Sorry about this, but I like. No make it love. I love beer. I am unapologetic in my love of beer and the pubs and bars where I drink it with the gusto and bravado of a buffalo running free on the range.
Let’s step back a second. Why do I feel the need to write sorry and stress that I am unapologetic in my love of beer. It is after all the world’s most popular alcoholic drink and if we were talking about popular drinks, it comes in at three below tea and water. Beer though lounges on a divan of distrust and dismay in the minds of many, who, even though they might drink it, see it a yobbish, mobbish, simply spoken, populist drink, the kind of drink that no one ever thinks about or thinks to tinker with words and fling out epitaphs like knives in a circus in the same way that the lovers of wine and whisky do.
Beer is the mob at the gate, the tide of illiteracy sitting in front of the TV, the thirst-quencher and non-pound-stretcher, the downed in one drink that no one ever considers. Or do they?
Beer writers moan that newspapers rarely cover beer, but they do and it’s not always a story about hedonism and high fives in the high street and look at the state of these youngsters who have had enough (usually focusing on the young women with the kind of gaze a peeping Tom would recognise). There are beer books, there are TV programmes, there are newspaper columns, there are regular rediscoveries that women like beer, that beer goes with food, that many beers have a depth and breadth of flavour, aromatics and mouth feel that would stand up to the best Bordeaux. So maybe I shouldn’t feel so apologetic.
Takes a deep breath.
There are beers with their roots in Central Europe, from whence the first golden lager beer came in the 19th century; there are beers that have been made the same for decades by family lambic makers and blenders in the Senne valley to the west of Brussels; there are British breweries young, old and middle aged who have caught the waves of modern brewing and produced beers that tap out a tango on the tongue; there are brooding imperial stouts, cerebral in their darkness (though the lighter souls of this particular family, the pastry stouts and the smoothies and the clattering, over-flavoured ones chatter away like canaries encased in their window-sill prison).
Beer has a prism through which the world can be seen, but it can also be a prison for those of us who have woken up in a doorway, unremembering how we got there, or stretched out in a friend’s hideaway, the life and fire of the night before a shoddy memory of forced merriment. We mustn’t forget that this is what beer can also become. Just another one, that barley wine, oh gone on a pint, why not, and the downfall is as complete as Varus’ legions in the Teutoburg Forest at the hands of the children of barley.
So what is it that I love about beer (got that right this time) — is it the thirst that it quenches, not only on the palate, but in the mind, where several glasses of a good beer are a lubricant to thought, before the tipping point where Beowulf becomes the flatulence of the night. Is it the company, the flavours, the histories, the unexpected pleasures just around the corner, that bar you find in a foreign city that you might never visit again, where for one evening you become a regular, a segment of the local population?
Which is one way of saying that to really, really, really understand a beer culture I suggest you travel. Take the train from Lille to Roeselare and visit Rodenbach and try and understand how nearly 200 years of preparation and reparation has brought you to tasting a beer as tart as the best of wisecracks, but also fruity and juicy and otherworldly in its effect on the palate. Or drink London Pride or ESB by the Thames, at the Dove perhaps, with the long cigarillo-thin brewery chimney just over there. Or repair to the Coopers in Burton and ask for Draught Bass, you won’t be disappointed. Or take a road trip to Vermont, Bohemia, Oregon, Flanders, Franconia or wherever, and discover that the beers you drink will loosen the bonds and make you write or say that yes like me you love beer and the places where it is drunk.