Not Thinking, Thinking, Over-Thinking Beer

Art Deco beer glass.

This article about the nature of criticism on the British Film Institute website and a general navel-gazing mood have prompted us to think about, er… thinking about beer.

In recent months, we’ve spoken to people who consider ‘tasting’ to be a ludicrous pretension. We have also heard from those who see that as a ‘moronic, Luddite point of view’ (Mark Dorber), and think tasting/thinking/talking about beer are essential to its health.

We’ve spoken to brewers who believe beer deserves ‘reverence’ (Alastair Hook), and ought to be regarded as a ‘sensory product’ just as wine has been for many years (Sean Franklin); while others exhibit outright disdain for writing, rating and other forms of commentary on beer.

So, what is the correct amount to think about beer? We don’t know, and of course the question is slightly tongue-in-cheek, but here, at least, is an attempt to understand the spectrum:

Chart: a spectrum from 'not thinking' to 'overthinking?'.

We’ve been at every point on that list at one time or another, though we abandoned ‘not thinking’ for good the day we started a beer blog.

10 thoughts on “Not Thinking, Thinking, Over-Thinking Beer”

  1. Hobby. Which is a perfectly good thing. I do suspect the ambitions, financial interests or dependencies involved with beer as the exquisite experience, beer belongs in a sensory deprivation chamber set. I do the same with wine. Or anything. Audiophiles. Yikes. But there is a huge mass of data around beer and brewing which is naturally immersive. And beer itself has that filling intoxicating thing that comes from something that fills and intoxicates. So if you are going to have someone lose perspective, why wouldn’t it be with beer?

  2. I’m somewhere between “important part of our culture” and “meaning of life” – except that I’m indifferent at best to beer/food matching, mildly hostile to the ‘tasting’ approach and downright grumpy about any form of beer connoisseurism.

    I’d say that beer’s endlessly fascinating, and genuinely important, but only if you don’t overthink it. (I’m with Richard Boston, in other words (before he went off beer).) Perhaps you need another axis – Serious to Unserious on the Y axis and Fun to Meaningful on X? (Pete Brown: Serious/Meaningful. Mark Dredge: Serious/Fun. TAFKACookie: Unserious/Fun. Me and the ghost of Richard Boston: Unserious/Meaningful.)

    1. Interesting that Phil mentioned Richard Boston. He is a pivotal figure in the beer revival story, predating and possibly prefiguring Michael Jackson. Boston’s book, circa-1974, composed as I recall of Guardian columns, is a landmark in beer literature. I hope your book, Ray, will consider him.

      Reading an eloge such as this:

      http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/richard-boston-430228.html

      one senses what Phil was getting at. This man seemed a polymath, someone whose enthusiasms could run deep but probably not long, since other passions awaited his spirit.

      It is good to remember him, yet his example proves but one path to the beery way, My way is to get in deep, not to the beer qua alcohol drink, but the lore and history around it. It can be modern, it can be old; somehow old always seems better but nostalgia and simple aging plays a role there surely.

      Gary

      1. We couldn’t write about British beer in the seventies without mentioning Boston. Here’s an old blog post from early on in our research; and we also wrote a piece about him and Ian Nairn for the current issue of the CAMRA quarterly BEER magazine.

        1. There’s some good stuff about Nairn in the recent Jonathan Meades collection (Museum Without Walls). Also a very good essay about beer and pubs – “Pint Sized”. Apologies if you’re already aware.

  3. I’d say knock the top one off and drop the bottom two, and that’s where I fit. I try to encompass all of those at once. It’s all fun and meaningful and meaningless and reverent and irreverent, but mostly it’s just plain fun. Beer is both my career, my hobby, and my passion, but at the end of the day, it’s just beer. I’m not curing cancer or performing rocket surgery. Food pairing is fun. Tasting and taking notes is fun (I never do it in the vacuum of a “sensory deprivation” situation). I usually do it while I’m blogging (a fun beer activity) or watching a movie with my partner at the end of the day. Earning my Certified Cicerone® was fun. Talking with other beer people is fun. Helping people to find their love for beer is fun. Overly serious beer snobs, not fun.

    Beer is a lifestyle for me. It exists for the enjoyment of life, sharing with friends, and just because it tastes damn good! I dedicate the amount of time I wish to dedicate to it, but don’t require anyone else to dedicate any more time than they feel is right for the life and enjoyment. Fortunately, we have the internet where like minded folk like us can congregate and indulge our passion without bothering those who don’t share it quite as much.

  4. I can’t believe I’ve missed this.

    Beer is a consumers product, a beverage, no more no less than that. Like every consumers product/foodstuff it is a product of a culture. Like every product of every culture, it can be the subject of debate, discussion, worship, obsession, profiteering, geekery, study, hobby, etc.. In that sense, it’s not all that different to cheese or crisps, for that matter.

    We can intellectualise beer all we want (and it’s a fun thing to do) and invest it with all sorts of values (which can also be fun, and for some people, a source of profit, too), but at the end of the day, it’s an alcoholic beverage the consumption of which is, first and foremost, a sensory experience, or a part thereof, that you can greatly enjoy and appreciate without the need of giving a second thought to what you are drinking beyond the “I like it / I don’t like it”.

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