Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Yesterday never really dies

Does it matter if a style/variety/type of beer vanishes, does it matter if, say, Burton is no longer made or if it becomes known under another name? Do we ask if this beer in the glass is really a Burton or is it something else — and should we care? Can one feel a sense of sadness if a cherished style of beer is subverted and converted into something else and how would this metamorphosis take place?

A brown ale becomes a mild and then goes on to be a rootless subject in the world of beer, wandering and clambering around the steps of this world, an Ancient Ale Mariner, an eternal refugee from its original identity, unknowing, bellowing its anguish and throwing no shadow when the sun comes up. Gone before we knew it was going, expect it’s not really gone, it’s invisible and might as well be gone. 

But let’s have context: it’s not the tragedy of the fall of the African elephant or the end of a tribe whose language might have turned a key and opened a door onto the origins of early human discourse. Its passing is rarely noted by many. However, on the other hand the end of a style/variety/type of beer is the end of one small part of the way we map the lives we live, the way we order the food and drink and place it in the place from whence it came, the way we give our food and drink an identity, a relationship with a city, a town, a region, a country. London and Porter, Burton and IPA, pale lager beer and Pilsen; or maybe it’s a history with which a beer style can be associated, such as IPA and the Victorian age, Porter and Georgian London. So all of this does and should matter.

Sure, the death of a style/variety/type of beer is part of the forces that the market thrives on and a death in the family can come from no one wanting to drink a beer anymore, be seen with it, quit of it, but styles/varieties/types of beer (or whatever you want to call a variation in the beer brewed) bounce back, reanimate, reappear, and take a life out of the pages in the book that Porter wrote.

And with this in mind I take a break from an article I’m writing about the English-style IPA and what I see as its submersion in a sea of bright coloured, boldly hopped, briskly carbonated, Carmen Miranda-ed and occasionally unbalanced beers that call themselves IPA. I like subversion in beer (and submersion), but I also have a fondness for the English-style IPA and would hate to see it go the way of Burton, but as we see with Porter and IPA, yesterday never really dies. 


  1. Good to see this well-expressed English solicitude for what is not really English-style IPA but rather India Pale Ale aka pale ale aka bitter aka IPA. The other type is American-style IPA. The child hasn't eclipsed the parent quite yet. :)

    Too often the English brewing and beer community have been blasé about the style, a type of beer refined and handed down by ancestors over 200 years as the great gastronomic specialty it is. And therein lies the importance of preserving the style: it tastes wonderful - not every beer of course or every regional variant such as they survive (the Burton snatch is a dubious heritage in my view). But in toto British bitter is a world-classic in the drinks repertoire. Well-served Old Hookey, say, or London Pride or one of Bateman's beers or Holt's (and many others) stand with Champagne, Highland whisky, fine Bordeaux and Hungarian Tokay as one of the world's great gustative experiences.

    A long history of anything tends to induce sometimes a lack of regard, certainly a desire for the new (salutary except where the old is pushed aside for no very good reason other than being old-hat). In an international beer context as well, one has to have a special confidence to stand for one's own and I'm very glad to see that you do by writing this article, Adrian. It does no disservice to the great contributions the Americans have made to modern brewing future to care for the best of one's own tradition.


  2. Cheers Gary, thanks for your thoughtful comments, I’m with you on Old Hooky, love it when it’s in good nick, while a lunchtime pint of Bateman’s XB before Christmas in a rural Lincolnshire pub was such a wonderful experience I went back for another even though I had an afternoon in the brewery (and more beer) ahead of me.