The End of the Tyranny of Choice
I have previously written about the difficulty presented in making a choice from the vast sea of options we find in front of us these days. I have exhorted you to embrace the chaos and lean into the confusion, to learn and rejoice in learning and perform your communion with your favourite thing by actively learning about it rather than merely passively consuming it. But what if you have no time or inclination for such things? Who has time, you ask, to learn the differences between pale ale, XPA, hazy pale ale, NEIPA, cold IPA? To fritter away precious opportunities to drink your preferred tipple in hopes of possibly, maybe finding a new go-to? Well, fret not – there is a solution, and it comes in incredibly convenient form.
That form is the subscription box. Just the other day I signed up for this year’s Carwyn Cellars Canvent calendar, something that brought me great joy last year and it was only recently that I received a box of wine in the post, ostensibly a ‘best-of-the-best’ culled from the lists curated by Broadsheet’s top chefs picking their favourite wines. I am fairly ignorant about wine, knowing just enough to sound like I could pass for a rank amateur. This box felt like it might be an opportunity to be exposed to some new and interesting things, to learn something from the packaged notes, to have something I might not know exists, or have no inclination to select for myself from the myriad options that present themselves.
These Canvent calendars themselves have multiplied exponentially over the past few years, with a choice of suppliers providing their own take on the advent calendar of booze. You can get The 12 Beers of Christmas, gin or whisky samplers, specific dark beer boxes, simple mixed 24 packs to name but a few. Regardless, I have signed up for another year, and I can’t imagine abandoning my new tradition, one that I share with my oldest friend, comparing notes, discussing the day’s find, ranking the breweries and their offerings. It’s a good excuse to connect, and a fun way to chill out and indulge over the festive period.
Not confined solely to advent calendars and Christmas time, the subscription box – though hardly a new development – appears to be having a renaissance these days. I assume it was the popularity of dinner kits aimed at the time-poor to remove the chore of shopping for groceries that pushed this new explosion of subscription services. Maybe it’s the omnipresence of availability online streaming brings in the form of Twitch, Spotify, Steam, Netflix et al that has us doing our shopping from our own couches. Perhaps it was covid, normalising the fear of leaving the house and doing everything from our couches. Maybe it’s the internet itself, present for ages but perhaps only relatively recently reaching enough of a critical mass appeal to revolutionise shopping not solely for the technologically literate but now for the average person or family. Whatever it is, massive expansion of the infrastructure associated with delivery and postal services has led us to a point where shopping from home is normal in a way I couldn’t have conceived of as a kid in the 80’s.
Apart from the ease and convenience of having exactly what you need delivered right into your hands in your own home or left in a safe place to pick up on your return, the relatively recent phenomenon of the ‘curated experience’ surprise box is on the rise. Whether that’s a loot box of fun little nerdy toys and collectibles, or a box of bizarre Japanese snacks, or even a box of crafting equipment for the creation of tabletop gaming terrain and miniatures, there is a subscription service for pretty much anything. Chief of interest among these, for me, is the beer box. There are so many flavours to choose from. Breweries who are curating their own products for you as a one-off sampler or a recurring monthly delivery, distributors collecting their best sellers and packaging them up for you. Shops choosing from their own favourites, or experts curating a list of the best examples of a style – pilsners or stouts etc. There are even non-alcoholic beer subscription boxes, bringing together the available zero or ultra-low alcohol beer manufacturers.
If the sheer number of options in front of you is overwhelming, if you’re daunted by having to pick and choose from a seemingly limitless sea of choices, this might be the answer for you. Put your faith in the hands of a deliveryman. Sure, every now and then you may get a skunky pilsner that doesn’t appeal, a bland witbier that makes you yawn or a bonkers dessert stout or some mind-boggling style that you just can’t wrap your head around, but it’s a great way to expose yourself to new and interesting things without having to do any homework first. The element of surprise will add its own savour, the joy of discovery will do the same, and you will have an option to try a whole slew of new things that may change your whole outlook, or at least your next phase of development. If you like to try new things, but simply can’t be arsed doing a tonne of reading, a little gift-box to yourself might be just the answer.