Lessons from Pandemic Drinking

Tara Rafiq photo illustration

The last six months have been an interesting and trying experience, to say the least. They have taught me a lot about myself, my family and my relationship to my home and work. Most importantly, they’ve taught me some crucial lessons about drinking beer.

Because in these weird times I’ve enjoyed my fair share of adult beverages and—as a community service—I’d like to pass some key learnings on to you:

Lagers are an Essential Beverage

In lockdown mode, Ontario breweries have almost all added some means of online ordering for home delivery. Practically every style and variety of beer is available at the click of a mouse; and yet…we’re drinking lagers.

Yes, in the COVID-19 era we’re turning to old traditions: Helles’s, pilsners and light lagers have surged in popularity. Craft brewers are reporting that these styles currently rank among their best-selling pandemic offerings.

Susan Michalek is the co-owner of Muddy York Brewing. The North York brewery’s top seller is the excellent Gaslight Helles. Made with a Bohemian pilsner malt it has an impossibly soft mouthfeel and a clipped finish. But when the brewery released a Mexican lager this summer, it too quickly surged in sales. “We didn’t intend for Una Más Mexican Lager to be more than a one off,” Michalek says, “but it ended up being one of our best sellers.” The lower-alcohol Una Más, made with corn for a much lighter body and flavour than Gaslight, even became the best-selling beer in Muddy York’s retail store for a few months of lockdown.

The exhaustive and comprehensive pandemic drinking research I’ve been conducting at my own house likewise confirms the easy-drinker hypothesis. More than ever I find myself turning to the reliable and refreshing but familiar flavours of a mail-ordered Bionda, a light and lovely Italian pilsner from Indie Alehouse Brewing for Eataly Toronto, or Vim & Vigor, a crisp and hoppy German pils from Ottawa’s Tooth and Nail Brewing that is one of the best-made beers in the province.

It’s been a time to gravitate to the so-called familiar and crushable “lawn mower beers,” because a lager is like comfort food. It’s no nonsense. It tastes similar to our earliest memories of the taste of beer and—crucially—when you open a tin of good lager there are no surprises.

Please, for fuck’s sake, no more surprises this year.

Tara Rafiq photo illustration

Virtual Happy Hours are Actually Awful

We are now at the stage where we can all stop pretending that drinking beer with someone else via our computers is anything other than terrible.

If your work day consists of sitting in front of a screen conversing with colleagues on video chats, why the hell would you want to kick off the start of your personal time by conversing with colleagues on video chats? Sure, in the Before, hitting a patio after work with co-workers was an excellent way to blow off some steam and bond. But now, when the option for after work drinks is to sip beer with those same colleagues via Zoom, it’s really just sad.

Do we need to crack a cold one and tell Cynthia, oops, she’s still on mute while Tim’s wifi glitches in the middle of a gripping tale about his kid losing a tooth? Do we want to suffer the familiar technical difficulties of sharing screens only to see images of a co-worker’s home renovation project? No. Please God, no.

Close the laptop. Get up from your desk. Walk away. If there’s a colleague you’d really like to
have a beer with, find a way to connect IRL, like humans are allowed to now, and stand six feet from them in one of your yards.

A Good Neighbour is the Ultimate Drinking Buddy

My wife and I have mastered our cocktail hour routine. Weather permitting, we set up some chairs (with blankets) on our front lawn and find that quite a few people on our suburban street are doing the same—and, bonus, chatting with people you haven’t already spent the day in meetings with adds a little variety to your conversations. Indeed, you’re likely going to find that—shocker—you actually have a lot in common with the people who live, work, shop and walk their dogs in the same community you do. Try comparing theories about the For Sale sign that just went up across the street or smack-talk that guy around the corner who never shovels his sidewalk. In the Before, we were friendly with most of our neighbours but now I know more about almost everyone on my street and we count our next door neighbours among our most frequent drinking buddies and distanced outdoor dinner guests. Shout out to Melanie and Lyndsey.

Are you on the shy side? Turn to beer! Try knocking on a neighbour’s window or nodding to the folks parked in their lawn chairs across the street, raised six-pack in hand, and you might just find you’ve got new besties.

Maybe don’t bring Nickel Brook’s Naughty Neighbour pale ale though.   

Order Takeout. It’s an Act of Benevolence

As it turns out, sitting around your yard drinking beer after work can often mean you forgot some other relatively important tasks like figuring out what to make for dinner.

Thankfully ordering from local restaurants multiple times a week no longer feels like an act of lazy extravagance. Indeed, because the hospitality industry has been hit hard, you can now think of your next fried chicken order as an act of charity. You’re no longer wasting money when you could just make supper, you’re stimulating the economy and helping a local business during a difficult time. It’s not gluttony, it’s philanthropy!

Plus, there’s never been a better time to eat takeout with restaurants expanding their delivery zones and menu offerings. As an added bonus, the Ontario government has allowed for the sale of alcohol to go, so now you can get interesting beer—from rare lambics to fresh Ontario cans—delivered with your meal.

Place an order for something delicious, then crack a lager with your neighbour while you wait for the food.

And leave the damn laptop on your desk.

Here’s our list of five beers you should drink at home this winter.

This story originally appeared in the Fall/Winter 2020 issue of The Growler Ontario, out now! 

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