Ask Alex: Craft Beer On A Budget

“Thinking about drinking, with your wallet AND your stomach.”


“I need some beer recommendations. I’m also poor. Do you have an beers you would recommend for a poor guy like me?” — Anonymous

I’d like to think I deal with this question a lot, since I’m in your same shoes, buddy. There are lots of options for the destitute craft beer connoisseur, it just depends on what kind of beer you like…and how frequently you like to drink.

The quality of beer is not wholly and intrinsically connected to the price or rarity of the beer. Yes, you can find correlations. But it’s perfectly possible for a brewery to create a great beer and sell it at a great price.

http://www.beerfm.com/2012/03/the-alchemist-heady-topper-review/

Let’s take world famous beer Heady Topper, considered by some to be the world’s greatest beer, can be bought for $3 a can…if you can happen to get your hands on it. While that might seem like a lot, it’s not when you put it into perspective. Even though it has incredible acclaim and popularity, it is not the world’s most expensive beer. That honor goes to Samuel Adam’s Utopia, which sells for $150 (or more). Now, let’s compare that to wine. The world’s most expensive wine is the Chateau Margaux, which sells for £122,380 ( $202,820.37 ).

My point is that it’s possible to find good craft beer at an affordable price, especially compared to wine. By the way, The Alchemist Brewery, maker of Heady Topper, has never tried to raise the price on the beer since it was first released. Three dollars a can, suddenly seems very reasonable.

So what are your options? Well, your options will vary by state. There’s microbreweries everywhere and more are popping up by the day. Make friends with your local nanobrewer, microbrewer, or even homebrewer! Figure out when happy hour is at your favorite bar! The important thing to figure out is what type of beer you like. What tastes do you like? Do you like your beer dark and smooth? Dark and strong? Hoppy as hell? Or hoppy and drinkable? Do you like fruit beer? Belgian yeast, wheat beers, new zealand hops, american hops, noble hops? The list can go on. The most important thing to do is to try more beers. If you’ve never had a particular beer before, it’s a good beer, because you get to have a new experience and that is a good thing. Let’s review:

  1. Become friends with local brewers and breweries: nanobrewers, microbrewers, homebrewers.
  2. Drink, sample, try as many beers as you can. Get together with your friends to share. People, in general, love to share beer. Maybe, if they know you well enough, they will know of a beer that you might like.
  3. Happy hour!
  4. In contrast to tip #3, the best way to save money is usually not by eating or drinking out. Ask the guys at your local craft beer store if they have any affordable but great tasting beer in particular!

Local and microbrewed beers are often very affordable. In upstate New York you can find affordable beers from Brown’s, He’Brew, Saranac, Davidson’s and more. It just depends where you are.

Some of these have descriptions, some don’t. Find some beers by each company and try them out if you can afford them. Or look for specific beers mentioned below. It’s up to you!


Stretch Beers

A stretch beer is something to get you by. Picture these scenarios. You’re all out of your favorite beers, but it’s been a long day at work and you want to still have a drink. Maybe you’re having a bunch of buddies over but you don’t have enough bottles in your craft beer stash for everyone. What do you turn to? Stretch beers.

Yuengling — Classic lager, refreshing, consistent.

Magic Hat — Though Magic Hat is not technically a craft brewery anymore, there’s nothing wrong with throwing back a couple on a hot day or when sitting around a campfire.

Blue Moon — For many people this was the first “craft” type brew they had ever tried, though it’s technically not “craft beer” according to the Brewers Association. This could be an inexpensive “stretch” beer to have in the summer, between six packs of craftier, tastier good stuff.

PBR — I know of many brewers who still drink PBR at home, buy this with no shame.

Mainstays

These beers may not be outstanding, they may not break the mold and boldly throw flavors in your face, but they are good and they don’t cost $13 a bottle. These are your mainstays.

Peak Organic — IPA, Summer Session Ale, Hop Noir, Simcoe Spring Ale. My favorite is their Oak Aged Mocha Stout.

Lagunitas — These guys are great if you love IPAs. Lagunitas Sucks also happens to be one of the best DIPAs out there.

