Session #142: Funeral Beer

Guinness.

This is our con­tri­bu­tion to the final edi­tion of the Ses­sion host­ed by Stan Hierony­mus: “Pick a beer for the end of a life, an end of a meal, an end of a day, an end of a rela­tion­ship. So hap­py or sad, or some­thing between. Write about the beer. Write about the aro­ma, the fla­vor, and write about what you feel when it is gone.”

Funeral beer is whatever beer they have on at the pub near the crematorium, or the social club in town.

That usu­al­ly means big brand lager or smooth­flow bit­ter. Aun­tie Joan on the sher­ry, let’s raise a whisky in mem­o­ry, it’s what they would have want­ed.

Or Guin­ness.

And, let’s face it, Guin­ness fits a funer­al best of all, per­ma­nent­ly dressed in that old black suit.

It feels as if Ire­land owns funer­al drink­ing in some sense born of stereo­types and heavy lit­er­a­ture, so even if you aren’t even slight­ly Irish on your mother’s side, Guin­ness fits.

It is dark, slow, bit­ter.

And these days, a lit­tle sad, too.

A mono­chrome beer for a mono­chrome mood, sit­ting on your stom­ach like a rain­cloud.

The Penultimate Session, #141: The Future of Beer Blogging

Ugh, blogging about blogging… But, then again, we’ve not indulged for a while, and the news that the Session is expiring seems like a good moment.

The Ses­sion start­ed a month before we com­menced our (cal­en­dar check) 11 year, 7 month beer blog­ging adven­ture, and has been a reas­sur­ing con­stant.

There have been times when, slight­ly lost and dis­en­gaged from blog­ging, the Ses­sion pulled us back – part cre­ative writ­ing prompt, part warm hug.

When it near­ly died a few years ago we were for­lorn, but then every­one seemed to ral­ly and it was saved. Kind of.

Like one of those TV shows that comes back for a weird final sea­son on some stream­ing plat­form or oth­er, it nev­er quite felt the same.

As Jay Brooks says in his call to arms for this month’s Ses­sion, few­er and few­er peo­ple took part, and hosts seemed hard to find.

So, as Jay and Stan sail off to the west in one of those elf boats, here we are for the sec­ond to last time, doing our duty: Jay wants to know what we think about the future of beer blog­ging, and we’re going to tell him.

First, we refuse to be gloomy. Every Sat­ur­day morn­ing we find plen­ty of great posts that we think are worth shar­ing, and those pieces seems more adven­tur­ous, styl­ish, eru­dite and var­ied than much of what was around a decade ago.

More often these days, though, great blogs arrive, blos­som, and then with­er when their authors aban­don them to go pro­fes­sion­al. Yes, it might feel as if all the mag­a­zines are clos­ing but we reck­on there are more pay­ing out­lets for beer writ­ing in the UK now than a decade ago. That’s good for writ­ers, but bad news if you’ve a pref­er­ence for dri­ven, ambi­tious blog­ging.

In gen­er­al, we’d say the feel­ing of glob­al com­mu­ni­ty has dimin­ished, but that’s not a whinge. It’s been replaced (prob­a­bly for the best) by many active, more local­ly-focused sub-com­mu­ni­ties: the pub crawlers, the his­to­ri­ans, the tast­ing note gang, the pod­cast­ers, the social issues crew, the jostling pros and semi-pros, the pis­stak­ers, and so on.

That can be mild­ly dis­con­cert­ing if you don’t want to pick a tribe, we sup­pose.

And broad­er com­mu­ni­ty activ­i­ty does con­tin­ue, just not often in the form of labo­ri­ous­ly inter­linked blog posts. Instead, it cen­tres around social media hash­tags, some­times gen­tly com­mer­cial­ly dri­ven: check out #Beer­Bods, #Craft­Beer­Hour and #Lets­Beer­Pos­i­tive for a few exam­ples.

These are light in tone, easy to engage with, and don’t require any­body to set aside an hour under the angle­poise with a jug of cof­fee and a the­saurus. You can respond from the sofa, in front of the tel­ly with a can of pas­try stout, or while you’re at the pub.

So, on bal­ance, we see the future of blog­ging as being much like its past – some­times sup­port­ive, some­times bad-tem­pered, over-emo­tion­al, churn­ing like pri­mor­dial soup as blogs are born in fits of tip­sy enthu­si­asm and die of ennui – but also more frac­tured, more var­ied, and less cosy.

And less about blogs.

The Session #139: The Good Life

For this month’s edi­tion of the Ses­sion Bill Van­der­burgh at Craft Beer in San Diego asks us to think about ‘Beer and the Good Life’.

There’s no doubt in our minds that beer is one of the good things in our lives, and probably all the more so since it has settled into a quiet kind of obsession.

Back when we were eager fives it prob­a­bly did more harm than good.

We wast­ed a bit too much time chas­ing nov­el­ties and rar­i­ties, spend­ing entire days on hol­i­day hunt­ing obscure beers pure­ly because they were obscure beers. (But even this gave our wan­der­ing pur­pose and took us to inter­est­ing parts of strange towns.)

There were times when some­times online argu­ments about beer rolled and replayed in our heads when we want­ed to be asleep. (But those argu­ments informed two books and more than a decade of blog­ging so sil­ver lin­ings and all that.)

Hitchcock style poster: OBSESSION.

And we had some bad hang­overs which cut week­ends in half and ruined entire days.

