An interview on the blog of the US Beer Bloggers Conference in Boulder caught my attention.
“My interest in beer grew exponentially since I started working with a company called Beer2Buds. They built a variety of methods for people to send a real beer to friends online to be redeemed at a local bar or restaurant. I love the concept because I can’t tell you how many times someone said to me, “I owe you a beer.” Now they have no excuse not to pay up.”I don't want to be harsh about a service that I'm sure the owners and users regard as a nice gesture and a bit of fun. I will, however, do exactly that because the sentiment “Now they have no excuse not to pay up” makes me sad.
“I owe you a beer” is a great phrase. I use it a lot. And, obviously, I like hearing it. But it’s not about just settling a debt. It means more than that.
We have drinking rituals, like buying each other drinks, for a reason. They create social obligations and bond us together as people. When I say “I owe you a beer”, I am really saying: I recognise that I have obligations and responsibilities towards you. I recognise you are not a stranger. I respect and trust you enough to drink beer with you.
Reasonably erudite beer drinkers already know the story in the epic of Gilgamesh of the wild man who drank beer, thus becoming a cultured human; and about the elaborate drinking customs medieval artisans had that created, or enforced, loyalty to the group.
When we drink beer together, we recognise that we too have social connections that we cannot escape, that we are part of society, that the beer we drink is only possible by human beings cooperating. That's more important than the £3 a pint costs, and might be the reason why, no matter how short of cash we might be, we always seem to be able to scrape up enough for some beer.
Sending someone an electronic voucher they can redeem at a bar just doesn't do it for me. You might as well just give them money.