Happily Single: The Satisfaction of Beer Monogamy

Unfiltered by | Jan 2017 | Issue #120
Illustration by Chi-Yun Lau

It’s a Wednesday night in Prague and I’m sitting in a popular, newish beer hall just outside of the tourist zone. It’s packed with hundreds of young locals, seated at square tables, deep in conversation interrupted only by quick jolts of laughter at a joke told well. While it’s remarkable that almost no one is on a phone, there is one thing even more striking: everyone is drinking the same beer.

The menu has only one beer, Pilsner Urquell, for sale. Technically, that’s not true. The place also serves a delicious dark beer, but no one is drinking it. Instead, everyone’s ordered fresh-from-the-tank Pilsner Urquell. It’s not the freshness of the beer they covet, though one local beer writer tells me it’s the best in town. It’s simply another night out with friends, where the beer plays but a small, unheralded role in the social experience. As each bulbous half-liter mug empties, the brusque Czech servers swing by with a foamy replacement and the pageant continues anew.

I sit there marveling at the unusualness of this experience. As an American who grew up in the craft brewing era, I can’t really connect with this on a fundamental level. And that bothers me. Believe me, I want to be a better person. I want to sit in one bar, drinking rounds of a single beer, for hours. I want to be freed of the desire to constantly think about my next beer instead of simply enjoying the one in front of me.

Recently, leaders of several big breweries have suggested that consumers are growing tired of the increasingly large variety of beers offered to them. I don’t agree that we’re tired of choice—I think we’re paralyzed by it. Some may see this as a First World Problem to be sure. But, there’s the rub: most First World citizens stay loyal to a single beer. Whether it’s Helles in Munich, Pilsner Urquell in the Czech Republic, Kölsch in Cologne, Bitter in London, or industrial lager in the rest of the world, variety-induced promiscuity is the exception to the usual everyday drinking experience.

In the United States, and in an increasing number of beer bars across the globe, consumers are so inundated with selection from thousands of new breweries that the excitement over choosing one’s next beer can be a bit overwhelming. It can therefore be breathtakingly refreshing and even restorative to take a much-needed break from constantly seeking out the next beer.

When faced with the fact of a single beer and the acceptance of its return glass after glass, you can settle into your surroundings. When your head’s not buried in a ticking app and your fingers aren’t fumbling with tiny sampler glasses, you can enjoy the company of those around you, whether friends or other pubgoers. Conversation is fostered, glasses are clinked, and laughs are shared.

I believe I’ve always known that the routine of beer monogamy can be greatly satisfying. But the allure of the unknown next beer often proves too much to resist. Sitting in that Prague pub, surrounded by hundreds of people enjoying the same beer, brought this simple beer truth back for me. It’s really not about the chase. Beer is about enjoying the glass in front of you, with the people around you, in the environment in which it’s served. Everything else is simply distraction.