Monday, May 13, 2013

Defining Passion

It seems to be a particularly modern malaise that it is no longer enough to be good at the work you have chosen to do, you have to 'passionate' about it. Whether we are talking about making beer, selling financial products or even cleaning the bogs in the Prague Metro, passion has become de rigueur in practically every industry.

Often, it seems, this 'passion' is presented as being excited by what it is you do (quite how one could be excited at the prospect of cleaning the bogs in the Prague Metro though escapes me), with all the attendant hoopla that seems to go with it. In the context of beer, as that is the main theme of Fuggled, every new product is greeted with the zythophilic fervour of Beatlemania, the constant pitch of the marketing efforts gets higher and higher, like the crescendo of noise which is cicada time. When a beer though fails to live up to the hype, the damning verdicts on Twitter, Ratebeer and the like is akin to the Hindenburg going down in flames.

It is time that we re-evaluate our understanding of what 'passion' means in a brewing context to bring the demand side understanding of passion for beer with one of the common attributes of every professional brewer I know, the passion to do things properly.

When I am working at the Starr Hill Brewery tasting room I quite often overhear people talking about how some breweries are 'passionate' about beer because they put all manner of stuff into their beer, making it 'innovative' and various other adjectives which I am not convinced aren't a cover term for 'a right bloody mess'. The implication in these witterings, often though not always from a spotty yoof out to impress the accompanying spotty yoofs with his deep knowledge of beer, is that the breweries that make classic beer styles, and make them well, somehow lack 'passion' for beer.

I often think of Budvar, and not just for drinking purposes. Here is a pale lager, perhaps the most disparaged beer style on the planet, which, as far as I am aware, is still made in the same way as when the legendary Mr Tolar was the master brewer. Budvar's flagship beer, as I have mentioned before, takes 102 days to make, 12 days in primary fermentation and then 90 days in the lagering tanks, that's 12 weeks, or 1 week for each degree of Plato in the beer, as was the traditional norm in Central Europe. Would most consumers know the difference if they cut the lagering time to 45 days and thus instantly doubled their capacity? I would venture that very few would, but therein lies the heart of a consumers' confidence in Budvar, they do things as they have always done. This is passion as I understand it, sticking to doing what generations of brewers have handed down to you, because it makes the beer which the consumer wants to drink. There are few finer beers in the world than Budvar, admittedly preferably on draught. On a hot day, a cold half litre of golden liquid from České Budějovice is liking drinking the nectar of the gods.

We often talk about the 'fires of passion', as if passion should be all noise, flame and smoke. To take this analogy in a little bit of a different direction, when you first light your grill, you don't cook your burgers, sausages and chicken drumsticks straight away, you wait for the flames to die down and the charcoal to be good and hot. Passion is much the same, sure the flames and noise are impressive, but until they are gone and you know the coals are burning thoroughly all you have is light and noise.


  1. None of it is really passion, though, is it. More about duty and skill and, frankly, the ease of acquired capability. Passionate beers run that too often tripped over risk of being bad tasting.

  2. It is the result of how society defines success. We live in a world where all our basic needs are met. In fact work is no longer required. If you choose not too, the state will afford you a livable income and by and large not bother you so long as you find a good enough excuse. The worst that can happen is being judged a bit of a failure.

    Therefore the purpose of work is no longer to meet economics needs. It is to meet some other need. Therefore by work fulfilling your "passion" you can define yourself as a success in a way "I earn tons of cash but it bores me to tears and eats away at my soul daily" cannot.

  3. Now, I don't hate the word passion or object to people using it -- having to jump through hoops to find words that won't cause someone to tut and snark is a bit tiresome -- but here's a thing: one brewer we spoke to recently suggested that the reason so many crappy brewers stick at it even though they know they're not really very good is because the industry is such *fun*.

    He suggested there was a high that comes from seeing your beer on the bar in a pub, and seeing people drinking it, and hanging out with other brewers, which makes it hard to give up even if you're running at a horrendous loss and everyone hates what you brew.

    So 'passion' (enthusiasm?) might make for much worse beer in some cases?