100 Words: Beer Strictly for the Geophages

Illustration: mud texture.

We’ll take murky beer but not muddy.

Murk is usu­al­ly super­fi­cial, but some­times soft­en­ing, some­times silky. It leaves room for oth­er flavours. Light likes it.

Mud is taste and tex­ture. It is dirt, the riverbed stirred up – chew­able, unclean, silt between the teeth.

Mud is why you leave carp to swim in a clean bath before eat­ing it – one degree away from… Well, you know.

Beers that look murky are more like­ly to taste mud­dy, but don’t have to. Clear beers can be mud­dy, we think, but it’s a clever trick.

Murky was­n’t meant as an insult. Mud­dy always is.

QUICK ONE: Overlooked

Here’s an interesting question, in the form of a Twitter poll, from @ThaBearded1 who works at Twisted Barrel, a brewery in Coventry:

He is no doubt going to write or do some­thing inter­est­ing him­self based on the respons­es so we won’t get too involved in the specifics of this par­tic­u­lar case but what he’s express­ing does seem to be a com­mon anx­i­ety: that the next city over, or Lon­don specif­i­cal­ly, is get­ting more than its share of atten­tion in the nation­al press or on promi­nent beer blogs.

We’ve writ­ten pieces relat­ing to this on a few occa­sions, most notably here where we said…

…if writ­ing about beer is Lon­don-cen­tric, and it might be a bit, it’s part­ly because Lon­don is both­er­ing to write about beer.

More recent­ly we sug­gest­ed that in 2017 what peo­ple mean specif­i­cal­ly when they make this kind of point is, ‘Wah! Why has­n’t Matt Cur­tis writ­ten about it/us/here!?

We say, once again, that if you think your region is over­looked, you should make the case. Write a blog post or ebook, or put togeth­er a Google Map, show­ing where a vis­i­tor to your region can find local beer, the beer-geeki­est bars and pubs, and give some sug­ges­tions for how they can get from one to anoth­er. Your tar­get audi­ence here is peo­ple on week­end breaks – why should they vis­it your city rather than, say, Sheffield, or Man­ches­ter, where there is so much inter­est­ing beer that it’s hard to know where to start? But also, by exten­sion, blog­gers and journos look­ing for advice on where to start.

But we’re not like those obnox­ious Londoners/Mancunians/Leodensians – we don’t like to shout about our­selves because we’re so hum­ble and unas­sum­ing,’ feels like a response we’ve heard sev­er­al times in this kind of con­ver­sa­tion, and that’s a bit… pathet­ic. It’s prob­a­bly bet­ter to boast than to grum­ble, and wait for some­one else to do the shout­ing for you.

And, of course, writ­ing crit­i­cal­ly is good too – it’s a sign of matu­ri­ty in a scene and can add cred­i­bil­i­ty to your guid­ance. If a vis­i­tor fol­lows your advice and ends up in pubs that are mere­ly ‘meh’, drink­ing bad beer, they’ll think less of your scene over­all.

We used to have a page here col­lect­ing links to town, city and region guides and pub crawls writ­ten by beer blog­gers, but had to scrap it because they weren’t being kept up to date and too few new ones were appear­ing. It would be nice to revive that, or at least to know that there’s a guide out there to Birm­ing­ham, Brighton, Bris­tol, or wher­ev­er, that we can point peo­ple to when they ask us, which they do from time to time.

Note: if you’re inter­est­ed here’s what we wrote about Birm­ing­ham and the Black Coun­try last sum­mer.

Pub Life: Do Barmaids Dream of Electric Sheep?

The dark windows of a pub.

A con­ver­sa­tion between two mem­bers of pub staff, over­heard as they pulled our pints, and prompt­ed by the insis­tent ring­ing of the phone.

I hear that sound in my head when I’m at home try­ing to get to sleep some­times.

Ha, same! And after a busy week­end I have night­mares about man­ag­ing queues and peo­ple mak­ing com­pli­cat­ed orders.

Me too! And have you heard [colleague]‘s thing?

No, what’s that?

She wakes her part­ner up in the mid­dle of the night shout­ing out loud, ‘Who’s next then, please?’ Three or four times in one night she’s done it.

QUICK ONE: Experiences vs. Commodities

Sometimes you just want to watch whatever is being broadcast; other times only a particular film will do, even if costs. Is that also how beer works these days?

Last week the cul­tur­al and polit­i­cal com­men­ta­tor John Har­ris (@johnharris1969) took a pause from the fren­zy of post elec­tion analy­sis to make an obser­va­tion about beer:

Tweet: "The 'craft' beer worry. £3.50 for a can/bottle of Beefheart IPA (or whatever). This: £1.25 from Lidl, & very nice."

Our instinc­tive reac­tion to this was, frankly, a bit dick­ish: ‘Ugh, what is he on about?’ Much as we imag­ine he might have respond­ed to a Tweet say­ing, for exam­ple: ‘Why buy the expen­sive new Bea­t­les reis­sue when Pound­land has a per­fect­ly good Best Of Ger­ry and the Pace­mak­ers for £2?’

But of course, in a sense, he’s right: if you aren’t obsessed with music, wine, clothes, or what­ev­er, you should­n’t feel oblig­ed to spend loads more mon­ey on a ver­sion of that thing that is no more enjoy­able to you than the read­i­ly avail­able, bud­get ver­sion just because of peer pres­sure or mar­ket­ing.

The prob­lem is, once you do get into beer, the gener­ic does­n’t always cut it. If you just want some­thing to absent­mind­ed­ly sup while you socialise or watch TV then what­ev­er is on spe­cial offer this week is prob­a­bly fine, but if you’ve got a par­tic­u­lar yen to wal­low in the pun­gency of Amer­i­can hops then LIDL’s Hather­wood Green Gecko just won’t do the job. If you’re real­ly in deep you’ll prob­a­bly even turn your nose up at about two-thirds of sup­pos­ed­ly ‘prop­er’ craft IPAs, too. And you’ll be will­ing (every now and then) to pay a bit more for a par­tic­u­lar expe­ri­ence – a rare beer, a curios­i­ty, some­thing with a par­tic­u­lar cul­tur­al or his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance.

QUICK ONE: In My Day, 2017 Edition

A smartphone against the backdrop of a pub.

Whatever happened to having a conversation, instead of tapping away at screens? That’s what I want to know.’

We’ve been on the receiv­ing end of a ver­sion of that heck­le twice in the past month. What we did to earn it was, of course, being caught in the pub with one or more smart­phones out.

There are all sorts of good rea­sons for look­ing at your phone in the pub, even in com­pa­ny. In our case, we’re often tak­ing notes for one project or oth­er, tin­ker­ing with a pho­to of the very pub we’re in for social media, or look­ing up the answer to an impor­tant ques­tion that’s come up like, what is the ety­mol­o­gy of the word ‘poo’? (Only used to refer to fae­ces in the UK since the 1960s, appar­ent­ly.)

In oth­er words, it’s part of the way we make con­ver­sa­tion, not an obstruc­tion to it.

And, any­way, we’ve been togeth­er for very near­ly 20 years so if one of us does want the oth­er to put down their phone, we’re pret­ty com­fort­able just say­ing: ‘Oi! Give me some atten­tion! You’re being bor­ing.’

Both times we’ve received this kind of telling off it’s come from old­er men and has­n’t felt friend­ly, or as if was intend­ed as a con­ver­sa­tion starter – just like a kind of dri­ve by judge­ment.

Why do peo­ple do insert them­selves into oth­er peo­ple’s busi­ness this way? And does it both­er you to see peo­ple look­ing at screens in the pub?