Early doors: it’s just gone midday and in the midst of the bustling centre of York there is only one place for me to go — a pub. So there I am outside the House of The Trembling Madness, a place I have heard and read about and whose name is also rather unique. From the outside with its shop-front sized window it looks like it could be a tearoom or a draper’s, an impression that continues in the light, airy front bar, where I ask if they sell beer such is my discombobulation.
They do sell beer and plenty of it. My pint of The Kernel’s Foeder is all orange and grapefruit and the rural landscape of Brett, which, once I have settled in at a table upstairs, leads me to think about Brettanomyces. How when you taste its deliberate and well-intentioned use in a beer how it links you with the land and a farming community even though you might not know what a farming community is like; it connects you with rural life, with a village, with how the people go about their life, whether they are there all of the day, Zooming within their front rooms, or heading out in the morning and returning, drained and turned inside out at night.
It connects you with the fecundity of the land, the waste and the toil but also the joy and the turning over the soil as if were a new leaf in your life. It is a connection with the wilfulness of yeast, the untamed yeast, the bucking bronco, the mustang, the wildness of the untamed, and that is why some of us like it when it is used as an extra dimension of beer’s structure — we like that connection with the wildness, the connection with something that is not always the same; the connection with something that changes in the same way a grape crop changes from season to season.
As I thought and wrote, I noted the framed copies of Old Masters looking down from the blue-painted wooden panelled walls while intermittent spurts of laughter came from the adjoining room where there was another bar. A candlestick was present on each table, while an elderly patterned carpet lay in the centre of each room, I felt that there was almost a Regency feel to the place, as if Jane Austen or Emily Bronte might be calling in for a pint soon. I also continued to think about the beer in front of me, which kept its dry, refreshing, rural and sun-stroked sense of character.
Further thoughts came plodding along, slow and measured, like police constables on the beat, at once treading both lightly and firmly. I felt that in the same way how we often experienced the need to tame and straighten a river, fermentation seemed to be a need to conquer, to tidy up, to put everything in its place, a need to trim and curb and shape and shift and rank the way the yeast must behave. Was the use of Brett (and maybe pediococcus and lactobacillus too) also about taming fermentation, even though the results were different from what the normal fermentation process would bring about? Even though the word wild is commonly used when a beer has Brettanomyces involved, is it no more than another variation of getting yeast to yield to the brewer’s power?
Such were the questions that approached and hovered about like benevolent drones during a pint in the pub. This was the joy of a quiet late morning moment in a pub with a beer that sparked off ideas, which is what makes beer such a fascinating subject and why it is more than the liquid in the glass. As I sat there mulling, my notebook in front of me, people came and went, the Friday lunchtime smile, the cusp of the weekend nearly there. A pint of Cloudwater for me, Polly’s for you, the anarchy of optimism celebrated within a pub and the answers I asked myself left unanswered. I had to be on my way to a talking and tasting engagement at BrewYork on the edge of the city; the brewery was celebrating their fifth birthday and there would be more words and beer. For me, beer is about people and the flavours and aromas that are in the glass, but it is also about words, for without words we wouldn’t be trying to understand the deeper meaning of beer.