Widmer — Look for their Pitch Black IPA, Alchemy Ale, Columbia Common and Milk Stout (though I prefer Left Hand’s Milk Stout).

New Belgium — A lot of their beer is very affordable, but soothes the taste buds. Try Fat Tire Amber Ale.

Captain Lawrence — Look for Liquid Gold, Saison, IPA, Captain’s Kolsch. I think all of these are especially appropriate for warmer weather.

Sierra Nevada — Who can turn down Sierra Nevada Pale Ale?

Trader Joe’s — I believe they contract their brewing out to Shipyard and some other breweries, they might have some good stuff if you poke around.

Dogfish Head — One of the most iconic and creative craft breweries also has some affordable beer too! Try their 60 Minute IPA.

Flying Dog — They make good beer, pick a style, if you can afford it, get it.

Harpoon — People like Harpoon, I’m not crazy about them, but maybe you will appreciate them.

He’Brew— Genesis is a sessionable beer and not too expensive. Hop Manna is a great piney, citrusy IPA that won’t break the bank. Check out their other beers if you can.

Schlafly — They make the best oatmeal stout I’ve ever had. I may be biased.

Left Hand — Milk Stout (and Milk Stout Nitro) this is the Guinness of milk stouts. Everyone has had it, everyone likes it (if they like dark beers). If you’ve never had a milk stout, think of it like a sweeter Guinness. \

Breckenridge Brewery — I think these guys are most known for their Vanilla Porter. Not the best vanilla porter, but it is good.

Uinta — Their Baba Organic Black Lager is surprisingly good and their pumpkin beer Punk’n is incredible.

Monotony Breakers

You’ve been buying the same beer over and over. You don’t want to break the bank, but you’re okay with spending just a little bit more. These are the beers and brands you want. Go ahead and find something new and bold. Be an explorer! You don’t get to do this every day. But maybe you can do this every once in a while.

Dogfish Head — If you find their 120 Minute IPA, no matter how much money you have, buy that. One of my personal favorites from them is their Noble Rot, it’s a saison with a big grape/wine taste.

Founders — Most likely you can find their Breakfast Stout at a craft beer store. It’s not the most expensive of beers. But it’s always roasty, dark and delicious. If you see Founders KBS, buy that, even if you have to drink pony piss for the rest of the month.

The Alchemist — Heady Topper, if you can find it, is only $3 a can.

Mikkeller — They’re always making something weird and interesting, pick up a bottle and try one. Their Beer Geek beers are especially good, though often expensive.

He’Brew — Grab any of their more expensive bottles and enjoy what is most likely a strong beer or a new experience.

Stone — Grab the Enjoy By ____ IPA whenever you see it.

Atwater Brewery — Their Vanilla Java Porter is awesome. It’s sweet with a mild roasty flavor, sweet vanilla and a little java on the back.

Samuel Smith — I love dark and sweet beer, without any diversity of flavors besides dark and sweet, so I love Samuel Smith’s Organic Chocolate Stout. It’s like chocolate milk in beer form. Try mixing it with their Organic Raspberry Fruit Beer. They are also famous for their Oatmeal Stout, which is quite good.

Goose Island — At my local store in upstate NY they sell Sofie and Matilda in large bottles for under $9 each.

Maine Beer Company — Mean Old Tom is smooth, velvety, roasty with a big vanilla aroma and taste. Also look for their Peeper APA and Lunch IPA. I’m also sure every other beer they make is just as good.

Jack’s Abby — Hoponius Union is an awesome Pale Lager.

Treat Yourself

Let’s say you’ve spent all month holding back on good beer to pay your bills or for some extra necessary expense- all in the name of wisdom and self-control. But now something amazing is coming up, the anniversay of something or your favorite holiday or maybe you’ve just been working so hard non-stop for days and weeks. You owe it to yourself. You’ve only got money to spend on one big, beautiful, satisfying beer. It’s time to treat yourself (and maybe a few lucky others).

