Where are you in the beer drinking skill tree, asks Anthony Gladman
Monday 23 March 2020
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The Island of Ireland
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Humans love a pecking order. It makes life so much simpler. If you want advice on your soggy soufflé, who are you going to ask: the pot washer or the chef in the fancy hat?
There's a food channel on YouTube that pits cooks with differing levels of expertise against one another. "I'm a level two chef," someone will chirp in the intro to each video, as if they were building a skill tree in Dungeons and Dragons.
This is an absurd claim to make. There is no Dungeon Master in the kitchen doling out XP for completion of culinary feats. Nor are there any universally agreed and enforced thresholds between the supposed levels.
But on the other hand, it's completely natural. There's no denying that some people are better at cooking than others. And people like it when their skills and experience are recognised. Which got me thinking: do we do the same with beer drinkers?
When you first start drinking beer, chances are it will be a supermarket lager. That's just statistics. Picture yourself as the lowly Level 1 Beer Drinker, fresh character sheet in hand, and still unsure which one is the d4. You stand before an imposing wall of unfamiliar cans, wondering what to choose, hoping a kindly NPC will cough up a hint.
Perhaps beer is just something you drink to get drunk, or because your mates do. Or maybe you're interested because it seems grownup. Basically a lot of beer's allure will be down to things with which it is associated rather than the actual beer itself.
Its bitterness is an unfamiliar sensation, maybe one you've not yet learned to enjoy, but still... there's something there. A faltering inner voice suggests maybe another can might be a good idea, because that last one wasn't all bad. Not by a long shot, in fact.
By the time you're a Level 2 Beer Drinker you're moving on from quickie one-sheet drinking adventures to proper campaigns. Taprooms are your dungeons now. You've added another d8 to your hit dice and damnit, you want to use it.
This is the time when most drinkers grow curious about craft beer. They've accepted that they like beer in general, and want to move onto trying 'the good stuff', whatever that might be.
For many this means exploring hop flavours in pale ales and IPAs, after rolling initiative of course. As Level 2 Beer Drinkers expand their ideas of what beer can taste like, many feel the siren song of unfamiliar beers drawing them into ever deeper waters. Make a saving roll for dexterity to avoid drowning.
Sexy beers from across the seas appear over the horizon at this stage. Some Level 2 Beer Drinkers will 'try a bit of Belgian' and never go back. Others may uncover a love of German lager. Still more will have their heads turned by American beers muled over the Atlantic. Whichever path you take, they all lead swiftly on to Level 3.
Now it's time to increase your constitution bonus and become proficient in either the Holding Your Booze or Hangover Resistance skills. If you're lucky you might even learn a couple of cantrips as well, barroom tricks to keep your drinking buddies entertained.
You'll have no time for surreptitious half-nerdery here in Level 3. No keeping one eye on preserving your status as a norm. Now is the time to embrace full-hearted geekdom. Take a dive down the beery rabbit hole, ideally with a well balanced party that includes at least one cleric for healing and one barbarian for clearing a path to the bar.
Level 3 drinkers, grown weary of clean brews, will often seek out wild and barrel-aged beers. They crave challenging beers with complex flavours. Stuff that would make more faint-hearted souls put down their glass and back away from the table.
If you've reached this stage of your beer drinking career, then you're probably already visiting some dedicated websites in your spare time, and you may also have dipped your toes into the murky waters of online forums. Perhaps you've even subscribed to a specialist beer magazine. Nerd.
At Level 3 you took an interest in beer and turned it into an identity. Now at Level 4 you're so secure in this beer-steeped way of being that you no longer need to tell everyone you meet about it. It just is.
Your FOMO-fuelled days of chasing around after 'special bottles' are not entirely behind you, but for the most part you're done with all that. You recognise that there will always be another exciting beer just around the corner. And besides, you have a mighty bag of holding in which you're ageing all manner of beers that will beat anything you could pick up straight off the shelf.
In the meantime you're turning back to classic lagers and best bitter on cask. These are beers to be savoured with a new-found appreciation: great brewing doesn't have to be showy. Your thirst for novelty has at last been slaked. You're more interested in getting to know certain beers deeply. Level 4 drinkers are on a long-term quest for the beers that will become classics in ten years' time.
And while enjoying a drink is still important to you, you're starting to put just as much emphasis on the places you drink in and the people you drink with. Beer is more than the liquid in the glass for you, it's a way of seeing the world.
A progression like this might be familiar to many drinkers but it isn't a rigid path down which all must travel. Nor does reaching the end grant anyone the right to look down on those still at the beginning.
If you learn anything at all while building your Beer Drinker skill tree you should learn this: the 'right' beer is the one which the drinker enjoys. If someone, after trying all the brewing world has to offer, still prefers to stick to Fosters...
Actually no, that's taking things too far. But we must at least recognise that the Fosters drinkers won't thank us for telling them how awful their taste in beer is. And liking one type of beer over another doesn't make you a better person. Judgemental snobs are the worst.
So don't focus on what other people drink during your quest to level up your own beer knowledge. Just focus on yourself. This is the zen of beer.
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