Thursday, 7 October 2010

I owe you a beer

Are people these days really so busy that they can't make time, even occasionally, to go for a beer in person?

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.


  1. An Irish pubco is offering this by text message, for a mark-up on the price at the bar, of course.

  2. I agree. It gets my goat that much of blogging is so consumed by the exotic that the basic idea of drinking a beer with a friend or acquaintance passes them by as a concept.

    Oh there's excuses and a citing of occasional by products of the blogging process, but the real deal is being out there amongst it and that's being denigrated and eaten away.

  3. Spot on. 'Drinking a beer' has, for me, always been about the social connection. For instance, I look forward to beer festivals for the 'craic', sampling some new flavours is an interesting side benefit.
    Buying a few bottles as a gift has always seemed to be a hollow offering. Certainly, for me, drinking a nice beer 'solo' is less than half the pleasure.

  4. Perhaps this just my little bit of Virginia, but I am yet to go to the pub here and buy rounds like you would in the UK. Everyone seems to divvy up the bill when it comes, or get everything put on separate bills.

    I guess going to the local and having a shared experience is just too socialist for some. ;)

  5. Agreed, and Velky Al if you come to New Mexico and run with the right crowd you'll find yourself buying a round.

    But how does this fit in? At least one local bar allows customers to buy a beer for somebody who is missing. Let's say I was absent at a planned gathering and go in the next day. I can check and see of somebody has "left" me a beer. Usually it will come with a note like, "Sorry you couldn't make it."

    Of course this only works at a small place. And one where people don't sit around discussing SEO.

  6. "if you come to New Mexico and run with the right crowd you'll find yourself buying a round"

    No complaints from me.

  7. I appreciate your thoughts - there's no question buying a beer for someone in person is the preferred choice, but sometimes distance and time make that nearly impossible.

    My social sphere extends far beyond people who live within a 100-mile radius. If I send them money - its just money and probably won't be used towards the enjoyment of a beer, but if I send a beer card that they can redeem at their favorite watering hole (likely with other friends) to enjoy the very experience claim I'm taking away from you.