Monday, 4 May 2020

What is it that I like and love about beer?

Oh, hello old friend
I often ask myself in the manner of an absent-minded professor what is it that I like and love about beer? Given that the question is delivered with the vagueness and insouciance of this absent-minded professor I don’t bother with an answer. However, I’ve just asked myself the question again and the inner voice is more questioning this time, urgent and curious, interrogative and even insistent, the absent-minded professor replaced by someone better attuned to a job of asking questions and wanting answers, an Oxbridge examiner perhaps? 

So the first thing I have to do in order to answer this question is to pour myself a beer, which today is Jaipur, cans of which have been a major sustenance during the past few weeks. I can sense an anticipation in holding the can, an anticipation that is chatting like a canary about the beer to me before I have even pulled the ring-tab. 

The sound of the ring-tab being pulled is next, a psst, the slightest resemble to the sound of calico being torn and if I put my nose close enough to the opened can I can identify the aromatics of ripe apricot skin, ripe mango and a suggestion of pineapple. It is not sweet though, slightly musky, pungent and adult. 

So why does that appeal to me? Perhaps it’s a childhood memory of tinned fruit, whether a single variety such as mandarins or fruit cocktail, both of which I used to insist for pudding instead of the much-disliked rice pudding and anything involving semolina (the latter was common at my primary school, usually served with a skin on top, which used to make me feel sick and I once told my teacher that the doctor had said I could be excused semolina, as well as mashed potato, custard and beetroot). 

As I pour the beer, listening to the light fizz as it bunches in the glass, its snow-white collar of foam pushing upwards, I can sense a slight salivation in my mouth, that anticipation once more, but also perhaps there is a slight expectancy of the beer’s influence on the mood, expectancy of a lift in the mood, which is what a 5.9% beer will probably do. After all, the alcohol in the beer is a drug and drugs enhance our moods. So would I have this anticipation if I was opening a can of Special Brew, which is even stronger? Here, I have to return perhaps about 30 years to the only occasion I drunk Special Brew — all I can remember is a sweet gloopiness (nothing to do with Gwyneth btw) and feeling a bit lost after a couple of large cans. I think it might have been an experiment at the time, which I didn’t repeat.

The expectation of the beer possibly has links to the places where I drink beer, the pubs and the bars, where the prospect of an evening with friends, sociability (remember that?), stories being told, jokes being exchanged (usually in the guise of stories rather than the here’s another one, you’ll like this kind of joke party), people and events remembered, sharpens the thirst. I can still recall the cold crisp edge of the first beer of the night at dimly remembered social gatherings from years ago when the thought of analysing a beer would have provoked a rather bemused look from myself — and as a downside, the bloated belly feeling at the end of the night, six or seven pints in, when your mate would bring back a couple more pints to finish before chucking out time and all I would want to do is go home and go to bed (and especially not go for a curry). 

I still have that expectation whenever I have my first beer in a pub, especially if it’s a favourite or an imperial stout/porter/sahti from a brewery I am fond of. There’s that thrill of discovery as well as the comfort of welcoming back an old friend who you haven’t seen for a long time. So going back to the Jaipur I have poured what do I feel about it now that I am ready to drink it. There’s that gleaming golden familiarity of the beer in the glass, the crispness and lush fruitiness, the bitterness and that feeling of satisfaction that usually elicits an aah, as if your soul was sitting back in a comfortable armchair. There’s a completion about the beer from the nose to the finish, but I’m still trying to understand what it is that draws me to beer in a way that wine, cider and various spirits don’t. As well as the flavour and the mood enhancement (two or three cans later, the world looks a brighter place even though grey clouds slumber like resting sheep over Exeter), there is the cultural association, the pub, the brewery, the people who drink it, the origin story of the beer, the tale told of Michael Jackson easing out a reticent Martin Dickie and Stefano Cossi’s thoughts on the beer when they first brewed it and even the colour of the can, which somehow reminds me of the orange football strip that Cruyff played in.

Having thought this far, I don’t think I can really answer the question I posed at the start — yes, culture, taste and mood enhancement are important, but there is something more that underlines my association with beer. Something metaphysical perhaps, something mystical, something beyond my reasoning, but I am going to keep asking the question and see what answers I come up with.      

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