That’s Not A Story Pt 2: Doom vs. Triumph

Stories about beer, especially in the mainstream press, often seem to follow one of two templates: collapse and defeat, or resurgence and triumph. But the truth is often somewhere in between.

We were going to say ‘Bor­ing­ly, the truth is often some­where in between’ but then we thought, hold on – it’s not as bor­ing as the default posi­tions of Oh Woe! or Yay, Awe­some! trot­ted out time after time, seem­ing­ly on auto-pilot.

In the arti­cle we’ve just writ­ten about mild for All About Beer we touch upon this ten­den­cy because mild has been the sub­ject of many over­ly-opti­mistic MILD IS BACK! arti­cles over the years. They’re expres­sions of wish­ful think­ing, or pro­pa­gan­da, or a bit of both. Our argu­ment is essen­tial­ly that mild is in the process of becom­ing, like Gose or Berlin­er Weisse, a local curios­i­ty – not extinct, just rare, a base for exper­i­men­ta­tion, and of more inter­est to we nerds than to drinkers in the real world.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “That’s Not A Sto­ry Pt 2: Doom vs. Tri­umph”

Session #111: A Beer Mid-Life Crisis?

Does our relationship with beer, and obsessing over beer, and writing about beer, go through ups and downs? Oh yes. Is it different now to in 2005? Definitely.

This month Ses­sion host Oliv­er Gray asks:

Do you find it hard to muster the same zeal for beer as you did a few years ago? Are you suf­fer­ing through a beer-life cri­sis like I am? If so, how do you deal with it?

When we first start­ed to take an inter­est in beer, we were like those wide-eyed kids walk­ing through the doors into Willie Wonka’s fac­to­ry for the first time: ‘Come with me/ And you’ll see/ A world of pure imag­i­na­tion…’

That Michael Jack­son cof­fee table book that was our guide told us about beers, brew­eries, entire types of beer, that we’d nev­er heard of and that need­ed hunt­ing down. If we want­ed to taste, say, a par­tic­u­lar Amer­i­can IPA, we need­ed intel, a full day off, and prob­a­bly at least two forms of pub­lic trans­port. Every week­end brought us a new expe­ri­ence, and every hol­i­day abroad was an oppor­tu­ni­ty to learn some­thing new.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Ses­sion #111: A Beer Mid-Life Cri­sis?”

The Lure of Luxury, The Call of Craft?

Why do people buy ‘fancy beer’ – because it tastes better, or because it ‘signals’ status?

Psy­chol­o­gist Paul Bloom’s arti­cle ‘The Lure of Lux­u­ry’ men­tions beer only in pass­ing – ‘the attrac­tive stranger in a bar is aroused by your choice of beer’ – but any­one who’s been called a snob for drink­ing a £6 pint, or rolled their eyes at the glitzy pack­ag­ing of a lim­it­ed edi­tion IPA, will get the rel­e­vance.

Dr Bloom sets out two oppos­ing points of view:

  1. Peo­ple want lux­u­ry goods because they look, feel or taste good – they give plea­sure in and of them­selves.
  2. Lux­u­ry goods are sta­tus sym­bol designed to impress oth­ers and sig­nal ‘intel­li­gence, ambi­tion, and pow­er’.

The truth, he argues, lies some­where in between:

Now, only a philis­tine would deny Postrel’s point that some con­sumer pref­er­ences are aes­thet­ic, even sen­su­al. And only a rube would doubt that some peo­ple buy some lux­u­ry items to impress col­leagues, com­peti­tors, spous­es, and lovers. Per­haps we can divvy up the con­sumer world. An appre­ci­a­tion of beau­ty explains cer­tain acces­si­ble and uni­ver­sal con­sumer pleasures—Postrel begins her book in Kab­ul after the Tal­iban fell, describ­ing how the women there rev­eled in their free­dom to pos­sess burkas of dif­fer­ent col­ors and to paint their nails—while sig­nal­ing the­o­ry applies to the more extrav­a­gant pur­chas­es. A crim­son bur­ka? Aes­thet­ics. A $30,000 watch? Sig­nal­ing. Aris­to­tle Onassis’s choice to uphol­ster the bar stools in his yacht with whale fore­skin? Def­i­nite­ly sig­nal­ing.

He goes on to con­sid­er why an exact repli­ca of an object isn’t as desir­able as the real thing; why when peo­ple buy a celebri­ty’s jumper in a char­i­ty auc­tion they don’t want it dry-cleaned first; and whether any­one needs six mechan­i­cal wrists to auto­mat­i­cal­ly wind their col­lec­tion of Rolex watch­es.

Let’s attempt to trans­late those ques­tions: Why do peo­ple con­tin­ue to hunt down and pay through the nose for West­vleteren 12 when none but the most refined palates can tell it from St Bernar­dus Abt 12? Why is beer brewed under con­tract less appeal­ing than oth­er­wise? Does any­one need a £168 six-pack of beer?