For dark beer lovers:

Goose Island Bourbon County

Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout

Old Rasputin

Evil Twin Imperial Biscotti Break

Great Divide’s Yeti beers (I love the Chocolate Oak Aged Yeti)

For hop lovers:

Anything by Stone (Ruination IPA is worth a shot if you love almost-too-hoppy beers)

Pliny the Elder

Heady Topper (yes I know, it’s in two categories and now I’m a fanboy)

Zombie Dust

Jai Alai

Firestone Walker Wookey Jack — this is a black IPA so it has a little bit of both, so far as hops and malt. It may not be a straight hop bomb, but it is an incredible beer and it definitely not shy with its hops.

Summary

There’s good beer available out there. If it’s a priority to drink good beer, just like anything good in life, you won’t mind shelling out a couple more dollars. If your number one goal is to get drunk cheaper, craft beer isn’t really for you in general. Though I’m sure there’s some high percentage alcohol craft beers for you at a lower price, you’re better off sticking to liquor and cheap twenty-four packs.

It’s impossible for me to cover almost every beer. I haven’t drank them all, and different parts of the country have different beers. If you think there’s a beer that deserves to be on this list, leave me a note/comment!


Update: Suggestions from some of our readers on Reddit. Thanks guys!

Next Story — Bud Light Ranked #1 Beer in the World by RateBeer.com
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Bud Light Ranked #1 Beer in the World by RateBeer.com

Reviewers claim “It’s really the taste that wins you over. Especially after your eighth one.”


Today, in a major referendum by the RateBeer.com top users to review their top beers and submit their rankings anonymously, so that they wouldn't be influenced by the pressure of “beer snobs”, Bud Light was ranked as the number one beer in the world.

One user, who asked not to be named, elaborated on the subject “Listen, before, we always thought that barrel-aged russian this and sour that were never that good- we just liked them because we knew no one else had them. But everyone has Bud Light and I think that’s why we’ve decided to reconsider our rating. Obviously, the sign of how good a beer is, is not how few people have it, but it’s how many people have it and no one has more of any beer than Bud Light.”

Experts are now weighing in on the historic shift in our view of beer, “Listen, bro, there’s a reason everyone likes it. It’s science. You can’t argue with that.”

Legions of “Dogfish Headies” are now burning their posters of Sam Calagione, after they realized how wrong they were to like his beer. One fan, Austin Burgher chimes in, “Everyone knows Sam was always more of a rap artist anyways. I think you can’t be a jack of all trades, otherwise you are going to be master of none. He should just stick with his rap and TV career. Or his writing career. But beer isn’t for him. Honestly, I feel stupid.”

One top beer, Heady Topper, has fallen from the rankings. It was replaced by Bud Light Lime. We asked PlinyTopperForever69, a user from alternative beer rating site, Beeradvocate.com, to give us perspective, “Heady Topper had hop aroma, sure, any beer can do that. But did it have that Lime taste that all the fans want? No. And I think we are starting to take that more seriously.”

Hit even harder, perhaps, by the recent shift in thinking was a beer previously spoken of in dark underground beer-sharing orgies, held in dank and poorly lit cellars, often attended by slightly-overweight bearded men in oddly bright clothes. This beer is Westvleteren 12. Previously used in place of engagement rings and also as a strong aphrodisiac among beer-elite, this beer is artfully crafted by monks inside the Westvleteran brewery at the Trappist Abbey of Saint Sixtus of Westvleteren in Belgium. Once considered one of the best beers in the world. Traditionally the beer can only be obtained with an individual reservation at the monastery. In 2012, Joe Bagiglione, a beer fan in the United States murdered sixteen innocent bystanders to obtain a case at a beer festival where the impossible had happened and Westvleteran IIV was brought to the united states.

Now the beer is being re-dubbed “Worstvleteran IIV”.

One wonders now where the future of craft beer will go. Now that we know Bud Light is not only a craft beer, but the best craft beer, the possibilities are endless. Beer expert Gordon Strong weighs in on it, “Obviously Anheuser-Busch has their shit together. Who knows, maybe they will start experimenting with things now that they are comfortable in the lead. They could add Lime, or maybe Lemon, or something stupid like coriander. I don’t know, they’ve already given us almost everything we want.”

