your horizons

So one question that I get when I am delivering tastings is, “what’s your all time favourite beer” – this doesn’t irritate me, I love it,  just I believe that there is a curve of awareness that mirrors both the tongue, travel and time – and only when the experience is comparable to the beer, in place, company and service  – can we even begin to consider where, when and how a beer becomes, nay transcends to the greatest, best, or any other superlative that we chose to pluck out of thin air.

Reading a few blogs and books recently, the philosophy of beer is oft contemplated, whether as a motivation or result of beer consumption, I’ll leave that to the those writers to decide what started this all off, but in the meantime, here’s something to ponder…

To quantify or even approach a qualified beer appreciation, one must I believe be willing to lay ones own wallet, where you live and perceived knowledge to rest.   These are all factors that limit ones horizons as to the possibilities, opportunities and actualities of what beer is as a philosophical idea.   In a somewhat monkish dedication to a faith, I know, and realise all to well what it means to commit to these changes,  and even at the risk of being called an extremist/purist, or whatever.   I have read and traveled a great deal, researching my destinations searching for that amazing beer experience, manufactured or on the spur of the moment.

If you want to experience what I have as great beer moments, removing three barriers from your beer-life, is not as dramatic as it sounds, but I am sure that it will be to some, committing to changes are one of lifes’ most challenging pursuits.   The governmental advice, health warnings etc,  not withstanding, (and don’t get me starting on politic marketing, so much to say, I wish I had their budget)

Why beer? I suppose I have to start with saying why I drink what I do.   Well,  I actually am a bit of a light weight.   There is a Roman saying that beer is for the weak of constitution, well that’d be me then.   In fact, growing up in a wine growing family, whilst not as integrated as it once was,  I have had alcoholic beverages of a kind on the table since I were a wee one.   Beer became my choice of beverage from early drinking years, not so much because of taste, but a rail against the grape tide that my family espoused, I believe in hindsight.    So, in something of an arranged marriage, I have learned to love, and on occasion – generally post festival mornings – hated it.

Language of Beer. To really appreciate any subject in front of us, one must really understand the impact of the language that surrounds it, forms it and generates the sentences that we pour over in search of new opinion, beers and further insight into beer.   Establishment of a syntax, works by Michael Jackson and Fred Ekhart, provided us with a template toward Style, what we’d expect of a beer when confronted with a term toward the identity beyond a brand.   The construct that they offered has given the consumer, the brewer and even us the retailer a platform to aid in the communication of beer, is a marvelous tool.  Yet with all things, there needs to be evolution, as with the styles of beer, even technology, amplifying flavour, ingredients or even alcohol, we must adjust the language we use, and do it carefully.

I am no literary type, infact I have no GCSE in English, despite post grad results.  There are far more gifted folk who handle the skill of writing baton with greater ease, but that’s not to say that what they communicate is valid and this isn’t a mini diatribe against those that communicate beer or PR for beer, more so a nudge to those that feel that they don’t communicate as well, but they have something to say. Do it.  The worst thing that can happen is that we lose this tract of opinion, news, insight or even a potential addition to the pool of talent in evolving the language that we communicate beer with.  Furthering this deviation, the percieved differentiation between beer blogger and beer writer, is something that baffles me; quality, well written, informative, interesting and accurate beer information is perfect no matter the platform that we get it presented to us on.   In fact, I get slightly worried the amount of people that read this blog?! but, thanks all the same.  Getting beer, in a positive light,  into the mainstream media with some regularity is the next challenge that we must deliver upon, I hope that we can get beer onto the BBC or the like and it be accessible and digestable and positive, this then with help sow the seeds of a beer appreciation from grass roots through to I am sure, the critical minority.   I think, if you’re going to write, consider the motivation to do so, whilst it’s easy to sling at me for the benefit of Beermerchants, (well, duh!?), free beer isn’t enough, the quality of writers is improving, the charlatans are being found out, as it should with the increased numbers.

Beer is exciting and we are all carrying the future in our hands, as it’s essential to know that people shape beer, we are those people, those with a pen or a pound in their hand.    Mastery of language, nay the authority of beer language, once I assume handed from brewer to brewer,  now more so, the media is forming beer assuming that the media is a voice collective rather than one person’s opines.    The speed of modern media is incredible.  A recent conversation with a brewer, he’s decided give up brewing big, barreled beers, the complete lack of commercial viability deciding it for him.   My retort was somewhat, yes, I hear you, but no you’re wrong, to confirm that comment would mean a whole ‘nuther blog post.  But, you can see what’s happening; then again, I hear of another brewer doing a barrel program in the UK with thought, planning and insight far greater than brewer A; brewer B’s previous career leaning on his ambitions and probably more chance of delivering success.  Learning from one another, social learning perhaps, I am sure, but shows that it can happen both ways, especially when you consider that brewer B is brewing said beers because of a New York Times article.  Whether that’s right, reading an article from an American newspaper and allowing it to effect decisions within a brewery in the UK, time will tell.