When you choose a beer is it real­ly ‘about flavour’ – the defen­sive cry of the craft beer drinker accused of extrav­a­gance – or some­thing else? And, of course, some­thing else might be fine, depend­ing on your val­ues, and the plea­sure it brings is just as real.

We found Dr Bloom’s arti­cle via BoingBoing.com. If you can’t be both­ered to read it you can see him speak­ing on relat­ed top­ics at the TED Talks web­site.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 03/10/2015

Here’s our pick of the most interesting beer- and pub-related writing of the last week, with a sneaky contribution to Session 104 hidden at the end.

→ For All About Beer, Jeff Alworth asks ‘How Wild is Your Beer?’:

Is there a dif­fer­ence between inoc­u­lat­ed-wild ales and tru­ly wild ales? There is. A Brett-aged beer will devel­op a lot of com­plex­i­ty as the wild yeast slow­ly cre­ates dif­fer­ent fla­vor and aro­ma com­pounds. Some brew­eries even add a cock­tail of Bret­tanomyces, Lac­to­bacil­lus, and Pedio­coc­cus, which cre­ates even more com­plex­i­ty. But tru­ly wild ales have some­thing more… [You’re] get­ting the taste of place.

→ Con­nor Mur­phy at the Beer Bat­tered blog has been spurred into a blog­ging fren­zy by the immi­nence of the Inde­pen­dent Man­ches­ter Beer Con­ven­tion (Indy­Man­Beer­Con). The first post in a series pro­fil­ing local brew­ers looks at Mark Wels­by at Run­away:

I knew I was­n’t moti­vat­ed by mon­ey because, in my pre­vi­ous role, the more suc­cess­ful I got, the more mis­er­able I got. Brew­ing gave us the chance to leave every­thing we hat­ed about our pre­vi­ous jobs, so we came upon the name Run­away because we were both escap­ing our past lives.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “News, Nuggets & Lon­greads 03/10/2015”

The State of Our Taste 2014

Navel oranges by www.bluewaikiki.com, from Flickr, under Creative Commons.
Navel oranges by www.bluewaikiki.com, from Flickr, under Cre­ative Com­mons.

This is nothing more significant than an attempt to take stock of our own feelings about beer as of 2014.

We’ve tried to be hon­est with our­selves – to con­sid­er our actions and reac­tions rather than ‘ide­ol­o­gy’: what, when push comes to shove, do we order at the bar, or take from the fridge? What do we actu­al­ly enjoy drink­ing?

1. We approach bot­tled beer from small brew­eries with low expec­ta­tions. We assume they’ll be under- or over-car­bon­at­ed; we expect to pour away more than half of those we try;  and we’re sur­prised when any­thing ‘exper­i­men­tal’ actu­al­ly works. And we get less enjoy­ment than we used to out of wad­ing through duds to find a gem. Or, to put that anoth­er way…

2. We find our­selves drawn to reli­able beers and brew­eries. Punk IPA is unlike­ly to explode, need pour­ing down the sink, or make us feel nau­seous. At the same time…

3. We can’t be both­ered to drink main­stream bot­tled brown bit­ter any more. It’s so rarely any­where near as good as a pint in the pub and (brace your­selves) often sim­ply too fizzy for our tastes. (We don’t mind high car­bon­a­tion but ‘fizzy’, to us, means specif­i­cal­ly bub­bles, as in a glass of min­er­al water, often accom­pa­nied by thin body and no head.)

4. The mag­ic has gone out of our rela­tion­ship with Amer­i­can beer. Is it to do with fresh­ness, com­pe­ti­tion from UK brew­ers, or han­dling by UK bars? Or have we just become jad­ed? At any rate, after try­ing a whole range of kegged IPAs (e.g. Lagu­ni­tas, Founder’s All Day) on mul­ti­ple occa­sions, in the last year, in Lon­don, Bris­tol, Man­ches­ter and Leeds, we found our­selves under­whelmed – where’s the ‘zing’? (We find that Ska Brew­ing Modus Hoperan­di in cans has zing, as, odd­ly enough, does Goose Island IPA.)

5. Liv­ing out­side the urban ‘craft beer’ bub­ble has its frus­tra­tions, and its ben­e­fits. We don’t have easy access to bars or pubs with large rotat­ing ranges of beer, and the ubiq­ui­ty of Doom Bar and Bet­ty Stogs is a tri­al. On the oth­er hand, we’ve learned that St Austell Prop­er Job and Orval from bot­tles, both of which we can find reli­ably in local pubs, nev­er seem to get bor­ing. On which sub­ject…

6. Bel­gian beer fas­ci­nates us more and more. There’s some­thing dispir­it­ing about the idea of ‘unob­tru­sive yeast that lets the hops real­ly shine’ – prac­ti­cal­ly a mantra for US-style IPA brew­ers. The Bel­gian tra­di­tion puts yeast char­ac­ter right up front and gives us anoth­er set of flavours to grap­ple with.

7. We wish we had more of our home brewed lager. We don’t think it’s objec­tive­ly great, and it would­n’t score well in com­pe­ti­tion, but we get a thrill out of drink­ing it that’s hard for any com­mer­cial beer to match.