These days, though, beer is a fun thing we enjoy togeth­er, and with fam­i­ly and friends. We’re both more fussy (we know what we like with ever greater pre­ci­sion) and less – the choice of beer is def­i­nite­ly now less impor­tant than peo­ple and pubs.

Stop­ping for a beer on the way home helps break the rou­tine, forces us to take a moment for our­selves between work and domes­tic busi­ness. There’s a sweet spot about halfway down drink num­ber one where we light­en and sigh.

Beer is con­ver­sa­tion – not only a loosen­er but in its own right a pleas­ing­ly unim­por­tant thing to have absorb­ing, point­less con­ver­sa­tions about.

It’s a hob­by, too, but these days one that is more about admir­ing pubs and read­ing than it is actu­al­ly drink­ing – a far cry from those decade-ago evenings spent pair­ing beer and cheese, or earnest­ly tast­ing bot­tles of Amer­i­can IPA.

If beer dis­ap­peared from our lives tomor­row, would we cope? Yes, prob­a­bly. Between knit­ting and archi­tec­ture and music and films and explor­ing we’d have plen­ty to occu­py our­selves, and tea ain’t so bad as drinks go either.

But we’d cer­tain­ly miss it and, if it’s all the same to you, we’re hap­pi­er with it in our lives.

Session #138 – Return of the Wood Part II: Woody’s Revenge

A sea of wooden casks.

For the 138th edi­tion of the Ses­sion Jack Per­due at Deep Beer has asked us to reflect on the won­ders of wood.

Back in 2013 we wrote a post reflecting on the role of wood in the ‘rebirth of British beer’, observing that it was making something of a comeback:

More sig­nif­i­cant, per­haps, is the recent obses­sion with ‘bar­rel age­ing’, derived from Bel­gium via the Unit­ed States. Though it is not always used quite as Arthur Mil­lard and the oth­er founders of the SPBW might have hoped, hip young brew­ers pos­i­tive­ly fetishise wood. At the Wild Beer Com­pa­ny in Som­er­set, bar­rels — their source a close­ly guard­ed secret — are cooed over like new­born babies: ‘This one was used for Pedro Ximenez — smell it!’

In the past five years, that trend has con­tin­ued.

It is now all but com­pul­so­ry for sub­stan­tial, ambi­tious UK craft brew­eries (def. 2) to have per­ma­nent wood-age­ing facil­i­ties on the side: Beaver­town, Brew­Dog, Cloud­wa­terevery­one is doing it.

Wild Beer Co, with wood at the cen­tre and ‘nor­mal’ beer almost as an after­thought, has gone on to win major awards, carv­ing a niche which it shares with an increas­ing num­ber of oth­er wood-first brew­eries such as Burn­ing Sky and Lit­tle Earth.

In pure mar­ket­ing terms, wood is a god­send – what bet­ter way to sig­nal rus­tic authen­tic­i­ty? (Even if you fid­dle it.)

But what’s inter­est­ing to us about all this is that it rep­re­sents not just a growth in vari­ety but a broad­en­ing of the palette (as in artist’s) – anoth­er vari­able, anoth­er way to add com­plex­i­ty and depth to even quite sim­ple beers.

Impe­r­i­al stouts are great and all that but it would quite suit us if the end-point of all this exper­i­men­ta­tion was a growth in the num­ber of drink­able cask porters and IPAs with just a bit of some­thing funki­er blend­ed in, Greene King 5X style.

Session #137: “Banana Beer”

This is our con­tri­bu­tion to Ses­sion #137 host­ed by Roger at Roger’s Beers.

Our introduction to German wheat beer happened long before we were interested in beer and before we’d ever thought of going to Bavaria.

It was at the Fitzroy, a Samuel Smith pub in cen­tral Lon­don, in about 2001, where the house draught wheat beer was a ver­sion of Ayinger brewed under licence in Tad­cast­er, North York­shire.

We had encoun­tered Hoe­gaar­den by this point – it was ubiq­ui­tous in Lon­don at around the turn of the cen­tu­ry – but hadn’t con­sid­ered order­ing any oth­er wheat beer until a friend urged us to try Ayinger. “I call it banana beer,” they said, “because it tastes like puréed banana.”

At first we didn’t quite get it. To us, it tast­ed like beer. Weird, soupy, sweet beer. So we had a few until we under­stood what he meant. And yes, there it was – the stink of black­ened bananas left too long in the bowl. “It gives you ter­ri­ble hang­overs, though,” he added, a lit­tle too late to save us. We couldn’t think of it for a year or two after that ses­sion with­out feel­ing a lit­tle over­ripe our­selves.

Pin­ning down any­thing relat­ing to the his­to­ry of Samuel Smith beers is trick­i­er than it ought to be but, in the absence of firm evi­dence, we reck­on it’s a safe guess that they start­ed brew­ing Weizen in the 1990s, dur­ing or after the brief craze for wheat beer among the British beer cognoscen­ti (Hook, Dor­ber et al) dur­ing 1994–95. (As always, sol­id intel prov­ing oth­er­wise is very wel­come.)

Sam Smith’s take might not have had the cool of a gen­uine import – the hip kids raved about Schnei­der – but it had the advan­tage of being both acces­si­ble and acces­si­bly priced, and we can’t help but won­der how many oth­er British beer geeks were first intro­duced to Ger­man wheat beer this way.