ve become shamefully overblown. This October will be about seeking out anything that is characterized as being a fall beer and that is not fouled with pumpkin spices. Oktoberfest beers should be plentiful then, too, offering some more variety. Should I run out of options, there is the possibility of steering into the pumpkin spice craze; maybe by embracing it I will come to understand, or even like it, though the later is doubtful.
November – Aged Beers and Strong Ales
I’ll have to tread lightly this month, and try not to drink myself blind on the oldest, strongest beers I can find, with the aim of consuming nothing under 8% ABV. Given the time of year and the availability of high alcohol brews I don’t see this theme being a problem.
December – Winter Warmers and Dark Beers
I’m not the biggest fan of winter warmer beers, but this is the year I change that. I’ll seek out winter warmers and drink them until I love them (or make myself sick trying). Should I find myself in a place where none are found, I’ll substitute a warmer for the darkest thing on tap. This seems like a good compromise and a fine way to continue beating the December cold.
As stated above, the themes presented here will remain loose. They are not meant to be too proscriptive, but intended to guide my hand through the myriad beers available to me, to ensure I keep trying to new things, and most importantly to make sure I am thinking about what I drink rather than mindlessly guzzling it down. I’m certain that some of these will change in some small part, if not entirely as the year unfolds; there will be times I break my self-imposed rules (I’ll likely have an IPA in April). But I am also certain that at the end of each month I’l have discovered something previously unknown to me; some subtly, some nuance, or some bit of information that I’d never have discovered otherwise, making me a more knowledgable and better educated beer drinker, which is something we should all strive for.