Travel. Over the years, migrating around the planet in the name of education and research, I have come to realise that the diversity of flavour that beer presents is really inversely proportional to the quality of language that we’ve limited ourselves with, where the wine world has a far greater acceptance of the varied and diverse, call it flowery, language.   Cultures that have an established modern wine and beer producing culture; the likes of California, New Zealand, Italy and Australia and as much the consumers of these, much like many new cultures, the youthfulness has looked at the traditions and said “thank you very much” and moved on.   They have mixed wine and beer language, the vocabulary, the norms that they have established are an amalgam of the two worlds.  They sit together, wineries are producing beers, breweries are producing wines, is just the extreme end of this joining of cultures.   Of course, the engineering talent and availability of equipment, favourable-ish tax regimes (kinda) and an acceptance of microculture is a massive impetus, and reflects the artisanship/engineering stewardship dichotomy that brewing represents.  In the UK: I worry that there are fantastic wine writers looking at beer and the education/information that surrounds it, and hang their heads in dismay as to the quality delivered.     But why am I chuntering on about language, syntax or grammatical insertions to best express beer, when the title of the article is Drinking to your horizons.

Initially I said, forgive your wallet, your place of residence and your perceived knowledge. Why?

  1. It’ll cost you a fortune. There are so many breweries, in diverse locations, that to get between them, will cost.  Gone are the days that you could do the grand tour of beer in three nations.  There are more breweries than you can shake a stick at doing great things.  In fact you have more chance now that you have a good to great brewery on your doorstep.     Want an example, go see how Pete Brown learnt about IPA.  learning about one beer, within a niche, but was genuine deep, effective, learning.
  2. Willingness to get up and travel. I am not talking about a weekend here and there, to Bruges or the like, I am talking driving from Seattle to San Diego. or Detroit to Milwaukee or Pilsen to Rome, in the same year.  and, then Vietnam, Laos or Singapore.  Buenos Ares… even Derby, Sheffield or Huddesfield.
  3. Percieved Knowledge. Lao Tzu, “Rejoicing in nothing and knowing nothing are the true rejoicing and the true knowledge.” but to really admit that you know nothing of a subject is a foundation to move on from.    I love sitting with people like Jamil Zanicheff, Doc Scott, Tasty McDole or hearing from the many guests on the Brewing Network, as much the brewers that I get to meet on my travels.    As much as I fart around with brewing, I love the activity, but where someone can dedicate time, effort and money on that scale to their pursuit, brewing, the garnered knowledge can be astounding, and that’s just one slice of the whole.  What about the servers, pipe maintenance, label designers, glassware manufacturers et al.  Accessable and useable language is key to garnering knowledge. Making sure that it’s not itimidating.

So, what’s that got to do with your horizons? If you’re blessed with a quality brewery within your county, celebrate their efforts,  I love drinking beers that reflect their locale.  Homogonisation of beer, on a macro or micro scale is anything but a good idea.  But, all said, I love seeing breweries attempt to brew styles that are popular, even better when they do it oh so well.    But, back to you, if you can’t dedicate yourself, rewind time or have a photographic memory for all things malt and hop related – don’t panic, enjoy the beers that you have around you.  Go to the pub, with good people, drink good beer.  Believe me, the experience will be fantastic.   Yes, expand your horizons with the bottles from affar, they are exciting, enjoy them, celebrate them, just as much as the breweries around you and if you get the chance head in their direction.

But, if that’s only part of the path that I chose, who do I look to for other resource?  How do I filter, to help discover my beervana?    We are all judgemental, I have learnt to filter, I suppose from an extended period in education teaches you that, but,  much like guides I read an article about something I know, sort of, and see how close they are to my ideals.  But, is that correct?  Is that fair? Who am I to say that I am right and they are wrong.  I suppose chose your heroes wisely?

Recently I had a good friend over, who happens to be a brewer from California, around marker Belgian breweries, taking him to British pubs with really well served fresh cask ales and shooting the shit with good friends over a selection of great ales, and some not so great. This provided experiences and insight toward what was the “best beer you ever had”.  That combine of experiences wouldn’t have been achieveable with out contacts, prior purchase of beers, and having friends.

I have had great experiences, with many good people who are in my life, those have had greater effect on the “best beer in my life” moments, as much the artisanship and talents of a brewer.

Once upon a time, in a galaxy far far away, I only knew of Cask Ale, living in a pub that sold cask ale.   Travels took me away from that nestbed, experiences formed new opinion, memories provided heart felt connections, and finances provided new destinations.    Would I be any different with out that?  Who knows, probably?  There are a few things that I would be with out, other than beer, that beer has brought into my life beyond an increased waist line.    But, I am sure that I would still want to celebrate the beauty of locally brewed beers, where ever I was.  Don’t feel left out, if you haven’t had the chance to try some of the marker beers from far away, (or you can of course buy beers from ;-))  but, there are many people out there would like to drink what’s local to you, and get a great experience from it, myself included.

edit: now with music, at the suggestion of @terry_tibbs, your resident beer loving DJ…