Beer and books.
I like both, so I’ll talk about them a bit.
At the risk of buying into the hipster stereotype, I am going to divulge you in my love of beer. At the same time, I shall make strenuous and perhaps dubious connections and references to literature not only to sound smart but also because it makes me feel all warm and smug.
Let’s begin. First let me address a pet peeve of mine, the inherent class idea regarding beer and wine. Somehow wine is more sophisticated than beer. Historically yes, there is a great deal to support that, with the vulgarity and crude production of beer and its wide availability meaning even the peasants could drink. Wine, with its more subtle and developed process meant higher prices and more exclusivity. This of course leads to a class divide, one I am happy to acknowledge. But we are not the polio ridden, 17th century witch burners that we once were. Society has developed and more importantly so has beer.
Beer lives matter, and the patriarchal dominance of wine must end! No more shall I be looked down on for ordering a pint with my meal whilst the rest of the table drinks wine. No more shall I be offered only the cheapest beer (though more on that later) whilst others have a selection of wines. I wish you would acknowledge my ale of preference in the same way you ask “red or white?”.
Whether you like it or not, the hipster community have done wonders for beer (with a bit of harm too, I will admit). Finally craft beers and ales are growing in popularity. Alright perhaps they have made beer at times unbearably pretentious but that is always going to happen, as we saw with the community.
“Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it”
This quote has never been more relevant (okay, maybe it has). The stuck up sommeliers of years gone by have spread and developed into our hoppy world. We are now plagued with those of such elevated levels of self worth that even the word ‘lager’ can send shivers down their spines. Lest we forget our humble beginnings, remember your first beer and cherish it, we must be proud of our heritage. Do not judge each other for our preference of beer. That is the beauty of it, the democracy of beer.
Wine, with almost exponential price ranges can be exclusionary and unforgiving to the man with a hollow wallet. But beer, beer is here for all and does not discriminate. At £4 a pint for just about any ale you are free to roam and taste and mingle with the ales. You can stride from a double stout to an indian pale ale without the slightest concern of crossing price borders. Your taste is purely subjective and is not at all influenced by your current financial positioning, as wine quite often is. If you have attended school from the age of 11–16 you have likely read George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’, or at least you have pretended to whilst skim reading the Spark Notes instead. As a result of this you will have familiarised yourself with the quote
“all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”
Now initially referencing the government and inequality in society, I think this translates fairly well to some people’s attitude regarding beer. Hint, they’re wrong. If you like a beer, it’s good beer. If you don’t like it, it’s not bad beer, it’s just not your beer. And with this in mind you can spend your £4 on a pint of Peroni instead of copying your mate’s Guinness, no argument needed.
Now onto the tasting. I call your attention to ‘The Little Prince’. A book I read just about once a year. Same book, same words, different meaning. This is to say that upon each completion of this seventy year old children’s book I have withdrawn from it a new interpretation. And no matter what my interpretation I am correct. Should I consider it to be about the bible, it is about the bible. Should I consider it to be about the worries and fears of growing up, it is just that. This is the beauty of interpreting literature and so too is the beauty of tasting beer.
Take the Guinness Extra Stout Original, a rich tasting beer no doubt. I taste chocolate and earthy flavours but to a friend it is full of iron and cream. Though similar interpretations, there are nuances and differences that vary our enjoyment. Neither is incorrect and each holds its value but I cannot truly tell you how it will taste for you, only you can. Beer provides you with the freedom of expression in preference, based on mood and environment, much in the same way your interpretation of a book is rendered through the lens of your previous experiences. To quote Julian Barnes’ ‘The Sense of an Ending’.
“The question of subjective versus objective interpretation, the fact that we need to know the history of the historian in order to understand the version that is being put in front of us”
We are under the influence of our own lives to recall and compare experiences with those in literature, which is the sheer magnificence of reading. You contribute to a writer’s work by living.
