Allow Me to Re-Introduce Myself

Optional musical accompaniment to this post:

So it’s been a minute since I last updated you on the comings and goings at Anti-Hero Brewing. It’s been a busy year inside and outside of brewing. I spent a good portion of February in St. Croix soaking up as much of the sun that could penetrate my chest sweater. I’ve also managed to sneak in three brew days already this year. That may not sound impressive (I mean, it boils down – no pun intended – to one per month), but you have to remember that here in the Boston area we spend most of the winter in sub-freezing weather and under 3000 feet of snow (rough estimate). Thankfully, this year we’ve been #blessed with unseasonable warmth (but still plenty of snow). I usually only get two brew days, at best, in between 1/1 and 4/1 each year. I play catch-up in the warmer months.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I wanted to take a few minutes in-between a busy workday to reset on the blog. I’ve been doing this shit since March 23, 2013, and with my four year brewing and blogging anniversary coming up, I figured it’d be a good time to reflect.

Origin Story

Over the past four years this blog has taken on many different forms. It’s been a brewing log/journal, an occasionally beer review rag, and even briefly a poorly-worded indictment of Craft Beer Culture. That last one being the most read and most controversial. But it all started with a Mr. Beer Kit and a bad pun. As I bumbled and fumbled my way through brewing and blogging, I gradually learned from my mistakes (usually on the third or forth pass) and I’d like to think I’ve come a long way as a brewer (as a writer, I’m still dog-shit).

My love of homebrewing followed by my love of craft beer, and my like of blogging followed a love for writing and social media. I’ve had a few “personal” blogs over the years, but I largely entered the world of beer through Twitter and Untappd. I was one of the beta testers for the latter, and an early adopter of the former.  My out-spoken opinions in-and-outside of craft beer garnered me slightly more attention than your average shit-poster, and I began attending craft beer events and meeting folks on the other side of the computer screen. I was a few years out of college and most of my friends had either moved away or lacked disposable income, so I did the hardest thing any adult can do: met new people.

I met beer writers, brewers, bar/beer managers, bartenders, and just regular old drunks. I told some of these people about this blog and some of them told other people. Some folks were polite and claimed they’d heard of it, which led to the tagline: “The Hill Farmstead of Beer Blogs,” because people kept telling me they “haven’t read it, but I’ve heard good things.” It was nice platitude, and it led to some dopes actually paying me to write for their websites.

All Aboard the Struggle-Bus

But I’ve never had a concise vision for this blog. I enjoyed reading other beer blogs and wanted to get in on the party. I created this blog to start a conversation, and I started that conversation like a drunk on the Red Line: by screaming loudly and profanely and seeing if anyone would engage me. And surprisingly, a lot of people did. I attribute this to the Pareto Principle as applied (inversely) to human decency: if 80% of people are assholes, that leaves 20% that are less-than-assholes (and maybe even nice!).

When I started sharing my journey into homebrewing, I purposefully did something different from what I’d seen on other beer blogs: I highlighted my failures. For example:

Much like my teenage poetry, these were poorly constructed cries for help. I tried to present my mistakes in an entertaining way, because it helped me from getting discouraged with my new hobby and it seemed to be getting people to read and respond. Around this same time, I joined a homebrew club in nearby Weymouth: the Metro South Homebrew League aka The Mash Holes.

Homebrew Club or Beer Farts in a Confined Space

A few guys at my local homebrew shop decided to start a homebrew club right around the time I was looking for one to join. I happened to see a flyer at the shop, reached out to JD and was one of the ten or so guys at the first meeting. From there the club has grown to about 30-35 members, had 3-4 guys go on to work at professional breweries, and made the horrible mistake of electing me as their president/dictator.

It’s been a wild three years with the Mash Holes, and I’ve made more friends through this club than in any other way since college. For anyone considering joining a homebrew club: do it. For anyone considering starting a homebrew club: do it.

Four More Years?

I started this entry to just get back into the habit of blogging about my brewing. I just entered two beers into a local competition and had planned to talk about those, but as I realized that I was writing right around my 4-year anniversary, I got a little introspective. I well-and-truly love brewing. It may get lost some times in my tirades, frustrations, (copious) mistakes, and rantings but I fucking love doing this. And to all of you who have been a part of it – readers, commenters, fellow brewers,  sponsors, Gregs – thank you.

