Friday 13 June 2014

Beer Trails: The Brewery in the Bohemian Forest: Evan Rail

The author with one of his mates
This compact e-book is a superlative piece of beer writing: I read it in one go, partly on a bike in the gym and then finished it when I got home in league with a coffee so strong that when I dropped my pen in it the damn thing floated. It’s the sort of joyful and under-the-radar beer writing full of words, phrases and sentences that bring the reader straight into the heart of the Bohemian Forest as well as create a monumental thirst for the beers of the brewery Rail writes about.

What a word Bohemian is. I used to joke that my wife and I were Bohemian, but the truth was I hadn’t cut the grass for a while or mended the skirting board I’d promised to do six months before. And then there is La Boheme, with whatshername and her tiny frozen hands (my mother’s favourite opera, I prefer Berlioz’s La Damnation de Faust); lot of Bohemians there then, going hungry, getting cold and generally mooning about the place. On the other hand there’s a deeper meaning to Rail’s evocation of the Bohemian Forest — the dark, trackless places that could swallow a legion, as happen in the Teutoburg Forest where Arminius destroyed Varus. All these connections: yes it’s that good a piece of writing (and he also gets to use the word spelka).

For anyone who doesn’t know of Rail, he’s a Californian journalist/author who’s been living in Prague for a few years now (he did tell me how many when we were judging beer in Rimini earlier this year but I forgot). He wrote the CAMRA guide to Prague and the Czech Republic and writes fantastic travel pieces for the NYT and various other journals (he’s got a piece on a hacker-turned-Berliner Weiss saviour in the current issue of All About Beer). He’s also written several of these e-books, including the fabulous Why Beer Matters, In Praise of Hangovers (a real comfort on a slow journey from the aftermath of Sun in the Glass fest at Pivovar Purkmistr to Oktoberfest in 2012) and Why We Fly.

Bohemian Forest is his latest and is about Pivovar Kout na Šumavě and his search for a sacred brewing book the people that brought the shut brewery were supposed to have. It’s more than that though, to my mind being a meditation on what it is that attracts people to beer, what makes them engulf themselves in the world of beer.

This is a story that could work as either fiction or non-fiction. There’s almost something within that teeters on the edge of magical realism; there were times when I wondered if the brewery existed (it does and I have probably drank its beers with Rail in Zly Casy in Prague). A beautiful lyricism flutters through the story in alliance with a musicality that demonstrates what beer writing can be about. There are a couple of moments when the text slightly slows down, is not as flowing, but then the Thames doesn’t always flow in a way we would like it to but that doesn’t detract from its beauty.

To my mind Rail is a writer who is producing some of the best words about beer at the moment, helping (along with other writers both in print and online) to move beer writing on from its antediluvian origins, beyond its lorries and overalls, its cup cakes and ‘look a woman has a glass in her hand’ obsessions (though they do have their place). I can’t recommend this enough.

Disclosure time: I was sent this by Rail and have known him and drank deeply with him for a few years. The Brewery in the Bohemian Forest (which can be bought here for the price of a third of the tiny tears of a craft brewery) is part of a series called Beer Trails, which Rail has told me that Joe Stange and Stan Hieronymous (two other great beer writers) will also be contributing to — I look forward to it.

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