beer: the small picture

Guest blogging is a contentious thing, people expect the opinions of those that man the helm of the ship, but here amongst my travels I meet people who’s opinion counts too, but can’t be bothered with the routine of writing something regularly.   So, over the last few months I have kept my ears out for people, inviting them to say what’s rattling their cages, what hop is making them excited, just interesting stuff – here’s the first victim!     

London resident, Eamonn is a well travelled chap, internationally aware and a champion of gueuze.   I like him already. I hope you enjoy what he has to say…

Just over a month ago now several hundred American beer enthusiasts invaded the premises of Russian River Brewery in Northern California for the release of a new beer named Pliny the Younger. For those unaware of the event pictures taken at it appeared to document some hip historical society’s recreation of the 1848 Gold Rush in the area, only enacted solely by people with ironic slogans emblazoned across their chest. Though The Gold Rush itself probably (maybe?) resulted in a few more instances of death, Younger’s release suffered no comparative loss of zeal or attendance and before the day was out the brewery’s in-house supply of Pliny the Younger was drained dry. Totally gone.
Sure enough within hours beer-shaped websites sparked up the sort of indignant fury/maniacal fervour only the internet can handle as swathes of hop fetishists spluttered out their accounts of the day like bystanders to a horrible tragedy on the news, mumbling incoherently with blood all over their faces:
“I drove for 7 seven hours but they were all out of it and now I don’t know what to do!”

“Apparently someone bought 21 growlers of it due to a glitch in the system! How could this happen?!”

“Suck it, monk bitches! This is the greatest beer in the world!!!”

In a matter of days’s user-driven rating system appointed Pliny the Younger the “Greatest Beer in the World” and a small number of Californian beer nerds exhaled heavily, looking positively beatific in their post-coital glow.

Now, confession time: I would really, really love to try Pliny the Younger. I’ve had his older brother Pliny the Elder several times and it’s one of my favourite brews so obviously I’d be all over the turbo-charged version like Paddington Bear in a marmalade Jacuzzi.  However, I will also say that this recent shrieking culture of hyping beers to within an inch of their lives, and it’s becoming epidemic in the States, has genuinely diminished my interest in it. Why? Well…
From time immemorial the Brotherhood of Hop(e) has sought to be treated with the same esteem shown to the Whiskey, Wine and Brandy vanguard, and it seems mildly possible that now or in the near future, with craft beer on an exponential ascent, that this might actually happen. Unfortunately in some respects we maybe picketed too close to the fence protecting us from the habitual ills of those same groups and have subsequently started to take on their less desirable traits, such as the coveting of rarity above all. “But that’s a natural human instinct!” you might say. Yes, but in my own case it’s one I now find easier to ignore having made a minor existential breakthrough: I ultimately prefer enjoying things I don’t develop an irrational, pathological obsession for.

By way of hopefully illustrating my point, I’ll tell you this: I was in Brussels with a couple of friends last weekend where I had my hands (and lips) on a sexy little number by the name of Westvleteren 12. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? It’s only THE GREATEST BEER IN THE WORLD, or so you’d have screamed at you if you tried to solicit information about it online over the past few years. It’s also, in obviously unrelated news, rather difficult to get your hands on outside of Belgium.

And yes, it’s very good. But was it better than the bottle of similarly-styled Rochefort 10 I bought at a suburban supermarket near our hotel for less than two Euros? Well, no, I honestly don’t think so. And there are two significant reasons for this.

The first is that, all nonsense aside, Rochefort 10 is Goddamn delicious. I mean, it’s just a ridiculously tasty beer. If you haven’t tried it, go get yourself a bottle, drink it, and then send me a Thank You card, or a Thank You block of local cheese or something else to express your inevitable gratitude.

Secondly, and crucially, it’s a beer that, due to decent distribution and a reasonable price, I can actually form a relationship with; my opinion and appreciation of Rochefort 10 is an expansive, ever-altering algorithm informed by numerous experiences with it, whether that involves capitulating to drunken stupidity at a friend’s house or the solitary indulging of a bottle to stave off the pervasive, numbing cold of a British winter night. Basically the beer is about the beer is about the beer.

In the case of rare species like Pliny the Younger or Westvleteren 12, what you drink might evoke a spectacle of flavours and colours and contrasts, but if you know it’s likely to be several birthdays before you try it again you’ll regard that beverage, even prior to letting a drop touch your tongue, with all the genuflecting pomp of a last meal. Is that actually a useful way to judge the value of something? Probably not.

To a significant portion of you reading this, what I’m saying is self-evident truth: “Of course the only beers I care about are the ones I can actually buy”. But I think it’s worth emphasising for those of us – and we are legion – who spend more time thinking about the brews we can’t drink than the ones we can. The bottom line is that what you think you need, be it some elderberry-infused, triple-hopped IPA from Missouri, or a Belgian-brewed Quad with extremely limited distribution, chances are you can find something just as good, if not better, accessible online or in a local (decent) beer shop. So, Ahab, stop pining away time on that White Whale and get to enjoying the doubtless breadth of quality that’s already available to you, wherever you are.

more to come… and if you fancy having a crack, just mail me!