Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Dreaming, I was only dreaming…

Here comes a glass of beer, it might be dark, stygian in its absence of light or as glossy as Black Beauty’s coat; it might be as deep as the mines of Moria, mysterious and hiding all sorts of surprises. On the other hand, it might be pale, bathed in sunlight like a smile from someone you love, a crystalline brightness that brushes away the blues. Hold on though, it might also be coppery, it might also be amber, it might even be chestnut brown with crimson hues, a bomber of a brunette.

Here comes a glass of beer (or could it be a bottle), it might be cheap, it might be affordable, luxuriously affordable, perhaps the sort of price we pay for a decent bottle of wine, a chunk of cheese that has a tang or a pliancy and a creaminess that love-bombs the mouth or a bite that bites back. Or heavens above, shiver-me-timbers, they’re-all-at-it, vote-UKIP, things-used-be-much-better-in-my-day, I-found-a-hipster-in-my-turn-ups, destroy-all-beer, it might be expensive, beyond the pocket of most of us, it might be making money for brewers, it might not be beer, it might use big words, it might be honest in wanting people to pay more, it might offend all sense and decency.

Let’s all go back to a simpler age: mild & bitter, bitter & mild and the ladies in the lounge. Raincoats, trilbies, Lady Chatterley’s Lover in brown paper, the paper the colour of the beer that spills over the Formica table on which the crumbs of a dry, Joker-mouth-shaped sandwich has sat upon prior to immersion in ill-fitting dentures. Let us then, you and I, go back to a simpler age of cheap beer, consumer campaign coupons, beer as beer, which after all it is, and cheap beer, one size fits all beer. Let’s all go back, for beer is the past and we like it that way.

When I first met him 20 years ago I used to have rows with my late father-in-law about wine. I used to say if I had the money I wouldn’t have a problem in spending saying £50 or even £100 on a bottle of wine, while he would say that no wine was worth that much. Perhaps it isn’t perhaps it is, but it’s beer that I’m interested in, which is why an online piece in the Guardian about expensive beers (and the predictable supporting hurrahs) got my goat. Maybe there’s a market for expensive beers, maybe there isn’t, maybe it’s a case of brewers dolling up ordinary beers in a fancy package and asking for top dollar, maybe it isn’t, but what got my goat was that there was no solution to the perceived problem, just an old moan. I spent £11.99 on Sunday for a 750ml bottle of Adnams Sole Bay Celebratory Ale at the brewery’s shop in Southwold; was it worth it? I think so. I am glad that Adnams allow their head brewer Fergus to muck about, to use champagne yeast and to even dress up the beer a bit. I’ll age it and see what it says to me in the summer perhaps. I’m also quite happy to spend £1 on Budvar’s session beer Pardál, as to be found in Morrisons. It’s not the best beer in the world (being famously described by Evan Rail as bear urine and talking of which the expensive/cheap beer argument has a good analogy with Rail’s exemplary Why Beer Matters being released as a limited edition book with a much higher price tag than the Kindle), but it’s a cold one in the fridge that breaks the thirst come the witching hour. I’ll spend £5 on a bottle of Schlenkerla’s Doppelbock and so on. I like the fact that brewers tinker, mess about and see what happens when they do this or that. There’s plenty of hairy-armed blue overalls beer about and plenty of bright citrus-sponged beer about. That’s the great thing about now. Last year, as I spoke with him for a piece on London brewing (see here), Fuller’s John Keeling told me that this was a great time for brewing. I would suggest that this is also a great time to be a beer drinker, all over the world, which is why the moaning about expensive beers got my goat.

Or I suppose we could all go back to a time when beer was just beer. Really? In my research at the National Brewing Library in Oxford last week, I kept coming across accounts of all sorts of beers in the 1880s: IPA, pale ale, bitter, barley wine, stock ale, black beer and of course lager. I suspect some of those would have been more expensive than others and I bet people coped then as they can now.

End of rant/dream.


  1. It's good when you're angry!

    If brewers can't charge a bit for them, why would they bother brewing oddities? There's got to be something in it for them. (Though there's a bit of publicity value, of course.)

    If we don't like the look of those oddities, we don't buy them. If we buy one and it's disappointing, we think twice about buying from them again.

    But no one dies.

  2. I can't believe you are stoking this as ATJ send mutual admiration email behind the scenes! As you know, the point is if brewers can't mark up 200% of their additional coat why would they brew them. But that is not an argument I am having. At least not with ATJ. I think I am going to suggest a coordinate pincer movement

  3. I spent £11.99 on Sunday for a 750ml bottle of Adnams Sole Bay Celebratory Ale at the brewery’s shop in Southwold; was it worth it?

    You don't know yet. Unless the experience of taking possession of that bottle was "worth it" for reasons unconnected with the actual quality of the beer, in which case you're contributing to precisely the problem that article is complaining about.