Friday, July 13, 2012
I have always been a fan of history. At school I left my Geography teacher perplexed as to why I chose to take History O Grade (the then Scottish equivalent of O Levels) rather than his subject, especially as my test scores were higher in Geography. Simply put, History was, and is, more interesting to me. My tastes in historical interest are fairly catholic as well, whether it be the Russian Revolution, Scotland's role in the expansion of the British Empire or the development of Anglo-Saxon society, I will read pretty much anything about history.
I believe that without a knowledge and understanding of history it is more difficult to understand our world today, and that is just as true with beer as it would be with any other sphere of human endeavour. Few beer styles have so clear a defined origin story as Pilsner, for example, and so an interest in the history of beer continually takes you back through the eras to see what the monikers attached to beer have meant at any one point in time. So being interested in the history of beer becomes an etymological exercise.
Take for example Mild. I love modern milds, usually around 3.5% abv, dark, quaffable, rich and complex, they are in my as ever unhumble opinion a dream of a session beer whilst being a bitch to brew really well. Take a step back to the Victorian era and the ceramic pot of mild that you ordered is pale, as strong as a modern barleywine, has as many IBUs as an imperial IPA and because it came out of the William Youngers brewery a few weeks ago and is yet to age, it is Mild.
As you sit, magically transported back to your modern day drinking hole, you wonder what happened in the beer world that in about 150 years the 120/- Strong Scottish Mild with an abv well north of 9% and IBUs that put Pliny the Elder almost to shame, should become the equivalent of the little black dress? The answer really is simple, history happened, World Wars and the subsequent forcing down of gravities, the pressure to make a product in a world of rationing and want for basic ingredients.
Given that beer history is important, in my opinion, it is no surprise then that I think the work undertaken by beer historians such as Martyn Cornell and Ron Pattinson is more than just a fascinating read, it is a vital contribution to our understanding and appreciation of beer and the people that shape it, and how their own sitz im leben shapes the things they do. Hence I am officially calling today, the Fuggled Beer Historian Appreciation Day - thanks Ron, Martyn and any one working to bring a knowledge of the history of beer to the people, it is much appreciated.