Monday, 28 September 2009
In which the Sex Pistols make me think about the pros and cons of the Industrial Revolution as regards beer
Watching a reunited Sex Pistols concert in a Belgian hotel room (me that is not them), I am reminded about the need for consistency in beer; it’s an appalling concert, polished, cynical, well-played and attempting to be of its time 1977, but really belonging to now. They might as well have been an act on the X Factor. BrewDog say that their beer is for punks, but I wouldn’t have thought that they would want this bunch of pogoing, face-gurning nostalgists (both band and audience) drinking the stuff. Apply this sort of revivalism to beer and you have the mindset that uses visions of a golden age to sell its products — or even more depressing the dreary parocialism of a letter writer in the current What’s Brewing who lambasts CAMRA and Protzy for picking a ‘quite hoppy and bitter’ mild for its champion beer, ‘When I started drinking in England 50 years ago, the mild tasted mild and the bitter tasted bitter. Now we have an award-winning mild that tastes bitter. Can Camra still be taken seriously’. I mean, the words ‘too much time on his hands’ spring to mind.
I say all of this after five months of editing 1001 Beers You Must Try Before You Die (out next spring, be the first to disagree with the choice!), in whose pages there will be a goodly amount of fantastic IPAs and Porters, beers with a long history that, however, I would rather drink now than 150 years ago. I would far rather a beer where the brewer knew what to do with Brett than some beer in the 19th century when it varied from week to week and this variation wasn’t controlled — but then that is part of a larger conversation about beer, which occurred to me at a cider seminar in Spain in June.
Beer, thanks to the Industrial Revolution, is expected to be the same consistency brew after brew, while wine and cider have seasonal allowances programmed in. Of course, there are beers that follow that seasonal path but all of us expect our ales to taste the same year upon year — are we missing something here? It’s a wild dream to expect beer to go back to some sort of hit and miss character, but it might make things interesting (and the technology and foresight is there to make it all drinkable). I remember one landlord I know telling me that when he took over an Adnams pub in Walberswick that some of the locals (perhaps trying to put him in his place) used to say that they could tell when the Adnams Bitter had the new harvest of hops and barley as opposed to when they were drinking it a few months later. Beer has pretty much flattened out the variations, even though the idea of vintages is pretty hot stuff. But what if your pint of London Pride, Landlord or Tribute had different nuances from season to season? How on earth would it be sold to us beer drinkers who have been bred to expect consistency — consistency is only expected because the alternative is rubbish, but what about a mindset that expected an Adnams Bitter (I’m just choosing it because it’s a favourite) to be different in October and then in January and then in July — would this raise beer to the cachet of wine as much as the whole Vintage bottle thing? Imagine it: Tesco’s bring you BrewDog IPA October 09. I suppose I’m talking anarchy in the UK when it comes to brewing, but the sad fact is that we (including myself) want our pint of cask beer to taste the same every night otherwise we might have nightmares (the stuff of which for me after watching that concert would involve a geriatric John Lydon doing a duet with Mick Jagger).