|This is a stout, a universal stout, it is
not a sweetshop stout
Sometimes when I wonder about the nature of beer I find it curious to think and ponder over the circumstances in which a particular name has been given to a beer that is brewed by countless people across the world. All of them have an idea that the beer they brew, under its given name, is going to taste roughly the same as the one with the same name that is brewed by other members of this host of countless people.
For ease, we write down beer style, or variety, or family member or type even, but the reality is that the stout (for that is the kind of beer I am thinking about) a brewery down the road makes will have a commonality with one that is produced by a brewery 204 miles away as the crow flies or one brewed in a brewpub high in the Andes that I once visited. But why, I ask myself, should I be surprised? After all, I expect a pickled herring bought from that stall next to the Amstel in the middle of Amsterdam on a Tuesday to taste the same as the pickled herring I went back for on the Thursday from the same stall, otherwise I might be disappointed. So maybe what underpins the idea of a beer style/variety/family member or type is a sense of familiarity, the knowledge that when you ask for a stout wherever you are you will get something that broadly dovetails with what you know a stout tastes like (unless of course the brewer has seen it fit to throw in various confectionary or joints of meat, in which case we are on the wilder shores of disappointingly different tasting pickled herrings).
So the stout I have drunk is a universal stout, it has no name, has no home, has no parent, has no need of a name. It looks like a gentle sleep, beautiful in its shadowless sleekness, a mirror held to the soul, a soothing, soft and yielding shade that you immediately want to be friends with. If this is a stout, this is a stout, it is a stout, a stout that looks like a masterpiece in the glass. Let us now pass onto to the array of aromatics that emerge from the glass: the luxury of vanilla, the softness of childhood, the remembered laughter of a young child; the caressive nature of chocolate and coffee, the bittersweet memory of a long-lost espresso in a sweet-smelling cafe hidden away beneath the streets of Milan; the heft and weight of roastiness, the bracing bitterness of roasted malt that crackles with the intensity of a bonfire smelt several fields away on a still day. To drink a stout as complete as this is to start with the roastiness, which is then followed by the soothing chime of vanilla, coffee and chocolate and finally be replete with a dryness at the back of the throat which suggests that you do what you’ve just done time and time again until the glass is empty. Or maybe the ethereal presence of George Orwell comes along and asks if he too can have a glass of this stout he looked so diligently for when he wrote The Moon Under Water and I wonder if he ever thought of the anarchy that would be unleashed if when he asked for a stout he would be presented with a glass of something that smelt like a sweetshop he might recall from the days before the war swept all before it.