It’s been a while since I got to write about beer. Nothing’s changed.
Well, I guess a lot has changed if we really look at it (2016 has been a bit crazy). But when it comes to beer, we’re still drinking the excrement of invisible organisms and whatever they didn’t get round to eating.
The same as it always has been. And so it is for beer writing.
Some of the most ancient recipes on earth are for beer. Written in forgotten script on clay tablets. What is not often reported is what followed directly below these historic tracts: “pairs nicely with…”
It’s almost certainly too far to suggest that if no one wrote about the beer, that it would be forgotten. After all humans like to create things that make them feel good, (see also: french fries). But someone did write it down, and when humans decide to write something down, you know it has importance. Yes, everything written down has importance, even the stuff you don’t like or understand was considered important by someone.
Writing about any topic is an art form. If you read that and are currently making a joke about celebrity gossip writing, stop. A form of writing as pervasive and addictive as gossip has to be art; even if it’s pop art.
So what is the art of beer writing? Seriously, if you know that’d be a real help to me.
I learned pretty quickly that you never try to describe the flavour of a beer. First of all, what’s the point? Everyone’s taste buds are different enough that you’re either describing something they can’t taste or you’re stating the obvious.
Which leads to the other problem, describing flavours directly is boring. “It’s bitter”, no shit, really? I hated myself every time I had to revert to using “crisp” as a flavour description. I can’t remember who taught me this, but you describe flavour by talking about the images it conjures in your mind.
This is why I’ve always loved the term “lawnmower beer”. It’s shorthand for the cold beer you can swig after mowing the lawn on a hot day. A beer that makes a great shandy. A beer that leaves that small acid burn on the back of your tongue and doesn’t taste as good at the end, as it did at the start.
You may disagree with me about what kind of beer you would actually drink in that scenario, but you’re probably being a bit fancy. Good on you.
Beer these days come in so many complex and varied flavours that you can mix it up and, goddamit, if you want to chug a bourbon barrel-aged stout in the middle of February with the smell of cut grass and 2-stroke oil still in the air, well that’s fine by me.
And in the coming weeks I’m going to be trying a lot of flavours and explaining them to you with long-winded descriptions (and more than a few parentheses). Because this is my gig now.
Shaun Clouston and the Grill Meats Beer team have given me an opportunity to write again and I’m gonna seize it with both hands. It’s part of their new beer-first focus. And with a totally impartial eye, Grill Meats Beer is a pretty great bar.
Personally I can’t wait to stuff myself full of beer (and ribs and burgers and popcorn fish) for art instead of utilitarianism. It feels good to be back.