Sit down, close your eyes, and think about this question: what’s the best beer you’ve ever had in your life?
Perhaps it was an airport beer, drank slowly as you waited for a voice to come over a loudspeaker and announce your boarding group. It could’ve been that first sip after finishing that first marathon. Or maybe it was a random one. Maybe you were at a diner with an hour to kill and a seat by the window. And maybe it just tasted nice because your phone was dead and you couldn’t quite focus on enjoying much else.
Chances are that perfect beer was poured at some exotic destination, shared with a friend, and cold. There was already plenty of excitement at the time, and your brain connotates those specific beers with those moments of pleasure, which is why those beers taste so good.
Why is that? Well, you can blame the amygdala, an almond-shaped structure in your brain’s temporal lobe, for that. See, the amygdala attaches emotional significance to your memories. It does so by essentially talking to both your hippocampus and neocortex, telling them which moments of shame, grief, love, and joy you’re never allowed to forget. In short, it’s the reason our simple human minds are tricked into thinking every sip of beer taken under a palm tree is the best sip of beer you’ve ever had.
And it’s right, a sip of the same beer taken in your kitchen after another long Tuesday at work just doesn’t go down as smoothly. The late Anthony Bourdain echoed this sentiment perfectly when he described the concept of the perfect meal. “I knew how important factors other than technique or rare ingredients can be in the real business of making magic happen at the dinner table,” he wrote. “Context and memory play powerful roles in all the truly great meals in one’s life.”
Let’s shift our focus to surfers and skaters and the beers they drink, then, which is the reason we’re here. Have you noticed how they always gravitate towards more sessionable options? Or how the cans they either reach for in the fridge or pass around the park feature an ABV south of 5.5%? If you haven’t, well, they do. Go to a beach bonfire in San Clemente or to a skate hangout at Blue Park in Brooklyn and you’ll see the same thing: empty cans of something light, refreshing, and accessible strewn about. Take a look, make a note, and then please help out with the recycling.
They’re usually bought from the nearest convenience store or gas station and are always thoroughly enjoyed by all. I know what you’re thinking: when you spend an entire day taxing your body by either paddling around the ocean or slamming your body against concrete, anything tastes delicious. And you’re right, it does. You can think of that as an added feature.
But here’s the thing, this love affair doesn’t stop outside of beaches and skateparks. Go to your local surf or skate “bar” (they exist, just look for anywhere where there’s loud music, pool tables, and the floors are only noticeably sticky) and you’ll see everyone drinking the exact same thing. It doesn’t matter if there are fifty international and domestic beers on tap, because, that’s great and all, but they’ll take something that doesn’t require a glass or bottle opener, thanks.
Why? Well, it’s simple: people gravitate towards ordering and enjoying the same things they associate with previous good times. In many ways, this ritual is a cornerstone of surf and skate culture. It’s a cerebral love affair.
And sure, we do like to advertise to everyone else that, okay, we do skate, or we do surf, and the reason why we’re drinking something out of a can that costs less than $5 is that there’s a bit of, “If you know, you know,” stigma surrounding it. But chances are whatever you’re drinking at a bar is the same thing you were drinking at the beach or local stair set only a few hours earlier. You want to keep the good times going, and that’s the easiest, most accessible, and best way to do so.
So, the best beer in the world, the perfect beer, is very rarely the most sophisticated or expensive one. It’s a cold one that’s shared with friends after doing something you collectively love. Does it get any better than that? Yes, in fact, it does. You can throw a Cali-Squeeze (or six) into a cooler, or your backpack, and take that with you next time you go to your favorite beach break or skatepark, respectively, instead. They’re light, delicious, and sit at a price point not much different to what you’d buy at the corner store. You’ll elevate your experience, impress your friends with your taste, and create even better memories of good times spent drinking great beer.