So what does this have to do with beer?
It’s your sacred duty to evangelise about beer, someone said to me recently, drunk of course, both of us drunk, so no offence taken, lots of drink taken but not offence. So all my sense of duty vanished and I thought of how easy it is to find your passion spent, lying there on a divan like Thomas Chatterton after he’d taken his life.
Evangelise? There I was walking up town after a couple of pints of Brooklyn Lager, in my local, coming up to the chip shop, noting the aromas, the sweet and sour aromas that seem to hang around chip shops with the same persistence of louts on a corner in a 1950s B-movie (bicycle chains, greasy quiffs, sallow faces, drainpipes), and then noting two young blokes coming towards me, white shirts, snazzy ties, black trousers, bags of fish and chips in their hands, staying at the caravan site perhaps, but something else surfed along in my thoughts, something familiar that tied in with a knock on the door and a beaming man or woman, plus a pamphlet to hand.
‘Excuse me sir,’ said one of the them, friendly enough, not overbearing, nothing like the irritating, mateyesque manner of a chugger, even verging on the obsequious, ‘excuse me sir, we are missionaries…’ I stopped him there, ‘I’m alright thanks,’ and moved on, having noted a badge that said Latter Day Saints (their chips would have got cold if I’d have stopped to talk, how would they have warmed them up? God? Does he warm up chips?). So my thoughts were correct, Mormons, a rare sight around here, in fact all evangelicals of whatever stamp are a rare sight around here.
I felt a little sorry for them as this would not be a good town for them to evangelise in — it’s a drinking town, there are four pubs (and one of them has a tap bar). People like drinking here (but on the other hand, those sots who spend sunrise to sundown on the booze might like that sort of smartly shirted sort of helping hand). But that’s not what I wanted to write about. It was about evangelisation. Because I write about beer, people assume around here that I always drink cask beer (or at least foreign beer, whatever that means). I write about beer.
This is why. One of my locals has recently been Serving Freedom 4 and a jolly drop it is, and to be honest that is all I have been drinking there. I like the spritzy mouth feel, the lemon-citrus undertone, the brisk carbonation and its friskiness on the palate. Yet, a couple of people I know still wrinkle their foreheads and say that they thought I was a real ale man and why was I drinking lager. At this point if I was an evangelist of beer I would round on them and get out the tambourine and ask everyone in the bar to join in with some tub-thumbing anthem about beer, but I don’t. For me, talking and writing and smiling about beer have gone beyond the evangelisation phrase — it’s there. Whatever you think about the designated phrase of craft beer, it’s there. Even my mother nods sagely when I mention craft beer, though that might be her advanced age.
All this has been bugging me for a while, hosting thoughts in my mind like an interior version of the Jeremy Kyle Show, veering across my consciousness like an ME262 powered purely alone on ethanol, pushing the drug of creativity with a sense of righteousness. It has been bugging me.
What’s bugging me?
This is the dull explanation: I collect editions of a food and drink compilation that ran from the 1950s to the late 1980s — it was called the Compleat Imbiber and featured the best writers on food and drink of the day. Beer was often mentioned but it was wine that took centre stage.
The editor was Cyril Ray (the GQ wine correspondent Jonathan Ray is his son) and it was in the 14th edition, which was published in 1989, that I found an essay entitled The Enthusiastic Amateur’s (originally published in Punch in 1984). In it Ray recalled memorable glasses of wine, but also made the point that they were a pleasure rather than a duty.
Which is how I feel about beer.
Sure it’s a ‘sacred duty’ when I have to write a book or an article or even take a beer tasting — my duty is to the readers and the editor who is paying me. On the other hand, one can get too wrapped up in the description of beer, of going for the new, all critical facilities suspended, of the necessity to get it tapped and earn a virtual badge (what on earth do you get out of Twitter telling the world that you have earned something or other through buying a beer?). Of holding a beer to the light and declaring it fined or unfined, of being an expect because you once read on the back of a matchbox that beer contains hops.
Beer is a deep-rooted pleasure, an often precocious, sometimes pedestrian, always pleasing bibulous bestiary of flavours and aromas; beer is a bridge that links people, a half full or half empty glass that is eternally on the table and sometimes, sometimes, it is a hedge behind which we sit observing the world, a savour, a palaver on the palate, the alpha and omega of the world of drink. But evangelist? Sorry, I think not.