Sacred duty: two words that don’t have much of a role in my
life. If I want to be sacred then I will be but without being to told to be
sacred (I’m an atheist after all but I do love old churches as well as the
music and poetry that religion has brought forth but as for believing in some
invisible divine’s show of son et lumière then forget it); the same goes for
duty — I’ve a duty to my family, to my country, to the people I know, to the
common good, but don’t tell me I have a duty to anything because I will
suddenly lose interest in that duty.
So what does this have to do with beer?
It’s your sacred duty to evangelise about beer, someone said
to me recently, drunk of course, both of us drunk, so no offence taken, lots of
drink taken but not offence. So all my sense of duty vanished and I thought of
how easy it is to find your passion spent, lying there on a divan like Thomas
Chatterton after he’d taken his life.
Evangelise? There I was walking up town after a couple of
pints of Brooklyn Lager, in my local, coming up to the chip shop, noting the
aromas, the sweet and sour aromas that seem to hang around chip shops with the
same persistence of louts on a corner in a 1950s B-movie (bicycle chains,
greasy quiffs, sallow faces, drainpipes), and then noting two young blokes
coming towards me, white shirts, snazzy ties, black trousers, bags of fish and
chips in their hands, staying at the caravan site perhaps, but something else
surfed along in my thoughts, something familiar that tied in with a knock on the
door and a beaming man or woman, plus a pamphlet to hand.
‘Excuse me sir,’ said one of the them, friendly enough, not
overbearing, nothing like the irritating, mateyesque manner of a chugger, even
verging on the obsequious, ‘excuse me sir, we are missionaries…’ I stopped him
there, ‘I’m alright thanks,’ and moved on, having noted a badge that said
Latter Day Saints (their chips would have got cold if I’d have stopped to talk,
how would they have warmed them up? God? Does he warm up chips?). So my thoughts
were correct, Mormons, a rare sight around here, in fact all evangelicals of
whatever stamp are a rare sight around here.
I felt a little sorry for them as this would not be a good
town for them to evangelise in — it’s a drinking town, there are four pubs (and
one of them has a tap bar). People like drinking here (but on the other hand,
those sots who spend sunrise to sundown on the booze might like that sort of
smartly shirted sort of helping hand). But that’s not what I wanted to write
about. It was about evangelisation. Because I write about beer, people assume
around here that I always drink cask beer (or at least foreign beer, whatever
that means). I write about beer.
This is why. One of my locals has recently been Serving
Freedom 4 and a jolly drop it is, and to be honest that is all I have been
drinking there. I like the spritzy mouth feel, the lemon-citrus undertone, the
brisk carbonation and its friskiness on the palate. Yet, a couple of people I
know still wrinkle their foreheads and say that they thought I was a real ale
man and why was I drinking lager. At this point if I was an evangelist of beer
I would round on them and get out the tambourine and ask everyone in the bar to
join in with some tub-thumbing anthem about beer, but I don’t. For me, talking
and writing and smiling about beer have gone beyond the evangelisation phrase —
it’s there. Whatever you think about the designated phrase of craft beer, it’s
there. Even my mother nods sagely when I mention craft beer, though that might
be her advanced age.
All this has been bugging me for a while, hosting thoughts
in my mind like an interior version of the Jeremy Kyle Show, veering across my
consciousness like an ME262 powered purely alone on ethanol, pushing the drug
of creativity with a sense of righteousness. It has been bugging me.
What’s bugging me?
This is the dull explanation: I collect editions of a food
and drink compilation that ran from the 1950s to the late 1980s — it was called
the Compleat Imbiber and featured the best writers on food and drink of the
day. Beer was often mentioned but it was wine that took centre stage.
The editor was Cyril Ray (the GQ wine correspondent Jonathan
Ray is his son) and it was in the 14th edition, which was published
in 1989, that I found an essay entitled The Enthusiastic Amateur’s (originally
published in Punch in 1984). In it Ray recalled memorable glasses of wine, but
also made the point that they were a pleasure rather than a duty.
Which is how I feel about beer.
Sure it’s a ‘sacred duty’ when I have to write a book or an
article or even take a beer tasting — my duty is to the readers and the editor
who is paying me. On the other hand, one can get too wrapped up in the
description of beer, of going for the new, all critical facilities suspended,
of the necessity to get it tapped and earn a virtual badge (what on earth do
you get out of Twitter telling the world that you have earned something or
other through buying a beer?). Of holding a beer to the light and declaring it
fined or unfined, of being an expect because you once read on the back of a
matchbox that beer contains hops.
Beer is a deep-rooted pleasure, an often precocious,
sometimes pedestrian, always pleasing bibulous bestiary of flavours and aromas;
beer is a bridge that links people, a half full or half empty glass that is
eternally on the table and sometimes, sometimes, it is a hedge behind which we
sit observing the world, a savour, a palaver on the palate, the alpha and omega
of the world of drink. But evangelist? Sorry, I think not.