Writing and quotes
Many of us who love beer record what we drink, in one way or another. Some review beers via video, some take photos, some make lists (Untappd: the acceptable face of beer ticking), and some write.
I find that writing about beer crystallises the experience, making you consciously analyse and put into words the feelings that are as yet a blur of unidentified aromas, flavours waiting to be named, and memories lurking just beyond your grasp. Memories which, when they are recorded, make up my favourite type of beer writing: concerning moments personal and precious to the writer.
Just as a beer can conjure up memories of people and places past, these pieces take me back to long, slow afternoons drinking and de-constructing good beer in dear company; to the serene moments spent in quiet contemplation, when your pint isn’t an object of scrutiny but is instead your companion in solitude; to the frantic bustle and noise and heat of a festival as you work your way through a whirlwind of different tastes and end up wildly off piste, veering away from your meticulously marked programme and towards a viscous, inappropriate barley wine while clutching in your other hand a smartingly hot but sorely needed pasty; until I can no longer quite recall if the memories are mine or theirs, and I’m filled with wanderlust, nostalgia, and inevitably, thirst.
That’s what captivates me, and and what keeps me writing. New places, experiences, whether unusual or utterly humdrum, and the tales we turn them in to. “What I did on my holidays” can be transportive. To live, and record, something ephemeral, and to have somebody else understand what you mean, how you felt, and recall moments and beers dear to them… It’s almost as good as drinking the stuff.
“Like wine, beer is beginning to interest a far wider audience. Unusual imports… “boutique beers”… specialities… traditional ales… the renaissance extends from Europe to North America, to Japan and Australia. Hundreds of new, speciality beers are being produced by scores of new breweries.”
- Inside the front cover of Michael Jackson’s The New World Guide to Beer, 1988.
I came to beer relatively late in my drinking career thus far, having spent the years between fourteen and eighteen necking various different types of sugary, sticky rubbish. My eighteenth birthday was at the end of 2008, and my first legal purchase at the bar on that evening was, I believe, an Apple Sourz shot (Fast-forward five and a half years, and I’m still drinking sours, although these ones are rather different). It wasn’t until 2009, working behind the bar in a community-run pub, that I sampled the ale which led to my current beer geekery: Dark Star Hophead, for those of you who are curious. I was lucky to be discovering beer at this time. Exploring this brave new world which was unfolding in front of me, I had access to The Cask in Pimlico, I haunted North Bar in Leeds, I was able to join – and subsequently become president of – a well established university Real Ale Society, Brew Dog were making waves, and Boak and Bailey had already been blogging about beer for two years. I’ve found their blog to be an interesting and amusing source of beery info and opinion over the years, so when they popped up at Port Street as part of their book tour in May, I went along, bought a copy, and tried not to be too much of an awkward fangirl…
So really, my personal beer journey begins in the last couple of chapters of Jessica Boak and Ray Bailey’s book, Brew Britannia: The Strange Rebirth of British Beer. This friendly, accessible, but very informative wander through the resurgence of British beer laid out before me a history of relatively recent years. Many people I know have lived, and been active beer drinkers, throughout much of the period detailed in this book, but I have merely gleaned a vague shape of the historical landscape from CAMRA publications, various blog posts, broader books such as Pete Brown’s Man Walks Into A Pub, and, of course, nostalgic tales, not always particularly positive: “Hah, a young lady drinking a pint! When I was young you weren’t allowed to do that”. Brew Britannia doesn’t just fill in the gaps in the landscape, it gets out its felt tips, adds trees, houses, and little cartoon dogs, then colours everything in very carefully without going over the lines.
From SPBW boozing in their marvellous ties, to the young, hipster-ish upstarts which CAMRA once were (no, really!), through early brewpubs, ‘beer exhibitions’, The Big Six, Michael Jackson, new world hopped beers tasting ‘weird’, and small independent brewers standing their ground, to gastropubs, the gentrification of beer, and the phrase ‘craft’ being around for far longer than one might expect, it’s an invaluable guide to what has gone before – and what we may see again. The names mentioned in the book vary from being entirely new to me, to having a mildly mythic status, and it’s enjoyable to see their characters and roles set out in context, although at some points I felt like I wanted to scribble some sort of tree diagram, to keep track of who knew who, who did what, and where! I suppose that’s the nature of the beer industry: it’s a very small world, and brewers are always hopping (groan, no pun intended) from place to place.
The last couple of chapters are concerned with history I am more familiar with, with Thornbridge being one of the breweries I initially fell in love with in 2009 – even then, they were very firmly established. Craft keg, Brett, schooners, unfined beer, new wave IPAs, Portman Group baiting, beer bars, IndyMan and CAMRGB, and we’re brought pretty firmly up to the moment… In ten years or so, it will be interesting to look back on the current craft boom we’re enjoying. As a beer enthusiast, I feel very spoiled and lucky by all of the choice I have – did the beer geeks of yore feel like this at the first CAMRA festivals? Will good(/craft/whatever you want to call it) beer continue to break into the mainstream? Some young brewers I know are now actively steering clear of brewing weird, niche beers for the craft wankers, instead focusing on brewing straight-forward pales for people who don’t particularly care about precisely which hops they are tasting. Will we really experience post-craft, a backlash against perceived pretentiousness and hipsterism? A recent ill-informed Grauniad comment piece seems to indicate that we may. And will CAMRA ever get their act together to move forward away from ignoring anything that isn’t cask-conditioned, or will they become an increasingly irrelevant drinking club? (For further thoughts on this last point, check out The Pub Curmudgeon’s recent “Opening Times” Column). Brew Britannia has, in exploring the past, got me thinking about the future – but aside from all of that, it’s a bloody enjoyable and interesting read, and one which I will dip back into for reference time and time again.
A little while ago, as part of a team building exercise, I had occasion to come up with a name, and write a bottle schpiel, for a pretend beer. Only the style and the extra ingredients – all randomly selected – were given. My style was porter, and the extra ingredients were rosemary, and Earl Grey tea. I rather enjoyed this little exercise, and thought I’d post my effort up here, unedited, for a laugh. Bear in mind, we didn’t have too long to work on these, and they were designed to be read aloud to the group. I named the beer ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover‘, and here is the label blurb:
“Porter: a working man’s beer. On the edge of the grounds of a stately home, concealed in the woods, one such working man – a grounds keeper – brewed his beer with the rosemary from his herb garden, and the Earl Grey tea favoured by his lover. How can this delicate, fragrant tea work with the dark, earthy, herbal beer? It’s a clash of cultures, the rough with the refined, a clandestine love affair which should never have been… But once sampled, this six percent romp is a secret you won’t be able to keep.”
Deliberately pretentious? Why, my dear chap, I haven’t the foggiest what you mean… ;)