We follow series to their ends. Breaking Bad. Lilyhammer. Sopranos. Mad Men. We get caught up in the plot, the characters, the adventures, and eventually, even when we want to stop, we can’t. We have to see the series until its conclusion. We have to know “what happens” as if, in this imaginary universe broadcast over our television and/or Apple TV, the narrative will be left in limbo if we don’t. To this day, I still regret the one series I never finished, Boardwalk Empire. Don’t tell me what happened. I need to remember what it’s like to not finish, the unfulfillment , the frustration, the pain of not knowing.
Beer is no different. I’m stuck in two beer series right now: Bell’s Planetary series and Victory’s Moving Parts. When a new component of either series pops up on the shelf, I buy it. Neither series is wowing me in the way Lilyhammer did in the beginning of season 2 with its pop cultural references (Animal House, Godfather). Neither series has me wondering how it will all wrap up in the end as we debated Breaking Bad’s conclusion (we knew, though, that Walter White would go down in a glorious manner; we just didn’t know how). Still, I can’t quit the series. I’ve started it. I’m a part of it. I have to see it through.
There is a desire to finish the story once you’ve started it. My beer story doesn’t begin with these two series, but instead, these two series are side stories within my beer story. Victory and Bell’s are characters in my overall craft beer narrative, a narrative now intertwined with these two series. From State College purchases of cases of Victory while visiting my wife during her time there to Bell’s Kalamazoo Stout – my first Michigan beer bought in Ferndale a few days after moving there – to the first “beer tourism” I engaged in when my wife and I spent the night in Kalamazoo so that we could visit Bell’s Eccentric cafe. These two breweries play roles in my beer story. If I were to have my own beer series, it would include the adventures of Victory and Bell’s in it as well.
I can be cynical about a series such as Moving Parts or Planetary and claim Planetary is just hype that, for instance, transfers a fairly ordinary (if good) brown beer into something special and limited (sold by the single rather than the six pack) once it is placed with a series. Or I can critique Moving Parts’ showcase of hops as not as extraordinary or impressive as some local breweries are doing with Galaxy or experimental varieties still known only by their hop numbers. Like any good cultural moment, these, too, are known points to me, but have little effect on my behavior. I have to see the series through. A series is emotional. A series can be addictive. We need to feel a part of a larger story.
Entertainment culture has long functioned by way of the series: serialized fiction in 19th century newspapers, radio shows of the 1920s and ’30s. Comics. And, of course, television. I think about the comfort a series can provide, the belief that we move in an orderly and prescribed manner from event to event, moment to moment, experience to experience, taste to taste. While some modes of thought endorse the random or the serendipitous, the series counters back with the declaration that, no, there’s rationale behind the organization.
Organization is not bad, after all. I typically organize my thoughts around anecdotes, first time moments, memorable details, banality. A series of beers thematically organized could be nothing more than a banal beer shopping event, a purchase made every few months as the next item in the series becomes available. Or it can be a method of organization, another way to ponder a brewery’s role in various beer narratives outside of a regular go to purchase (Two Hearted, Hop Devil) or rare release available only at 5pm at the local craft bar (Black Note). The series – whether good or bad – tells us that within the typical and often cliche craft beer stories (such as revolution) there are other beer stories being told, stories that take a character (an IPA, an idea about the solar system) and showcase iterations of that character over a few months or a year. These stories suck us in, like Breaking Bad did, and in the end, the series will end, we will reflect (“what a let down,” “that was amazing”) and eventually, we will move on to the next series, the next idea spread out over time, the next cast of characters to organize our days or nights around. We do so because we don’t want to regret, we don’t want o miss out, we don’t want to be unfulfilled.