Cheers!


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Great Beer Writers

It seems like every time I have a “controversial” stance on beer I’m standing opposite of Andy Crouch. For what it’s worth, Crouch is a far better and a far more respected writer than I ever hope to be. And he uses a lot less fucking curse words (and I respect him a great deal). That said, his latest Beer Advocate column found its way across my Facebook feed and I can’t help but take issue with it.

Crouch’s article deals with the issue of beer dating, and not the kind I do with an empty can and a bottle of lube. Crouch goes after breweries for administering a “Best By” date to their products. His argument boils down to the fact that there is no uniform measure – by style or brewery – for when a beer falls out of sync with its intended flavor profile. This is an inarguable fact. However, the solution that Crouch seems to propose (in lieu of any actually proposition) is a bottled on (or brewed on) date. The problem with this is that it suffers from the very same problems that a “best by” date suffers from:

  • There is no uniformity for style
  • There is no uniformity for brewery
  • Any date stamped on the bottle is essentially meaningless for the two preceding reasons

The concept beyond the “best by” date is that it provides the consumer with a time-frame within which the brewer feels their product is at its peak. There are innumerable variables for which the brewer cannot control, most of which deal with shipping conditions. A “best by” date, through the very nature of the beer industry is – at best – a best guess. Crouch, in his article, lambasts the “best by” date as an:

amorphous, arbitrary tactic that only a manufacturer could love. Masquerading as an effort to help consumers, such dating of beer results in the illusion of honesty, leaving drinkers with no actual tangible information on which to base purchasing decisions.

Okay. Not wrong. But I defy Mr. Crouch – or anyone else – to offer an adequate solution. Crouch states, “As a customer, I want to know when my beer was bottled (or better yet, brewed), not the outer limits of when a lab technician thinks it will still taste like beer.” And that’s a fair point, but what REALLY does that date tell you? Does it provide you with any more tangible information than the nebulous “best by” date?

In practically, no it doesn’t. It can tell you the date a beer was brewed on, but that serves no greater purpose than drinking a “best by” beer further away from its “best by” date. In essence, both dates suffer from the same meaninglessness. There is no standard against which to judge this beer, making any measure of its “freshness” thereby irrelevant.

This is my problem with “great beer writers.” Too often they crusade for the “rights” of the consumer while losing track of the numerous variables that exist between grain and glass. Mind you, nothing in Crouch’s piece is wrong – per se – but it is wrongheaded in that it puts the onus on the brewer to force intelligence upon the consumer. Please name another food product – or any product – on the market where the onus is put upon the manufacturer to educate the consumer to the downsides, flaws, or shelf-life of the product within any reasonable timeframe. None exist. Your closest parallel is in dairy products, but those date are just as meaningless; a by-product of government regulation. What – exactly – are breweries putting over on consumers by not placing dates on their products? Remember, breweries have little to no input on how/where their products are distributed and even less influence on how/where/when/and for how much their products are sold to end consumers (Thanks, three-tier system!).

So please, continue to ignore the hypocrisy of drinking a gallon of milk a few days past it’s “Best By” date while turning up your noses at a “hop-faded” IPA. Rest easy knowing all the “great beer writers” support your decision.

Ugh I Hate You People

So this fucking post still keeps getting traffic, probably because people don’t know how to use Google properly and end up here, assuming I give a shit about their opinion (or anyone’s opinion). In the past couple weeks, there have been spikes in traffic to my “Sam Adams v. Hipsters” post and despite the fact that it is close to a year old, people keep commenting on the damn thing. I’ve pretty much stopped reading the comments, but I’m hungover today and my eyes worked faster than my brain, so I skimmed the most recent blurb of word vomit.

Are you people familiar with commas? How about periods? Jesus Homebrewing Christ. But this is less about your collective poor grammar and lack of better things to do with your clearly ample free time, and more about the whiny entitlement of Craft Beer People.

“I don’t like what this brewery is doing.”

“This brewery is a sell out.”

“This brewery is just chasing the latest trends.”

