Wednesday 11 March 2009

A Proustian pint for me and my friend

Nostalgia sells beer — doesn’t it? Stella Artois harkened back to pre-World War I rural France (and last year summoned up the ghosts of Sixties Cannes as Jean-Paul Belmondo once again pulled a good-looking bird); various IPAs evoke the Victorian age; porter sometimes goes back further — while post-modernist pranksters BrewDog look to punk and an 1980s art school aesthetic (Zeitgiest was a word a lot of us toyed with back then, and who knows maybe we’ll have Bauhaus one day — hopefully not, once was enough for that sorry band). They all look back, even though the packaging can be contemporary (‘with a twist’ is a word flayed and featured over and over again in gastro-publand and sometimes in beer).
Can beer escape its past or is it irrevocably linked to yesteryear? And why? Does it matter if it tastes good and takes us to another place.
I asked several brewers and commentators the question. Here’s Meantime’s Alastair Hook, with more to follow — what do you think?
Alastair Hook
"Beer is as irrevocably linked to yesteryear as organized society is….Humans look back if they want to learn, and consumers like the validation of history. Contemporary twists, cutting edge production methods, or modern presentation are the human manifestations of the desire to change and improve, and that is what separates Man from Beast. At Meantime we have the epic shadow of the history of brewing in London checking our every move, but we recognize a consumer, who typical in any modern urban metropolis demands more. They want vision and creativity, and what life has taught us all is that you can have neither without a conscious or sub-conscious respect for the past. Anarchy is ugly in beer, whereas in more complex life forms such as Music, or Art, anarchy can find a home. Beer is after all the nation’s favorite drink and is at the end of the day not a comfortable home for radical revolutionaries. Its simplicity is its beauty and its strength. So I am afraid your nostalgia factor with a contemporary twist is a hard one to escape from!"


  1. Beer is a product of its past, always evolving and 'reinventing' itself like society itself. It can't escape what has come before it because if it does then will it still be beer? If we seek out new extremes of beer they are still based in the prior knowledge that we have of beer (no one starts by drinking triple IPAs!). Curiosity makes us want different things but it has to be (like the old Hollywood adage) the same but different. I hope that it never escapes its past because that is what makes it what it is!

    And good stuff getting a shout out to Jean-Paul Belmondo - perhaps the first beer blog I've read with a nod to him!! I write my undergrad dissertation on Jean-Luc Godard so Belmondo featured heavily (his legs are also in my latest vblog - top right!).

  2. My favourite beer brands are more-or-less all cod Victorian. The London Pride pump-clip/bottle label (designed sometimes in the last 10 years, I think) is perfect.