Next Story — Ice Cream and Beer Floats Are The Next Big Thing!
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Ice Cream and Beer Floats Are The Next Big Thing!


As much as we love root beer, we love craft beer even more. And guess what, it goes extremely well with one of our other favorite friend — ice cream.

Why has this never been a thing before? Here’s my theory. Before craft beer started becoming so popular most people associated beer with fizzy yellow liquid that tasted and looked something like pony piss, now people are starting to catch on that there’s so many different styles of beer that you can’t even count them on your fingers and toes.

Now that I’ve refreshed your memory, let me introduce you to the next greatest thing ever:

Wow. It still stuns me every time I see it, like a beautiful woman. However, unlike a beautiful woman, there’s a good chance you will get one!*

Here’s what you need to make one:
1) A big mug, pint glass, or tulip glass.
2) Vanilla Ice Cream and/or your ice cream of choice.
3) Chocolate syrup (Hershey’s works fine)
4) Samuel Smith’s Organic Chocolate Stout and/or Young’s Double Chocolate Stout
5) Whipped cream
6) Cookie Factory — Fudge Fantasy or a suitable replacement cookie.
7) A spoon. Teaspoons or dessert spoons work. As well as long, thin handled spoons.
Optional: straw and a cherry to put on top (my girlfriend doesn’t like cherries)

There’s so many variations you can do with beer floats. If you are making beer floats for multiple people, I like to get both Samuel Smith’s and Young’s Double Chocolate and mix them about half and half. Samuel Smith’s is sweeter, almost like chocolate milk, and Young’s is a little more bitter in a roasty dark chocolate way. If it’s just for yourself, I recommend trying the Samuel Smith’s Organic Chocolate Stout, it’s one of my favorite beers. It’s very sweet, smooth, and chocolatey.

Now, making a beer float is actually trickier than you might think because the ice cream causes the beer to foam…a lot. There’s a couple ways to avoid or embrace the beer foam. I like to alternate scoops of Ice cream with pours of beer. This allows me to drizzle chocolate syrup up and down the glass and over the ice cream.

If you don’t mind two minutes of prep, put your beer glass in the freezer to chill it. Go to your sink and run your ice cream scooper under hot water for about six seconds. Fill a bowl of hot water from your sink and let your scooper sit in it while you take out everything you need and put it on the table. Now you’re ready to start making delicious beer/ice cream mouth-art.

Here’s your step by step instructions to make a masterpiece:

  1. Fill the glass about a quarter full with beer. Enough to cover a scoop of ice cream.
  2. Put a scoop of vanilla ice cream into the glass.
  3. Pour more beer.
  4. You have the option to make your next scoop vanilla ice cream or you could switch it up and try something like cookies and cream or mint chocolate chip or cookie dough or even just a subtle variation like french vanilla or vanilla bean.
  5. Drizzle chocolate syrup. Try to get it to show in a circular pattern on the edge of the glass. Get it all over the ice cream, but careful not to use too much. This is up to personal taste.
  6. Pour more beer and scoop another scoop of vanilla.
  7. It’s okay to have the top 1/4 of your glass as beer foam. Once you reach this level, top it off with whipped cream, chocolate syrup and maybe throw a cherry on top.
  8. Plunk in a straw and/or spoon. I like to garnish by pushing a soft Fudge Fantasy cookie onto the rim of the glass.
  9. Serve on a small saucer or plate, it could get messy.

Congratulations, you just made a dark, delicious, beer float.

So now you’re obsessed with beer floats? “What do I do now?” you ask. I’ll tell you, I’ll help you fuel you ice cream beer bloat addiction. I’ll be an enabler, it’s ok, I’m here with you. There’s a bunch more types of beer floats out there! There’s just as much variety as there is beer and ice cream. However, there are certain combos that work very well.

Vanilla ice cream seems seems to go best with beer, because of beer’s often bitter quality. Also, many beers already have a vanilla quality, even if no vanilla or vanilla beans were used to make them. Most barrel aged beers acquire a vanilla-like quality from the barrel. Hefeweizens often include vanilla in their taste profiles (among clove, banana, and bubblegum). It also accentuates the chocolate malt used in dark beers, while hiding its bitterness.