Shut the fuck up, holy shit. This – apparently – will come as a surprise to you, but if someone writes an article about IPAs, and everyone discussing the article is talking about IPAs, no one gives a shit that you prefer pilsners. You do NOT have to be involved in every single Internet discussion. I know you clearly try to be, especially if you’re reading some dipshit’s homebrewing blog, but take a break (from this site, forever). I’ll avoid going into a diatribe about the past two generations and their entitlement issues, and just say this: your opinion doesn’t matter. We live in a nigh-infinite universe and the thoughts in your head aren’t worth the atoms that created them. Life is a meaningless span of inconsequential time in which your thoughts, being, and accomplishments will amount to fuck-all. Welcome to the suck.

So maybe think about that before slamming your pudgy fists against the keyboard for a 270 word sentence, devoid on grammar, on a post from January. Maybe just have a beer instead.

And maybe don’t tell me about it.

Pumpkin Brew Day and Shut Up About Seasonal Creep

If you know one thing about me, it’s probably that my blog posts are absolutely riddled with typos. But if you know two things about me, the second is probably that I’m an unabashed fan of pumpkin beers. And though I was largely underwhelmed by last year’s commercial offerings, I have always enjoyed brewing my own pumpkin beers. Last year was the first time I brewed two pumpkin beers (my signature pumpkin ale, Symphony of Decay, and a new recipe, Pumpkin Pie Porter), and this year figures to be the first year that I brew three – count ’em – THREE pumpkin beers. The new addition will likely be a pumpkin saison, both thanks to the success of the saison I made over the winter and the shocking deliciousness of Troegs’ Master of Pumpkins.

This afternoon, I knocked one of those brew days out by making Symphony of Decay. It was unbearably hot just south of Boston today, with highs in the 90’s and a humidity rating of “Satan’s sweaty taint.” Nevertheless, we here at Anti-Hero Brewing persevered, totally missed our numbers, and managed a sunburn along the way. Basically, an unqualified success like all brew days that don’t end in fatal injuries.

Though the combination of brewing a pumpkin ale in the oppressive heat, and reading some posts on the Book O’ Faces got me thinking about the commercial pumpkin beers that are on their way/already here. Yes, now is the time for pumpkin beers to start appearing and for members of Craft Beer Movement to start bemoaning seasonal creep. To these people I have one very simple thing to say:

Shut. The. Fuck. Up.

This comes not from a defensive position as someone who enjoys pumpkin beers – I won’t even start purchasing or drinking them until the end of this month at the earliest – or even a place of anger at those snobs that turn up their nose at pumpkin beer as if it is somehow inferior to more haughty styles. No, my cursing and demands for silence comes from a place of utter frustration at the hive-mind and idiocy of those loud-mouth pumpkin-pundits who think that 1. they have any real ability to affect change and 2. that things you be changed because they want to be. This, ladies and gentlemen, is what the textbooks would refer to as “entitlement.”

I have to make the assumption that any brewery with a working knowledge of arithmetic and access to a spreadsheet can crank out the rudimentary analysis to determine how to make the most bank from their brews. Pumpkin beers – like IPAs – are an undoubtedly popular “style” and frankly no one gives a shit if you’re “over them.” The reason for seasonal creep is a basic Capitalist calculation: a brewery will make more money putting out pumpkin beers in August, because people – despite what keyboard warriors may write – will fucking buy them in August. Not only that, but they will buy them in higher quantities than whatever summer varietal or other beer they are (nebulously) “sacrificing” to put it out. The same goes for draft lines. If a beer doesn’t think it will make money on a pumpkin beer in August, it’ll sit on the keg. At least any smart bar manager would.

So what’s the problem? The “problem” is that people like summer. Not summer beers, mind you, but summer itself. They don’t even actually like summer itself so much as the concept of summer. People bitch about the heat constantly (I did it twice already in this one post), even in places like Boston (hi!) where the snow just finished melting last month. People don’t like seeing the bright orange bottles on beer shelves because it signals to them that summer is ending. As if this hasn’t happen every previous year of their existence, and as if the summer’s actual length is affected by the arrival of Jack O’Lantern-themed bottles. The appearance of pumpkin beer – essentially – gives them a sad.

Shut the fuck up, you whiny entitled gnat.

