Bill went to the Beermongers' second anniversary bash, rich with rare specialty beers, and was surprised at how low the attendance was. He posed an open question (with probes, like any good researcher should) about why that would be. With 24 hours of consideration under my belt, I have a hypothesis: we're suffering from novelty fatigue.
Used to be (like, five years ago) that specialty, one-off beers were rare birds. Most breweries hadn't started a barrel-aging program, and seasonal releases were good for variety, but they weren't particularly exotic beers. When a brewery did release something strange and special, beer geeks flocked to check it out. Beer fests accelerated the phenomenon by giving breweries an opportunity to highlight rarities and special beers. Breweries started developing barrel programs.
Fast forward to 2011. There has been an event like the one at Beermongers nearly every weekend of the spring and summer (sometimes more than one), and breweries are the font of dozens of one-off beers every month. The thing is, mostly these appeal to beer geeks. And, while there are lots of beer geeks, there aren't an infinite supply. We can only drink so many new beers. I know from my own habits that this is a process of selection. Devonshire White Ale, yes. Double gin-barrel aged wit, no. This fest, yes; that one, no. It's not that I'm not interested in all these beers and fests, it's that I can't enjoy them all. So I skip some--and in truth, most.
One other observation. While I do like one-off beers, I actually like beers that stay around even more. I like to get to know a beer over time, and I still mix up new beers with old standbys in my rotation. When I try new beers, there's something satisfying in knowing that it won't be the last time I get to drink it. One-offs have their place, but ephemera begs to be considered dispensable, and I succumb to that impulse.