Thursday 5 December 2013


Melancholic have I been of late, thoughtful even, not bad, neither sad, but the consequence of the dark nights that now seem to fall directly after lunch, while the need for words remains as urgent as ever (I wanted to write the world. What went wrong?). And in this space, thoughts turn lathe-like onto other thoughts, most notably on the blurry cloud of beer-inclined speculation that exists out there in the ether — and one thought keeps returning to me with the regularity of a healthy heartbeat, that there currently exists a feverish nostalgia for yesteryear in beer and brewing. Next year’s most eagerly awaited beer book will cover the history of British beer from the 1960s; one of the most respected beer blogs is a mass of facts and figures from the last two centuries of British brewing, while another equally compelling blog corrects the myths and ghost stories that have plagued beer history for decades; meanwhile retro beer labels have appeared on bottles and cans from an assortment of family and global brewers and recipes from the past are dug out, dusted down and presented to the contemporary drinker. Beer festivals are not free from this strange yearning for the past — some of the most acclaimed ones have called home spaces that once represented a long vanished municipal pride. Perhaps hipsterism, the sickly runt of postmodernism, is also part of this nostalgia.

So is this nostalgia a bad thing? Not really. Beer is nostalgia: things ain’t what they were; you used to get a good pint in here (sometimes with the phrase once upon a time added, which imbues the statement with the quality of a fairy tale); it doesn’t taste like it used to (maybe nothing tastes like it used to); in my day (which suggests that every day is an endless collection of many days; there is no such thing as a day — Borges posited that there had only been one man throughout history in a poem whose name eludes me at the moment). The beer that sits eager and anticipatory in the glass has the ability to take us back in our own personal time; bugger the biscuit that Marcel Proust nibbled on and led him to spending years in bed writing A la recherche du temps perdu, a glass of beer has the power to take the drinker back time and time again, whether it’s to a pub, meal, meeting, sporting moment or even just a moment of discovery. This is beer’s strength but it is also the way that it cannot escape from nostalgia. Mind you, the future is overrated, while being modern means nothing. I’ve seen breweries use phrases along the lines of ‘Modern beer for modern people’, which is as meaningless as pubs that have ‘bar & kitchen’ attached to their name; though no one has yet used something like ‘yesteryear’s beer for people living in the past’. I wonder why. 

This is inspired by an essay I am working on at the moment that looks at memory and beer hence its rather inchoate nature


  1. Banks's once described themselves as "Unspoilt by Progress" which is almost the same thing. And now look what's happened to them :-(

  2. I think there's quite a lot going on when it comes to any product using nostalgia or the past. In the book's cases, you've got the feeling that there's still a lot to learn about past event's ; be that a new angle on an old, well-worn tale, or in the case of Zythophile, technical information that might help you personally understand a brewery, style or beer.
    In terms of marketing, the nostalgia ticket appeals to both young and old - that's why it's so powerful. The young use it to validate what they are doing now; an attempt to tie in with something that has the one thing that they don't - a history. Couple an event like IndyMan (new beer) with a historically-important building (Victoria baths), and you've got a perfect storm; history, newness, and a sense of social pride in using the space. The older generation have a powerful, emotional link to the brand, beer or - in fact - anything, that reminds them of the 'good ol' days' and immediately makes them feel included.
    It's not just beer - the food industry does this on a much, much larger scale.

  3. At least it wasn’t unsoiled by progress
    Leigh (congrats for the award BTW) everything is sold by nostalgia, even stuff that is supposedly modern — we are trapped in the past.