I, as a logical human being with functional brain cells, don’t think that people’s livelihoods should be beholden to the whims of my mood based on packaging I see at the packie. You don’t like pumpkin beer? Tough shit. I don’t like Donald Trump, but complaining about him isn’t going to make him go away or make him act like any less of sentient human feces in a ginger toupee. So, basically, grow up. Or if you really have a candle up your ass about this, continue to vote with your dollar. Just stop polluting my breathing space with your noxious and obnoxious hot air.

Lagunitas Withdraws Lawsuit, Capitalizes Random Words

Around 11:15pm last night, friend of the blog Tony Magee of Lagunitas announced via Twitter that he would be rescinding his trademark lawsuit against Sierra Nevada for the appearance of the term “IPA” on the packaging for SN’s new Hop Hunter IPA.

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What Tony Magee is after…

Me, personally, I don’t believe a lick of this nonsense. Or is it Nonsense. I don’t know Why Tony capitalizes Certain Words, and not Others, but Whatever. This seems like a colossal waste of time, money, and resources for what any trademark attorney could’ve told you in an initial consultation. So why go through with the filing? Why strain your relationship with one of the biggest craft breweries in the country? Why would the man who said this…

I told the world that I didn’t want to pretend to ‘own’ something that belongs in the commons.

regarding his public battle against SweetWater over the term “420,” turn around and decide to sue over the use/appearance of the term “IPA;” possibly the most ubiquitous term in craft beer?

I have plenty of my own thoughts and opinions on the matter, but they’re just conjecture and wild ranting… so here they are (rant incoming):

I think Magee is a hypocrite. I think he’s a product of a generation and a half of spoiled rotten brats who are used to getting everything their way. I think he’s a pot-smoking hippie when it suits him, and a litigious business man when it suits him; though he’ll only admit to the former and never the latter. His series of tweets seems to bear that out. It’s all peace and love until his market share is threatened. Lagunitas, like SweetWater, like Flying Dog, and like (unfortunately) countless other breweries are perpetuating a dude-bro culture that – in my opinion – will do more harm than good as the craft beer industry matures. Sure, you can say they take their cues from Bud/Miller/Coors with regards to sexism but excuses are like assholes. If they can take the time and effort to make their products “better,” then they can take the time and effort to make themselves and their companies better. Beers like Mouth Raper IPA, Pearl Necklace, Leg Spreader, and innumerable others are juvenile, sexist, and they implicate all of us – ALL of us: brewers, owners, homebrewers, craft beer drinkers, bloggers – in guilt by association.

In fairness to Magee and Lagunitas, their beers do not fall in with these more putrid examples of rape culture. But the mentality of Magee – this egocentric, two-faced, spoiled brat attitude that leads someone to start fights over “420” and “IPA” like he’s the only one who has ever smoked pot or brewed with hops – is indicative of what is being associated with craft beer. It is a culture of privilege, and more often than not of male privilege. It’s abhorrent and it’s time to grow the fuck up.

That’s just a little sumpin’ sumpin’ to think about next time you’re shopping in the beer aisle.

 

Craft Beer People Are Soft As Baby Shit

How soft are craft beer people? I actually thought about putting a disclaimer at the start of the post roughly equivalent to #NotAllMen, but then I realized 1. this is my personal blog, I can say whatever I want and 2. I don’t need any fedoras.

I love beer, especially what we call “craft beer,” and if you’re reading this blog you probably do, too (or you’re my mom). But I am developing a growing tumor on my brain thanks to “craft beer culture.”

For those of you who don’t know, I recently got the opportunity to write for Deadspin, an excellent sports site and member of the ubiquitous Gawker Network. My article on pumpkin beers got more traffic than anything else I’ve ever written by an exponential margin. It was an opportunity that I came upon thanks to my friend, Will, who writes the daily “Drunkspin” column on beer for Deadspin. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and would love the chance to do it again. The only very minor, and very small, dark cloud was the comment section (naturally). For the most part, the commenters were polite, or at least funny and some even offered great suggestions for new beers to try. This is, at its heart, why comment sections exist and why craft beer is so cool. It is a wonderful opportunity to share my thoughts and opinions with people I don’t know about a topic I’m passionate about and hear their’s in return. As I will go on to state later, I think thoughtful discourse and discussion is exceptionally important to the growth and maturation of craft beer as an industry and as a – shudder – culture.

