Why is it that sometimes your beer tastes better than usual, and sometimes it just doesn’t get the job done? I don’t mean potential variation from batch to batch, but rather I’m talking about the setting in which you are drinking that beer. I call it the ambiance of beer. I’m probably not going to reach for a big stout on a hot day, because for me it doesn’t really fit with the warmer weather. It goes beyond just the weather, though. You can pair a beer with a dish, but you can also pair it with a memory, a place, or a person. My favorite pairing would have to be sitting on or near the water, eating fish tacos, and drinking a kölsch with my favorite person in the world. A nice and easy IPA would work for me as well. However, as much as I love Firestone Walker Parabola, I would never in a million years order it to go with my fish tacos when I’m out by the water. It just wouldn’t work for me. Maybe that combination would work for someone else, but not for yours truly.
Now what if I’m in Boston or Chicago, and it’s 35 degrees outside? I’m not going with the kölsch, I’m more interested in something rich, dark, and boozy, and probably barrel-aged. Maybe I’d even go with a whiskey. Point is, sometimes your favorite beer in one setting is the last thing you would order in a different atmosphere.
Most of the time I will be drinking an IPA with a meal, but every now and then I feel like having a coffee brown ale, or a German hefeweizen. My preference could be due to nothing more than seeing a beer at the bottleshop that makes me think, “I want that today”. That pilsner or porter could just catch my eye at the right time. When I’m in San Diego, I have my preferences of breweries that I have to stop at (looking at you, Burgeon, Half-Door, and Resident), but I also feel like drinking just about anything from Karl Strauss. A Tower 10 IPA followed by a barrel-aged vintage version of Wreck Alley Imperial Stout? Done that. It just feels right when I’m in that area. If I’m in Florida, I have to get some Cigar City and Coppertail in my belly. In Portland, Maine, you better believe I’m going to Bissell Brothers, Allagash, Foundation, and Battery Steele. I could keep going, but then I will start craving beers I can’t have right now.
My favorite beer/atmosphere pairings probably aren’t going to be the same for you. That’s perfectly fine. I’d bet we don’t like a lot of the same beers or even general styles. But it is interesting how one day a certain beer style can be the only thing you want, and the next day it sounds wholly unappealing. They say variety is the spice of life, and I love it because it keeps things interesting. It leads me to drink different styles depending on my mood, the weather, who I’m with, what I’m eating, what time of day it is, where I am, and perhaps most relevantly, what’s available. Next time you switch up your usual order, ask yourself why? You don’t need to change anything, but it’s interesting how our preferences can subtly change because of so many different factors, without us even noticing.