I want you to think of your first beer. For some of you, this is perhaps a special moment. You might even remember the exact beer that it was. Mine was a single can of Foster’s shared between six of us round the back of a Pontins. I didn’t much like it, in fact none of us did but I remember it vividly. I was about twelve and on a rugby tour. We stole it from the dads that were accompanying us and thought we might get drunk. Surprisingly we didn’t.
I mention this because in Proust’s ‘Swan’s Way’ our protagonist dips his Madeline into a cup of tea and upon tasting it, he is flooded with the memories of eating Madelines in his aunt’s house as a child. So too am I reminded of sipping that lukewarm, head rich can of Foster’s in a hedge with my friends thinking we were really rather cool, each and every time I drink Foster’s, which has become increasingly more frequent given my apparent ever diminishing funds. What I’m saying is that beer holds the same emotional capabilities as one of the most respected novel’s of the twentieth century. Foster’s is my personal inspiration for the interpretation of Proust’s motif and ground breaking theme, involuntary memory. A theme that Proust encapsulates in 1,267,069 words, Foster’s have done so in 500 ml (I promise I’m not being paid to promote Foster’s though I am open to offers).
I mentioned the price of beer earlier, and more importantly its equality. There are perhaps two exceptions to this communal pricing and they are tinnies and craft beers. An ale and a lager on tap, largely the same price at a pub. But head to your nearest off license and you can purchase 4 cans/tinnies of Carlsberg for £3 or a single bottle, one quarter the amount, of St Peter’s Organic Best Bitter. Each has its merits and each deserves equal praise. Carlsberg, acceptable quality with minimal cost, the bicycle rickshaw of getting drunk. It’ll get the job done with little complaint and is easy on the wallet. St. Peter’s Best Bitter is more of an Uber Lux, you’ve had a long day, you want to really treat yourself because you deserve it but you wont be going far without the money to support it. I think it is fool hardy to dismiss either one until you have experienced and lived through both circumstances. Beer selection can be used to teach you empathy, truly wonderful stuff.
Carlsberg, Forster’s and Kroenenburg are all marvellous examples of what I lovingly call ‘the tinny’. The real importance of the tinny is its inclusiveness, it can be enjoyed by all on any budgets. You can go to a wedding and enjoy a can of Foster’s without out too much judgement or you can turn up at a friends house in your dirtiest clothes with a six pack and receive the warmest of welcomes. Should you attempt this with a bottle of £3.99 Echo Falls at a wedding and the resentment will soon pour in. No man is too proud for a beer in a time of need. Drinking to get drunk or just to enjoy a beer, the faithful tinny will stand by you. You might be wondering how I can tie this to literature. Just watch. I have drunk enough tinnies and read enough books, even at the same time, to speak with moderate authority. Whitman. Whitman is the literary equivalent of a tinny. He used basic language and informal tone to speak to a nation. Through his rejection of typical, dense poetry in favour of something more simplistic and approachable, he became the working man’s voice. In his beautiful poem ‘A song for occupations” he seeks to remind each man and woman of their own human worth, their value within a society of growing class divisions.
Why what have you thought of yourself?
Is it you then that thought yourself less?
Is it you that thought the President greater than you?
Or the rich better off than you? or the educated wiser than you?
He acknowledges the privileges placed on certain people but immediately reminds that this outward measure of success is no more important than your own intrinsic measure of success. He has appropriately encapsulated the importance of self-esteem without lapsing into arrogance. Whitman’s success lies in his avoidance of following the rigid rules of structure and rhyme so seen in classical poetry. He addresses a nation of classical mechanical minds through the use of the romantic, bridging a divide much in the same way he bridges the class divide. I am stretching the value of a tinnie’s contribution to the world but you get the message.
There is of course more to be said about beer, and one stray blog post on Medium sure isn’t going to cover it all. There is the notion of masculinity with beer, and those that judge you for drinking a lighter sweeter beer instead of a dark, bitter ale. Pricks.
Tinnies before tannins.