So vanilla seems to work well with dark beers and hefeweizens. It will also work well in a good Framboise. In the case of a Framboise, you might also like to try a scoop of raspberry shorbet instead.

I recommend trying the beers below before committing them wholly to a beer float; they are great beers. Here’s a couple of pairings that might work for you:

Guinness + Vanilla
This one needs almost no explanation. If you love Guinness, you will love this. Consider throwing in some Bailey’s and some fudge.
Bourbon County Coffee Stout + Chocolate and/or Vanilla
If you are looking for a bold pairing, the combination of coffee, vanilla, and bourbon from this stout may only have an equal match to its friend chocolate ice cream. See what works for you though, vanilla is always a good choice.
Dogfish Head Palo Santo + Vanilla
This beer is thick, sweet and quite alcoholic at 12% abv. It’s aged in tanks made from exotic Paraguayan Palo Santo wood. You may get caramel, vanilla, toffee, oak, nutty notes from this beer. Consider lots of vanilla and maybe throw in some chocolate shavings.
Southern Tier Choklat + Vanilla
This beer is strong on the sweet chocolate, with some vanilla and caramel notes. Staying true to it’s purposely misspelled name, you might as well be just pouring pure liquid chocolate into a glass.
Wolaver’s Alta Gracia + Vanilla or Cookie Dough
This beer is brewed with Vermont grown organic coffee and aged on organic vanilla beans. The vanilla beans balance the coffee flavor and hints of chocolate. These flavors might be accentuated best by cookie dough ice cream. But vanilla always works too!
Southern Tier Creme Brulee + Vanilla
Creme Brulee is probably the sweetest “dessert beer” I’ve ever tasted. Just like southern tier’s choklat, it’s super strong and heavy on the flavor. Except, this flavor is vanilla. So, if you love vanilla (and I mean lots of vanilla), then get this beer and throw some ice cream in it. This may be a good candidate for some chocolate shavings, chocolate syrup, chocolate chips, chocolate whatever, to balance out the vanilla a little. Try it, see if you like it. If not, don’t say I didn’t mention the vanilla.

The key to beer floats is experimentation and finding what you like. Figure out if you prefer bitter, bittersweet or just sweet. There’s so much variety you can take advantage of. I’d like to think that there’s a beer float out there for everyone (everyone over 21). Maybe I’m just a naive beer-float romantic.

* Ladies, you are all beautiful.

Next Story — When Is Beer More Than Beer?
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When Is Beer More Than Beer?

Otherwise known as one Porter and one Stout


I want to write to you today about how I got started in craft beer and, in turn, about how you did too. Just as this is a blog that is about more than beer, so is my belief that beer is about more than beer.

It’s true that this is a claim that can be made about almost anything, “there’s more than meets the eye” or that there is something under the surface of everything. I believe this is mostly true only when you are truly acquainted with something, just like a sportsman predicting how a play will go with almost supernatural ability. To an outsider, the sportsman’s ability to read the field, to see the game, may seem supernatural but to the sportsman it’s just a result of living and breathing the game, almost involuntary.

How does this apply to beer? I think the reason for truly loving anything is the result of what happens when you love it. This is why people get married, this is why they fall in love. I love you because when I love you, _____ happens. Fill in the blank with something good.

So what is beer about, besides beer? In my case, beer actually changed my life. I distinctly remember the few times I first had good beer. One of the biggest were the craft beer parties that my friends threw in college. They would collect donations and then go to The Beer Trappe in Lexington, KY and buy as many top rated beers as they could and we would pass these around between about a dozen people in a cramped apartment. Another time, a friend of mine drove all the way from Asheville, NC (five hours away) to bring me a trunk full of craft beer.

I distinctly remember my first beer from Country Boy Brewing. I shared it under an old bridge, surrounded by friends, graffiti and eventually an older man convicted of multiple armed felonies, a good guy though. I also remember my first beer from Schlafly, an oatmeal stout, I had never tasted a beer so smooth. However, none of these are as important as “the one beer.” The beer that changed me. For some reason, it wasn’t any of the belgian trappist beers or Pliny the Elder or beers that I would die to have again now.

