Taking my talents to the Right Bank

“Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”
–Ernest Hemingway

You may be familiar with Papa Hemingway. He was a well-known writer in his time, and a lively, brawling personality who enjoyed good food and drink. Papa’s beer ratings weren’t always very objective, as when he expressed the view that Spanish lager was almost the equal of German.

Hemingway’s writing style, much parodied then, as now, by those capable of such distinctions owing to their preference for actually reading and enjoying the primacy of the printed word, was regarded as unique and direct in the beginning, before his late-period decline set in.

Papa knew that writing was hard work, and required supreme effort. While there is no comparison between his worldwide success and my regional obscurity, I think about it often and agree with him each time I look up and it is 6:00 a.m., with a self-imposed deadline looming and no clear path to locate the best way to express what I’m thinking.

Writing is a challenge. For me, it also is a recurring compulsion of sorts, and most mornings, I awake to bundles of thoughts and ideas that demand to be sorted through, arranged, and set into words. These words don’t always become sentences, and the sentences sometimes stop well short of paragraphs. Mental constipation is no fun at all. When finally the words add up to a coherent whole, there is great joy, and then it’s back to work, repeating the cycle anew.

In February, 2005, I started Potable Curmudgeon, an on-line beer blog, but I’d already been writing about beer for at least 15 years, spending much of this period writing, editing and producing (that’s paper, staples and stamps, people) Walking the Dog, the newsletter of the FOSSILS homebrewing club.

Those readers with longer memories may recall the “Mug Shots” beer column I wrote for LEO Weekly a few years back, roughly from 2007 through 2010. It ended amid a slight disagreement with the editor at the time, who did not favor my unrepentant habit of upbraiding one of the publication’s key advertisers (read: Anheuser-Busch, later AB-InBev) via inconvenient facts pertaining to its perpetual corporate villainy – and this is before it created the Trojan Goose hoax, of which so many beer geeks remain oblivious as they pump coins into the multinational’s eager slot.

During the same period, 2009 – 2011, I wrote weekly non-beer guest columns for the pre-merger New Albany Tribune, although beer periodically factored into my essays.

The key element for me, at both LEO and the ‘Bune, and also true of my ongoing quarterly beer columnist gig at Food & Dining magazine, was the fact that my work resulted in remuneration, albeit it scant. As noted above, writing isn’t easy, at least not the way my muse requires me to pursue it, and we all cannot effortlessly Isaac Asimov; anyway, I’ll return to this point in a moment.

When LEO discarded me, I used the Potable Curmudgeon blog site to do a “Wednesday Weekly” beer column for a year or so (2010-2011), which then segued into a bartered space called “Baylor on Beer” at LouisvilleBeer.com. It was my good friend and former NABC salesman John Campbell who originally brought me into LouisvilleBeer.com when it began in 2011.

Although Campbell subsequently departed, my column remained. Eventually the name was changed to “The Potable Curmudgeon,” and then in 2013, I transformed it from biweekly into weekly, published on Monday mornings.

You are reading the finale.

It is 2014, and at this point, as it pertains to my chosen hobby and profession of all things beer, I’ve come to an outsider’s position analogous with Willie and Waylon, circa 1973. I’m a congenital malcontent, completely out of synch with the prevailing narcissistic selfie-impelled beer culture, unwilling to accept the New Orthodoxy of better beer as equal parts Viagra and contrived WWE bout, and as good as rendered outright outlaw — if not the resident argumentative crank.

And I find that this precarious perch on the lunatic fringe suits my inner Socrates somewhat gloriously, and makes me quite happy.

What’s more, being invited to participate in the University of Kentucky craft beer writing symposium this past February, and having the opportunity to be openly contrarian and blatantly counter-cultural before a crowd of bona fide listeners who might even read books (it was a university, after all) proved to be crazily stimulating, and frankly, quite vindicating, in ways that have taken a bit of time to register.

So what are my prospects as a scofflaw/outlaw(ed) gadfly for better beer, given that the very word “craft” no longer has any meaning? Surely I’ll be needing a coherent syllabus to keep my bile levels up these next couple of decades, until the pendulum swings back to approximate sanity?

The first decision I’ve reached is that having spent more than two decades writing about beer in my own personal, peculiar way, it’s high time I recognized that my writing has intrinsic value, even if non-readers don’t.

To be sure, we are compelled to live in an intellectually vapid, valueless age, when the prevailing expectation is that streams of variable “content” will flow forever, non-remunerable in the form of cash; content providers, you have nothing to lose but your chains, although it might help to be factual every now and then, just for a change of pace.

As such, I’m fully prepared to accept control in lieu of farthings as my weekly paycheck at a venue like my own Potable Curmudgeon blog — something indisputably me, and totally mine. Sometimes, one must act selfishly to combat selfishness.

Therefore, effective on Monday, May 5, this column will move to Potable Curmudgeon and probably stay there – unless a lucrative 2-figure offer comes through the pipeline.

My audience (all seven or eight of you) will find me … or it won’t. I don’t plan on behaving or writing any differently, although there is a strong suspicion that on my own home court, it will be easier to write just one true sentence. As it stands, the weekly urge to bait the unresponsive can be a distraction.

Apart from a love affair with beer and its appropriate milieu, it seems that I’m doomed to this writing affliction. It’s probably the only real skill I possess, if scattershot, inconsistent and incompletely self-taught. It has been glaringly obvious for quite some time that when it comes to beer, I’m not in harmony with substantial elements of the prevailing Weltanshauung, and when I try to speak this solipsistic language, analogies of pigs and annoyed dancing lessons spring to mind, in both directions.

Consequently, it’s time to go to the mattresses, find the next wave, and return to making the case for what I believe: Economic localization in beer, exploring more deeply what words like “craft” really should mean when it comes to beer, the instructive history of beer, and better beer education (as opposed to the current demand to be entertained).

Lest there be any misunderstandings, I’ve no deep-seated beef with the fellows atLouisvilleBeer.com, and will continue to support their efforts, if not listen to their interminable podcasts. Maybe I’ll offer an op-ed on occasion, and continue the good fun of Pint Counter Pint with Adam Watson. I’ve enjoyed my three years here, but it’s time to move on.

In the end, something John King recently said to me was incisive: It’s not about the world; it’s about me. True, that. It’s time to get myself liberated, and liberation always is a refreshing and necessary act.

You’re encouraged to try it some time. If exile is inevitable, it might as well be one’s own wilderness.

What's your take? Please comment below.