The challenge was simple: make Founders All Day IPA the only beer I drank for 30 days.
So why did friends, acquaintances, and people I barely knew tell me I was crazy? Why did I feel like I was somehow betraying my duty as a craft beer citizen – the duty to explore the far reaches, skip daily between styles, strengths, and sources?
To take a step back, why do it at all?
Addicted to New
We live in an era where craft beer fans seem to prize variation above all else. It’s the age of the variety pack, the sampler paddle, and the one-off release. At the bar and in the store, we regularly skip reliable favorites to take a chance on something new. Acquaintances use Untappd check-ins as a yardstick for fandom: those under 500 need not apply.
At the beginning of this year, I found myself suffering from this desire for uniqueness. Chasing my 1000th distinct beer (I know, what a novice), I bought up expensive singles and endured forgettable flights. Listening to friend’s stories and reading online reviews, I became overwhelmed by all the great beers I was missing.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Macro drinkers can rely on a single beer for decades on end, and craft lovers in the early days derived plenty of enjoyment from whatever they could lay their hands on.
I was riding the wave of “variety for variety’s sake,” and it looked like I was headed for a wipeout.
To bring back a sense of balance, I came up with this challenge for myself, something I called All Day All Week All Month.
- For 30 consecutive days, I could drink only one beer: Founders All Day IPA.
- No other beers. No. Other. Beers. Not a 4 oz sample, not a taster, not a sip from a friend’s glass.
- There’s no minimum. I don’t have to drink every day or drink any set amount over the month. But if I drink beer, it has to be All Day IPA.
- I can still drink other beverages and other forms of alcohol, like wine or mixed drinks. You might consider this a cop-out, but it was a way to engage in social functions involving drinking without breaking the more important rules.
- That said, if All Day is available, in any format, I have to order it over any non-beer alternatives.
For those unacquainted with Founders All Day IPA, it’s an excellent “session IPA,” with 4.7% ABV and 42 IBU. That IBU might sound low for an IPA, but the bitterness is actually relatively strong without becoming overbearing.
I chose this beer because it’s light enough to drink in a variety of circumstances but flavorful enough to savor. The blend of Simcoe and Amarillo hops offers quite a bit of variety on the nose and the palate – depending on the batch, the pour, and the day, you can get everything from grapefruit and lemon to red berries and pine.
With a malt base that’s just strong enough to hold its own against the hops and a crisp finish, All Day is one of my favorite lighter beers –but it’s not one of my favorite beers, period, which is important given that I was a bit afraid of getting worn out by it over 30 days.
Oh yeah, and it makes for a good article title.
Beginning the Challenge
For about two weeks, I planned the challenge, postponing it for one reason or another: a beer launch, bar visit, those already-purchased offerings that weren’t getting any fresher. I finally dug my heels in and settled on a Saturday in the middle of May.
But when the allotted day came, I faltered: wouldn’t it be better to start during a weekday, when I’d be less tempted? Maybe I should travel to one more new brewery, try just one more sampler.
To force my own hand, I took to Twitter, publicly announcing my self-imposed challenge. The response was not entirely encouraging:
This was day one.
Excerpts from the “30-Days” Journal
One of the hardest days. I’ve already cleaned out my fridge of all beery temptations and hid a few remaining bottles at the very back of the liquor cabinet (a newly acquired Prairie Apple Brandy Barrel Noir seems to stick to my palm, begging me to reconsider).
I buy a fresh 15-pack of All Day cans (only two weeks from the canning date!) and stick them in the fridge, but don’t wait long enough before cracking the first. It pours into a Founders mason jar-style glass, which provides a nice photo op but proves quite lousy for the purpose of actual drinking. The pour produces a huge, soapy and boxy head, releasing a grassy and slightly medicinal aroma.
The flavor is also heavy on grass, and not as bitter or crisp as I remember. The beer is fine, but I definitely get intimidated by the thought of drinking nothing but this for 30 days.
Abandoning the mason jar glass, I drink 2 straight from the can –and they’re much better. Both the aroma and pine-forward hoppiness are retained very well, even over the 90 minutes it takes for my second helping.
Today I get my first real temptation: I’m offered lots of fresh Dogfish Head beer in return for helping a friend. I take only one, with high ABV, so I can cellar it until after the challenge is over.
I spot some All Day on draft and seize the opportunity to embrace rule 5: wherever you find All Day IPA, drink it! With a draft pour, the aroma dissipates as much as when poured from the can. This is one beer that seems to demand a very gentle pour or drinking directly from the can or bottle: when the aroma is retained, you get much more nuance from the hops, and a better balance is drawn between the bitterness and the light body.
I get my first bottle at the historic Ram’s Head Tavern in Annapolis, MD. The packaging date marks it as nearly 3 months old, but with my gentle pour, I actually like it better than the fresh draft.
Traveling out-of-state, I’m repeatedly tempted by labels that aren’t available at home. I placate myself with the notion that “You don’t know what you’re missing” works both ways: sometimes a new beer offers unpleasant surprise.
An unexpected consideration: sometimes you just need something with a kick. At 4.7%, All Day doesn’t quite hit hard enough. I supplement with a cocktail, something I almost never do on a normal night of beer drinking.
At the halfway point of the challenge, I begin a 4-day stint helping out at a local craft beer store for Memorial Day weekend. It’s here that I make a landmark discovery: local distribution of the 19.2 oz can!
While it somewhat defeats the purpose of a “session-strength” ale, this serving size helps a bit with the problem I encountered on Day 12. Even at 4.7%, more beer over shorter time equals…well, you get it.
By the end of Memorial Day weekend, I’ve handled countless cases of craft beer, made recommendations about stouts, sours, and summer ales, and even had rare beer offered to me free of charge. If I can make it through that, I can make it to day 30.
This late in the challenge, I’m still discovering new notes in the beer. From my last 19.2 oz can, the hop aroma and flavor leans just a bit toward the melon, replacing the subtle berry notes I’d detected in earlier batches.
Success. I must admit, I’m already planning my first week of post-challenge beers…
The final tally:
- Cans: 15
- 19.2 oz cans: 3
- Bottles: 6
- Draft: 1
What Did I Learn?
So, how hard was it to drink only one type of beer for 30 days? It wasn’t that bad – in fact, a bit easier than I expected. Credit obviously goes to Founders for making a beer that’s easy to enjoy over and over again, but I quickly realized that endless variety just isn’t necessary.
Still, any break from routine is a great opportunity for perspective. Some of the top things I realized along the way:
- A large portion of the day is devoted to things other than beer. I know, that seems like a ridiculous statement, but it’s true.
- During this challenge, I spent less unproductive time thinking and strategizing about what beers I would try next. That’s a good thing.
- With only one option to select from, I did actually drink less beer. In a typical 30-day period, I drink around 30-35 beers. Over these 30 days, I drank 25 –only a little less, but enough to be significant. I did end up drinking more of other alcoholic beverages, though only by 1-2 a week.
- Good beer remains good beer—day after day, and even if you’re not analyzing it when you taste it. Sometimes it’s okay to just sit back and enjoy a brew.
- We are incredibly lucky to live at a time when a vast spectrum of high-quality craft beer is right at our fingertips. In our scramble to avoid missing out on the latest treasure, it’s easy to overlook what’s right in front of us.
In conclusion: Variety does matter, but as in all things, balance is best. Trying out different breweries, styles, and releases can make us more engaged, thoughtful consumers. But it’s well worth making room on your dance card for beers you know you like. Reward that local brewery or long-time favorite with a regular spot in your fridge, and make sure you always take the time to savor something done right.
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