Written by Roger Baylor
There was a time when I’d make beer lists whenever I traveled, and it dates me considerably to confide that these were compiled using a pen and paper, and perhaps transcribed and typewritten later, long after I was back home.
Untappd didn’t even exist then. How on earth did we drink?
The list habit started before beer became a business. When overseas, the idea would be to drink a different beer for every day I was away. As you might expect, this wasn’t much of a challenge for sojourns into Bavaria or Belgium, although places like Italy or Bulgaria during the 1980s were far less fruitful.
Occasionally I’d be compelled to downgrade to wine – the horror.
I didn’t know much about beer back then, and the beers on my lists mostly were grouped by country, not style. As time went on, the ground shifted. For starters, I began learning about beer, and could tell a Doppelbock from a Bitter. Then, an American craft beer revolution started breaking out. At some point, I found myself smack in the middle of it, and right about the time it began making sense, it no longer did.
It is possible to trace back my encroaching disillusionment to a single instance of judging, around ten years ago. I took my new and only barely acquired BJCP status (those science questions were far too heavy for this humanities major) to Indianapolis to judge entries to the state fair, and was assigned Hefe-Weizen. Entries were numerous, and there were four of us: Two beer business guys, and two homebrewers.
It soon became apparent that the two pros had no chance to offer substantive input. Our two fellow judges had concluded that flavors and aromas roughly approximating liquid clove cigarettes were necessary for beers to pass through to the next round, and our counter arguments with regard to niggling details like malt and balance were dismissed. Theological compliance was demanded. We shrugged and cooperated, and I’ve only judged a handful of times since.
I’ve nothing against it, but just don’t feel like participating. To me, there is a point being missed – and life is too short for missed points. I’d rather drink a few full pints, and watch a decent foreign film, or read a book. Better yet, I’d rather have those beers with friends, on a beautiful fall day, in a clean and well anointed place.
The same phenomenon goes for keeping lists, which once was my passion. I’ve consumed a few thousand different beers in the past decade or so, and the point of counting and enumerating them now largely eludes me – much less undertaking the laborious task of rating, grading and grouping them.
What matters far more to me is where I consume them, and with whom. As one who doesn’t necessarily believe in out-of-body experiences, it is my belief that there are times when the place, weather, atmosphere and prevailing spirit can, in fact, provide a respite from the mundane, and be transformative. These times are to be sought, and cherished.
As I’ve said before – and naturally, there are exceptions – oodles of good beers are available in this day and age, but the glibness currently passing for knowledge about beer can exhibit an alarming lack of genuine content. It is 48 miles wide, and roughly two inches deep.
Recently an Indiana blog writer made what was intended as a self-deprecating comment, pondering whether beer enthusiasts have ever had a worthwhile conversation about anything other than beer. I appreciate the humor, and find myself annoyed that he might well be right – and if so, it’s not where I want to be.
In this era of gilt and flash, what interests me about beer is whether or not it is honest. In a time of one-upmanship, what interests me is consistency. With end zone celebrations and chest-thumping all around, what interests me is the fundamental integrity to hand the ball back to the referee and play the damn game the way it was meant to be played.
Accordingly, I find myself returning to the wisdom of the ancients. In the case of beer during our prevailing millennium, this means remembering the words of the late, great Michael Jackson.
The search for the perfect pint should last a lifetime.
That’s one mantra. My others include:
Whenever it seems like the world is beginning to agree with me, it is utterly terrifying.
If you’re not growing, you’re dying.
If you believe the target is fixed, then you haven’t been paying attention.
If it’s about being seen drinking a certain beer, then get out of my sight.
There are others. These comments may strike some as cynical, and I resemble that remark. Beer’s my life, and I’m still living it, but the beer world has changed – and so have I. To rekindle that wonderment, and to get those list-making juices flowing again, it’s back to first principles, like the public places where we drink beer; pubs may not be entirely capable of suspending life’s other rules, but they should be places where life’s rules are subject to examination and reflection.
The beers we drink there?
Honest, sustaining, and preferably local when in the locale. Sensual, not clinical. Magical, not always quantifiable.
I’m resolving to tune out the posturing, the pretense and the noise, and get back to the straight and narrow. In pursuit of that perfectly elusive pint, there’ll be a quality lifetime with the object of my fascination. It can only be accomplished one sip at a time.
And this is going to take a while. Thank heavens for that.