The most important beer I’ve had is the first one that I ever drank with my girlfriend at Brown’s Brewing Company in Troy, NY. I remember being so surprised and impressed that she ordered a porter, I’d never seen a girl nonchalantly drink such a dark beer- she wasn’t even trying to impress me. Ever since that beer we’ve gone farther and farther into the beer world.

What is beer? Beer is a drink, but it also marks occasions. It’s a celebration of life. It shows our choices. Are you able to drink in moderation? Are you able to let loose? Do you care enough to have preferences about your drink? Do you celebrate life? Do you know how to relax and enjoy conversation? Do you know how to laugh and get silly? Are you an angry person?

How we weigh our choices shows what kind of person we are. Beer offers us the opportunity to show what we care about in life. It’s the question of “Why are you drinking this beer?” Is it because you want to have a conversation? Is it to go with your dinner? Is it to celebrate something in your life or someone elses? In this way, beer is just like food. I remember when my father used to pray for dinner, he used to say “Thank you Lord for this food and bless it to our bodies,” now he says “Thank you Lord for this good food and good drink.”

When I see someone take care to make a meal and pick out the right beer for not only the meal but for me, I know that person cares about me but also that they make good choices. When is beer more than beer? Let me ask you another question, and make it rhetorical. What is beer about? Beer is about people. Beer is more than beer when you make it so. In that situation, beer is a good time. Whether or not you remember that time depends on how much beer you drank. But either way, it was a good time.

Next Story — The Apple-Google shift
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The Apple-Google shift

In the last couple of years, two very distinct things have happened — or, to be more precise, been happening — in the world of consumer tech, in my opinion. A shift has occurred: Apple, once the definition of innovation, has become stale, content to rest on its laurels; while Google, once ugly and disparate, has continually pushed forward with new and better products that are a delight to use.

The result is two-fold: firstly, from a software perspective, Google-authored apps have all but replaced Apple’s defaults on my iPhone; secondly, for the first time ever, I find myself potentially choosing a Google phone over an Apple phone — a choice that represents not just a one-off hardware purchasing decision, but a first tentative step outside of Apple’s ecosystem and, as a result, a break in unashamed Apple fanboy-ism.

Okay, so I’m considering a switch to Android. No big deal. I’m following in the footsteps of many, many, many others. But what I find interesting outside of my own personal decision is that there seems to be a growing discontent with Apple — especially amongst former so-called fanboys/girls — and, at the same time, a growing appreciation of what Google have been doing, especially from a design perspective. In many ways it’s unwise to compare these two companies alone, but few would disagree that these days they’re the two sides of one coin.

So I thought I’d try and pick this apart. What’s actually changed?

It’s not that Apple no longer creates great products, but there’s just not that spark there anymore, is there? Remember when a new MacBook or iMac would launch? Or the iPhone? Or pretty much any new product? The buzz was palpable; the hype almost always justified. For years and years, Apple constantly innovated, whether it was with entirely new product lines or updates to existing ones, but recently everything has just felt a little… well, meh, hasn’t it?

Could this feeling because Apple is now so ubiquitous, no longer the underdog? Possibly. And could this be down to some very shrewd business decisions, with Apple deciding to refine and hone rather than experiment, as evidenced by the longer life cycles of designs for their phones and computers? Very likely.

But that doesn’t excuse recent product launches that have (again, in my opinion) fallen flat by their past standards. The MacBook? Well, it’s a lovely little machine (and I’m typing on it right now) and I even took a whole set of photos to capture its beautiful form, but time has revealed it to be irritating in many ways (the keys repeatedly get stuck, for instance, and the removal of a magnetic power connector is genuinely irritating). The Apple Watch? After the initial magic wore off, I came to the conclusion that it’s essentially useless — as did almost every other Apple Watch owner I’ve spoken to. The new Apple TV? A total lack of innovation — both from its previous version and the numerous offerings from competitors. New iPhones aren’t even exciting anymore.