…But then there’s fucking clowns like this guy:

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That top paragraph/disclaimer was my attempt to address an inherent flaw in my ranking without making it too boring, and wrapping in a little joke at the end. All reviews are by their nature subjective. Those of us who enter into doing them, do so knowing that 1. people will disagree with you unconditionally, and 2. you need to bring objective criticisms to the table. The comment itself doesn’t bother me, nor to do I believe for a nanosecond that this kind of anonymous douchebaggery is limited to my article, craft beer, or anything else. A brief look at GamerGate can tell anyone with functioning brain cells as much (so, basically everyone outside of #GamerGate). The comment does, however, provide a nice jumping in point for the primary thrust of this post: craft beer people are soft as baby shit (and it’s an issue of culture).

In the example of “papaturf,” the mere exclusion of a beer that is not distributed anywhere within 500 miles of me renders my opinion immediately invalid. Ignore the fact that I’ve been passionately involved with craft beer since I was old enough to drink it (and financially sound enough to afford it); and ignore the fact that I am capable of making my own beer, have read numerous books on the topic, and have a functioning knowledge of both the art and science of zymurgy; and ignore the fact that I’ve refined my palate over literal thousands of beers – good, bad and meh; and ignore the fact that I took the time out of my life to drink (to completion, mind you) twenty-fucking-seven different pumpkin beers and then write nearly 3,000 words giving thoughtful analysis of them (with objective criticisms and attempts at humor to make the reading not dry-as-fuck). None of that matters, though, because Schlafly isn’t there (as an aside, I’ve had Schlafly Pumpkin Ale and it is very good, but I omitted it because I would be relying solely on my memory of the beer and that is a disservice to anyone reading a recap of it).

Additionally, the second most common comment revolved around my extremely low ranking of Pumking, what is widely regarded as the “best” pumpkin beer by “craft beer people.” My low ranking of this beer also eliminates any possible credibility I have. With good cause, too, considering how ruthlessly I lampooned this beer (emphasis added):

26. Southern Tier Pumking
Too bad. This is traditionally one of my favorites, and I’m willing to give Southern Tier, a fairly respectable outlet, the benefit of the doubt that I just got a bad bottle, but that bottle was undrinkable. The aroma is great—pie crust mixed with pumpkin puree and vanilla—but that’s where my praise stops. The heavy, overpowering vanilla mixed uneasily with a medicinal sweetness and a pungent, lingering bitterness; the whole thing felt artificial and gross, right down to the metallic aftertaste.

I don’t think I could’ve criticized Pumking any softer than that; I even made excuses for the beer/brewery and praised aspects of it.

And this is the crux of my argument: everyone is entitled their opinion, and I enjoy when people disagree with me and can make valid retorts to my comments, but people in-and-around craft beer (i.e. “craft beer people”) needs to grow a thicker layer of skin. Where this stops being about me (because the irony of me whining about comments that disagree with my opinion isn’t lost on me) and starts being about “craft beer culture” is when the discourse shifts away from any thoughtful analysis and cocoons itself in self-aggrandizing, bubble-building bullshit. Returning to my friend Will, he wrote an article today talking about Coronado’s Idiot IPA. This is a beer I reviewed here, and thought was just okay – a tinge better than mediocre. Will’s article essentially says the same thing; his writing style is a sort of framed stream-of-consciousness that moves from point A to point B, but takes a circuitous route. As such, his article takes an aside that criticizes some members of “Craft Beer Movement™” (a playful dig and including the craft beer pundits, like, you know, me and him) who pretend that beer without alcohol would be just as awesome. It wouldn’t. Will’s critique is tongue-in-cheek and done largely against a strawman, and he weaves into his criticism of Coronado, saying basically we don’t really need another 8.5% ABV basic DIPA.

This well-argued, if largely innocuous, critique drew the ire of the people at @craftbeer (a wonderful name to use as a microcosm of “craft beer people”):

They go on to call Will’s writing “sensationalist garbage about beer” and accuse him of “ripping craft beer a new one in every article” and of selling “controversy and call[ing] it journalism.” First of all, beer reviews aren’t fucking journalism. Journalism’s for war-correspondents and the guy who has to stand outside in the hurricane to tell us it’s raining. Beer reviews are just opinion-slinging. That, of course, doesn’t make this sheltered perspective any less idiotic or – to my point – toxic.

