A blank page in front of me, inconsolable in its emptiness and hungry in its need for words. Not just any old words though, words that make sense and give meaning to the world I live in, in this case the world of beer through which I flow like a river on its way to the open sea.
I’ve always been a fan of words, been in love with words even, encouraging myself to learn new ones as a teenager and when I started life as a journalist challenged and electrified by the sense of order I needed to put these words in.
Words are the currency with which I spend my days, especially as I am currently working on a new book about the best British beers in can and bottle (best as in my opinion, not Twitter or the man across the road who really drinks cider on the sly), which means that every day needs a certain amount of words put into an empty file, words on how the beer tastes, what it looks like, how it came into being and what the creator thought when they first brewed the beer.
This is going to be a book that tells the story behind the beers, all 300 of them, a mixture of knowledge anecdotes, cut-ups and stitch-ups of words and a hope that I can extend the vocabulary of what it means to write about beer.
The beer that you drink and enjoy and enthuse about and look to try again is to my mind — and I know others will disagree with my view almost with the vehemence of the Catholic Church’s reaction when Luther banged up his 95 Theses on a door that didn’t come from IKEA — is more than the liquid in the glass.
It is about the creativity of the brewer, the work of the farmer collecting the grain, the maltster plying their ancient trade, the hop grower and the pickers who fancy a weekend or more in the country, the idea behind the establishment of the brewery, the hard work that went into finding the finance (or maybe not), the development of the recipe, the first taste and what it felt like, the distribution into the on- and off-trade (more off than on at the moment obviously), the thoughts behind the branding of the can or bottle, the reaction of the drinkers and why they drunk it, why they picked it and where they drunk it. All these and more are what I am trying, in my own insubstantial way, to write about.
Every beer has a story, a tale to be told, a journey to be taken, a language to be learnt. It could be a stout, a brooding, dark, murderous and Macbethian looking stout, that shimmers with the aromatics and tastes of darkness, fire, smoothness and adultness. It could be that IPA over there, the one they call West Coast, that with those two words we can glimpse the vastness of the Pacific Ocean, the freedom of a powerful motorbike roaring its way down the freeway with the sea to one side and tree-frowned mountains to the other.
Or it could be that simplest of pleasures, an English bitter, as earthy as Chaucer, the chimes of citrus like a peal of bells on the ether, the crunch of the biscuity malt, all of which come together with the devotional attitude of a congregation.
‘I did this beer because… I felt like this when I first tasted it… I like Irish cream so I added some… I gave up a job in London and took a course in brewing… the beer was originally in corked bottle but they then started popping…’
All these stories I want to uncover and put in my book, a ragbag of words and memories and sensations and tastes and aromatics that will tell tales and fill empty pages and parch thirsty throats, for what is point in writing about beer unless you want your readers to think, ‘yes this is a good idea, I think I’ll pour myself a beer’. Talking of which, it’s 4pm on a Friday afternoon…