Have We Been Here Before?

Unfiltered by | Jan 2018 | Issue #131
Illustration by Chi-Yun Lau

The world grows increasingly small, reflecting greater similarity with each passing year. Foreign travel, once complicated by language and communication barriers, has grown far easier through technology and the sheer power of globalization. No longer set adrift with a tattered guidebook and a rucksack, modern travelers come equipped with powerful devices capable of breaking down nearly any obstacle, and taking a few quick selfies for good measure.

Until recent years, beer tourism also suffered the challenges associated with any global travel excursion. Websites carried bits of information for prospective visitors, but tough-to-find locations, haphazard days and hours of operation, or even closures, were routine experiences. Fellow travelers traded emails about can’t miss breweries and bars, but in the days before omnipresent cell phones, WiFi, and GPS, it was all part of the adventure.

Today, traveling around the globe, whether for beer or other pursuits, is dead easy. GPS routes can occasionally appear a bit dodgy and hours shift, but it’s rare for things to go completely sideways. English is widely spoken or otherwise apps such as Google Translate can roughly approximate your question about hops in any language from Basque to Vietnamese.

While I occasionally lament the relative ease of modern international travel, the new conveniences do bring a satisfying level of simplicity and efficiency to the process. But in this ease I have some concerns about what the modernization of convenience means for beer travel, especially when it involves older, traditional establishments.

As the world grows smaller, the experiences grow more similar. Americans will feel at ease in many countries today, able to shop at the same stores and eat at the same restaurants as back in the States. They can even order many of their favorite American beers in bars throughout Europe and Asia. This, of course, largely defeats the purpose of travel, which by most definitions is to experience a world different than your own. To immerse yourself in a different culture. To engage with diverse tastes, sights, sounds, and flavors.

Discovery in a world already largely discovered is a truly modern concern. The commodification of travel is another, especially where the experience can often become relatively homogenous. Yet there is a definite unfairness in rigid nostalgia, expecting things to remain the same forever. The world is not a snapshot in time but one routinely refreshed and changed by the forces within it. Though I still lament the loss or seeming recession of tradition in a world set on reimagining itself.

For countries that lack a defined beer culture beyond pale light lager, the acceptance of hand-me-down American beer idealism may be an upgrade. But in other places, such as Britain, Belgium, and Germany, it is a little harder to watch younger members of those cultures reject the old traditions and embrace a new, American way of thinking and drinking. And while modernism to some extent threatens the storied histories of these brewing nations, there hopefully will remain a desire to protect and preserve them.

I hope that after experiencing beer through a decidedly American lens, young brewers around the world will do as young US brewers once did: Make it their own. Caught a few years behind American trends, it’ll be exciting to watch winds of innovative styles and energy blow west again, creating a new wave of influence on our shores.