Criticism is necessary for craft beer to mature. There are over 3,000 breweries in the United States currently. People are questioning whether or not the market can sustain that number. I think it can, but I also think 50% of those breweries will be closed within 5-10 years. The reason being is that “craft beer culture” has become little more youth soccer, participation trophy, glad-handing bullshit. In fact, the only major, vocal critic of craft beer right now – who isn’t an industry insider – might be Will. And it is the close-minded “be nice to everybody, because we’re all a family, and everyone’s trying really hard and we’re all in this together” nonsense that will end up causing those breweries to close, because no one has the balls to tell them, “Hey, your beer sucks.” People just stop buying their beer and then that’s that. “Focusing on the positive,” to use @craftbeer’s terminology, is akin to turning a blind eye to the negative. It’s perfectly okay to pile on Bud-Miller-Coors, but to say all Lagunitas’ beers taste like IPAs is beating up on the little guy. The little guy… who just opened a second production facility in Chicago and whose owner is a douchebag.

Speaking of Tony Magee, owner of Lagunitas, he complained when Sam Adams released what they marketed as a West Coast IPA (Sam Adams’ Rebel IPA). Magee took to Twitter and accused Sam Adams of “targeting” tap handles (specifically, Lagunitas’ because no one actually gives a shit about this “craft beer movement/family” nonsense unless it affects their bottom-dollar). That’s not “targeting” someone’s tap handles, that’s called releasing a fucking beer in a fucking style that is fucking popular in order to make some fucking money. But, of course, since Sam Adams is bigger than Lagunitas it’s considered “bullying” in the craft beer culture. To the rest of world, it’s called business. But business is a dirty word in the “Craft Beer Movement™,” and that is exactly why I believe those breweries I mentioned above will go belly-up. Everyone wants to believe that craft beer is some kind of magical utopia where demand will always outpace supply, and there won’t be a need for competition and everyone can make money, and everyone can open a brewery after 2-3 decent homebrew batches, but back here on planet Earth that just isn’t the case.

The reason Sam Adams is bigger and more successful than Lagunitas is because Jim Koch is a businessman and Tony Magee is not. The reason craft beer crashed in 90s is because a bunch of people who weren’t businessmen (or who were businessmen but not brewers) thought what everyone in the “Craft Beer Movement™” seems to think now, and they opened up a bunch of shitty breweries that produced shitty beers and they lost their life’s savings. Whether you make missiles or artisinal libations, rule number one of running a business is know your fucking market. Passion and guts and camaraderie are great, and they can take you a long way, but money goes farther.

And to be clear, there are parts of craft beer culture – like I mentioned at the outset – that I absolutely love. I love meeting with local brewers and talking with brewery reps and bar managers and just other beer geeks about this awesome thing that we all enjoy… but it is time for Craft Beer – that’s fucking all of us – to start doing some self-examination. There are legitimate issues within craft beer. Dann Paquette’s tweets exposing “pay to play” in Boston bars immediately comes to mind. This is the kind of topic that should be covered by beer writers and pundits and not relegated to a series of drunken tweets.

If I may go back to GamerGate, the video game industry is in the midst of a very painful, very public identity crisis. In business world this would be called a paradigm shift or a change in the market. Video games have exploded beyond their niche market. And some of video game’s toughest (and smartest and most articulate) critics are the one’s coming under fire from the old guard who want to keep things the way they are. In no way am I saying @craftbeer’s small hashtag-tantrum is comparable to GamerGate (or the threats/violence therein) or that Will Gordon is craft beer’s Anita Sarkeesian. What I am saying is that there are lessons to be learned from the video game industry’s explosive growth-spurt, its increasing ubiquity, and the subsequent backlash of its former niche-core. There are parallels to be drawn in how the industry, and the side-industry that reports on and critiques it, grew together and became intertwined. There are issues of ethics in video game “journalism” (opinion-slinging), they just happen to having nothing to fucking do with GamerGate or its victims. Craft Beer as an industry would do well to not ostracize its outspoken critics or their sometimes-harsh opinions, because in doing so, they would lose a valuable voice in the discussion: that of the dissenting opinion.

 

To close with some cliches/platitudes: Those who forget history are doomed to repeat. The unexamined life is not worth living. The unexamined beer is not worth drinking.