In many ways, I wonder if this all started with the launch of iOS 7: although I was originally one of its supporters when it came out and enraged half the Apple-buying world, when I think about it these days, iOS still doesn’t really encourage interaction. It’s not about flat design versus skeuomorphic design; it’s more about how Apple laid the groundwork for what a great, minimal, mobile operating system could be… and then never really built upon those foundations. The same could be said of their camera technology. The iPhone camera’s noise reduction algorithm has ruined many a photo that would have benefitted from not being put through a paint-like Photoshop filter. Oh, and don’t even get me started on Apple Music. What a mess. Sure, it’s not a total failure from an interaction design point of view, but it’s a sub-par effort from a company that should really be far, far, far better than any other steaming music competitors. That Apple Music has been so successful is only down to the ecosystem they’ve cultivated — not because it offers a superior experience.

Then there’s just all the douche moves Apple has made again and again with proprietary connections — their decision to remove the headphone jack on the forthcoming new iPhone being the latest. All of this has added up to make even this most ardent of Apple fanboys start to question his allegiances.

And all the while this has been going on, Google — which, with each new product launch, whether software or hardware, has become even more of an Apple competitor — has continued to innovate; to make better versions of Apple’s own apps. (I don’t even need to mention Maps, do I? No? Good.) And from a design perspective, Google has well and truly grown up: Material Design offered a lot of promise when it was first announced, and in the time that’s passed since, it’s proven itself to be a strong framework for unifying a the company’s multiple software offerings. Sure, there are times when its incarnation feels a little templated and dry — Google Play Music, for example — and perhaps it’s easy to praise Google for their grown-up new looks when, until recent times, Google web apps were so damn ugly. (Remember how Gmail used to look? For a reminder of that less graceful era, look at the browser version of Google Calendar.) But the difficulty of creating a system that works in so many instances, both in terms of aesthetics and interaction, should not be underestimated.

Beneath all of these apps and interactions and aesthetics, there’s another layer of Google that has become so trusted: its infrastructure. Yes, I get the fears about our data being mined to show us more relevant ads, but who do I trust for reliable cloud syncing: Apple or Google? Who do I trust to backup and share my photo library: Apple or Google? Whose infrastructure do I trust for my emails, documents, calendars, and more: Apple or Google? Granted, the latter could be any service provider vs. Google, but the point is that Google’s infrastructure underpins so much of the internet and our daily lives, it often just doesn’t make sense to let someone else handle what we know Google can handle so well.

(At this point, i’m going to refrain from delving into lengthy praises of particular Google apps and services, but I do want to give a quick mention to the Google Calendar and Google Photos iOS apps. They’re so radically superior to Apple’s equivalents, I’d question anyone’s need to ever open those defaults again.)

All this is to say: if Google can be this good on a competitor’s operating system, how much better can it be in its own environment? This is the question that’s been gaining traction in my head recently.

Android used to be a poor man’s iOS, but it’s obviously grown a lot since then. Unfortunately, fragmentation is a problem that’s plagued Android from the very beginning and is probably the primary factor that’s never allowed me to take switching seriously, but here’s where it gets interesting: with Google making (via OEMs) its own Nexus hardware, it’s possible to use a vanilla version of Android, free of bloat from carrier-installed software. It also removes that weird you-can-only-use-this-particlar-version-of-Android thing that plagues Android phones made by other manufacturers, and, in doing so, puts Google on an evening playing field with Apple: control the hardware and you control the software.It just works.

So it’s this vision of Android — a Google phone in its purest form — that’s making me, and others, consider the switch. And with new Nexus phones rumoured to land (or at least be announced) very soon, the opportunity to do so might be just around the corner.

Or maybe not. The new iPhone is also due very soon. Maybe it’ll be amazing. Maybe it’ll be the best hardware and software combination that exists in the world. Maybe Apple’s core apps, services, and experiences that underpin the entire iOS / macOS / tvOS ecosystem will up their respective games and I’ll look back on this post as blasphemy.

But — sadly — I’m not sure that’s something the Apple of 2016 is capable of.

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