Beer Matters

Tis the season to be…

… grateful?

I wrote not long ago that there has probably never been a better time to be a beer drinker - and that’s not just in this country. We know of course about the thousands of small and innovative breweries in the USA. My son assures me there is now a thriving craft beer scene in Rome. I haven’t been to Italy for years, but Mrs Bibendus and I were in Portugal a few weeks ago and were pleasantly surprised to discover that it’s not difficult to find a decent stout or IPA. There are two small breweries in Lisbon, a little way out of the city centre but fortuitously just five minutes’ walk apart. In Porto, too, (although the main objective in going there was to visit the cellars and bring back a little something to accompany the Christmas Stilton) there were several bars specialising in local craft beers. Even the national brand Super Bock (familiar to anyone who patronises Nando’s) now has a “craft” subsidiary called 1927.

… ambivalent?

By all accounts this resurgence of interest in beer is a global phenomenon (well, maybe not in certain Middle Eastern states) but is it cause for unmitigated rejoicing? If there is a downside it’s that cask beer doesn’t feature as prominently in the revival as it might. Yes, today’s keg beers are vastly superior to the weak, bland, over-hyped concoctions that were the norm in the 60s and 70s. And quality is still an issue with cask conditioned beer; serving it in prime condition does require a degree of expertise on the part of the cellarman. But that’s no reason to virtually dismiss cask ale, as some high-profile beer writers are wont to do, or flatly refuse to supply it as is the case with more than one brewery. Ok, I’ll be realistic about this – I wouldn’t really expect a hand-pumped pint in Portugal, much less in more southerly climes. But when I go down the pub after practice night, I do expect something that slips down easily, not fizz that sticks in my throat.

… worried?

Maybe younger people prefer fizzy stuff. Even I used to drink pop until I discovered beer about 50 years ago. But it seems that some of today’s youth are not making the transition. As someone observed on ringing chat recently, the younger ones don’t go to the pub. This is every bit as worrying a trend as the increasing age profile of ringers – if not more so. At least if ringers die out the bells will still be there; if nobody goes to the pub any more there won’t be any pubs left to go to.

… discerning?

The silly season is upon us. No sooner have the Halloween-themed beers disappeared than the Christmas ones are upon us. No, I’m not going to review any of them for you. My advice is still that if you want something flavoursome and satisfying in your glass eschew anything with a silly name (or at least ask to try it first).

…abstemious?

No doubt we shall soon be hearing the annual call to indulge in “Dryanuary”. Apart from the fact that it’s a hideous portmanteau word, I just don’t get the concept. We are being urged to go on the wagon when there are still five days of Christmas left (32 if you believe that Christmas ends on the eve of Candlemas), to forsake the pub on those cold January nights when a couple of pints of something strong, dark and heart-warming goes down so well. Then there’s Burns Night towards the end of the month and who would want to pass up the opportunity of sampling a few drams of malt whisky?

To my mind, if you must have a period of abstinence during the winter, it makes more sense to do it before Christmas so that you have the festivities to look forward to at the end of it. This also fits well with the ethos of Advent, which is supposed to be a time of reflection and anticipation.

I realise of course that I’m a voice crying in the wilderness. Deferred gratification holds little appeal in this “want it now” age. And few people other than churchgoers have the faintest idea what Advent is really about. I suppose if you’ve been on a more or less continuous bender since mid-November the idea of taking a break after a final fling on New Year’s Eve might seem almost attractive.

Me, I’ll be going down the pub as usual. It’s my duty.

Maximus Bibendus

Reproduced by kind permission of The Ringing World.

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