Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Beer Fetish

Some people don’t eat food, they consume calories or celebrate a lifestyle; other don’t drink an alcoholic beverage but consume units or allow the glass or bottle in their hand to magic up some imagined personal achievement (‘You deserve a…’). Before the fork hits the plate the question is asked: how fat will I get; before the glass hits the lips, the question is asked: how drunk will it get me? Come Dine With Me could turn into Come Die With Me if the wrong fats are consumed, while MasterChef is more masturbate than masticate. Cookery books everywhere but fewer are said to be able to cook unless it’s some creation they treat with the same fetishitic approach of a Victorian gentleman’s obsession with cleanliness (nothing annoys me more than loud people in a deli telling all and sundry about their knowledge of this or that artisanal bread/cheese/condiment — I feel that they’re not interested in eating as so much in telling the world how much they know and next year they will move on to whatever attracts their magpie-like penchant for shiny things).

Foodies (how I loathe that word, especially when it’s self-proclaimed) write about the passion with which they approach eating and cooking, but what does that mean? For me, whenever I read about someone howling that they cook (or eat or even brew) with passion, it seems such an empty, throwaway phrase — anyone can do something with passion even car park attendants or house burglars though doing something with passion doesn’t necessarily mean that it will turn out well either (I wonder if intelligence, energy and expertise would be better adjectives — the intelligent cook or brewer would more likely get my vote). I love food and cooking and eating it but I have no liking for food fashion — I have no real interest in the Hestonisation of cooking either, but on the other hand I don’t want to be stuck in a mire of shepherds’ pies and liver and bacon. It’s food and I like all of it and after a stint spent in Spain, Italy or France where food is there to be enjoyed without an accompanying bogeyman in the shadows waiting to make you fat, I always feel a bit disheartened on my return to the UK.

Hold on a minute though, this is supposedly a beer blog and I’m writing about food (with a couple of cursory mentions of brewing thrown in). However, here’s the beer moment: what I’m trying to grapple with in the manner of my inner Giant Haystacks, what I am trying to understand, is what I see as the growing fetishisation of beer (that’s fetishisation as in an excessive and irrational devotion or commitment to (a) particular thing rather than anything to do with gimp masks and god knows what else). My evidence? I think about the Holy Grail-like hunt for new varieties of hops, the more New World the better; the spillage of words that goes hand in glove with the debate of is it craft or not; beer evangelism (I’m waiting for the emergence of the Beer Salvation Army with its associated newspaper WortCry); the campaign for this, the campaign for that; beer for her, beer for him, beer for that bloke with a funny hat.

So what people will say, beer is noticed, taken seriously, respected, talked about — which is all very true and I am not advocating that people stop doing any of the above, but what concerns me is that there is emerging a predilection in dealing with beer that all too often gives it a arcane, fetishitic glow on a par with trainspotting (I’m not advocating banning that either, but on the other hand…). It’s beer for heaven’s sake, a glowing creature of many colours and shapes, bringing with it a thousand stories of history, people, moments, lives lived and loves lured into the room where a warm stream of wort (golden, amber, chestnut, the darkest night where vampires from Venice meander, take your pick) starts its journey to our glass. Sometimes it’s just there to be devoured rather than debated, and on other times it brings with it its own tales and states of being and people’s journeys. These thoughts are all very random at the moment, but they were kick-started by a couple of things: a recent holiday in Spain where my enjoyment of many cold cans of Alhambra Especial was more of a pleasure sensation than a flavour experience and reading about an upcoming book called You Aren’t What You Eat by Steve Poole.

As I have said I’m currently grappling with this subject and you could argue that all I’ve done is add to the fetishitic nature of what I’ve drawn attention to. Maybe I have but on the other hand it’s something I felt needed to be written and as a writer I cannot help but scratch that itch. All thoughts welcome.  


  1. Excellent write! And I couldn't agree more. I've long been tired of this "passion as an ingredient" thing.

    Anyway, reading your post reminded me of that "I'm a Craft Beer Drinker" video, where nobody is actually shown drinking a beer.

    PS: Perhaps it is the Fetishist factor that in rating sites awards so many points to hard to find/one off/extra strong/rare beers...

  2. Well, on the one hand, we've toned down our casual use of the language of conversion after a rant from Ron Pattinson: when he pointed it out, it did suddenly seem a bit silly.

    On the other, beer does have a cultural importance beyond being a mere commodity. It is a commodity, but it is also a rite of passage, a hobby, part of national identity and, yes, in some cases 'a passion'. (Ron prefers 'obsession', by the way.)

    We've noted before that one of the funny things about beer writing (but this probably also applies to food, music, etc.) is that a given beer writer will always think the bloke to the left is being stupidly obsessive ("It's only beer!") and that the bloke to the right isn't taking it seriously enough ("Hey, you: beer deserves respect!"). Only he has a true and balanced sense of perspective...

  3. "Emerging"? Beer fetishism has been around for a long time. It's not necessary to subscribe to the cult to drink the beer, though, and some of it is rather nice.

  4. We always call it Come Die with Me in our house. One of my kids' favourite programs.

    We watched the French version last week - totally different from the British one. Everyone takes it all way too seriously. It's a good example of the fetishisation of food.

  5. Great post. I think websites like Oh Beautiful Beer have definitely gone into beer-porn territory, but I don't hate them for it.

    Your example of the d*ickhead in the deli proves this is a global problem, and definitely more to do with people than the things that they drone on about.

    As you say, it's a palpable thing yet hard to draw conclusions from. It's definitely got me thinking, so thanks for that.