Wednesday, September 4, 2013

To The Heart of Beer

I am sat here in Central Virginia. On the table in front of me is a glass of beer which could very well be a microcosm of my worldview on the amber nectar, though it is more golden than amber.

The beer in question is quite possibly the Virginian beer that I presently derive more pleasure from than any other. The glass is from a legendary British brewery that makes some of my go-to beers when the mood for well made classic British styles hits. The style of beer in the glass is the one that I talk about most, and quite happily believe to be the very height of the brewer’s craft. I am drinking a Port City Brewing Downright Pilsner, from a Samuel Smith’s tulip imperial pint glass. It is the very image of perfection in my world right now.

Something though is missing. That something is probably the most important element of beer in many ways, because without that something, the beer in my glass would never exist. People. That’s what is missing. People are the true heart of beer.

We can talk long and loud about the beer in our glass being a natural product, made from agricultural ingredients, but the fact remains that the beer in my glass will never be a natural product. Malt does not exist in nature, it is man-made. Wort does not spontaneously boil, nor hops of their own volition leap from bine to pot, or even decide to reside in post fermentation beer to add more aroma. Neither yet do hops so prized in Bohemia simply up sticks and cross oceans to land themselves in an American wort.

Everything in my glass is the product of man. A man, one whose hand I would heartily love to shake, who decided to make a Czech style pale lager, and hop it exclusively with Saaz hops, and chuck some more in for a wonderful dry hopped aroma. Said man also decided to lager the resultant brew for an adequate amount of time, and then to forego the filtering process so as to leave a slight haze to the beer. A man made this beer which I delight in, which I come home from work and ignore all other brews in the fridge for.

Still, something is missing. The thing that is still missing is probably the most important element of beer in many ways. Without this something, the beer in my glass is just another beer in the glass. People. That’s what is missing. People are the true heart of beer.

I enjoy the fact that I can pour a glass of this golden delight at home and sit, with the TV on the background, Mrs V on the sofa doing some first aid training course for her job, and each and every taste of my beer is wonderful. The people element though is still missing, because there is a place, and there are people, that I would rather be enjoying this pint of beer with.

Were I back in Prague I would want to be sat in Pivovarský klub, with Klara, Ambroz, or Karel behind the bar, and perched on barstools beside me would be any of Evan, Max, Rob, Mark, or a cast of dozens whose company I value, and very deeply miss. Here in Virginia you would likely find me at McGrady’s, with the guys from Three Notch’d, or my colleagues from Starr Hill, or people from my homebrew club. Where there is beer, there are people. Fine people. Good people. Fun people. I could tell the same story about people in Ireland that I would love to drink with more often, people at home in the UK that I haven’t seen for many, many years, people from Uist that randomly come into Starr Hill the one day of the month that I am working there. These people, my people, are the very heart of beer.

I often have this feeling that we lose the humanity of beer in all over hoopla about barrel aging, souring, randalizing, and adding cocoa nibs. As though there is something un-craft about a simple, perfectly brewed, Pilsner enjoyed in good company in a pub with no frills, no banks of taps arrayed like howitzers attacking the Vimy Ridge. It is also as though in our striving for the next great high, we fail to realize that life really doesn’t get any better than this. Perhaps I am a strange chap, and it has been commented on before, but I would rather drink a constant stream of golden lager in great company than have all the great craft beers of the world with a bore of a human being.

It is often commented on how beer people are good people, and something I have found to be generally true is that beer people have an ability that many seem to lack in our ever more polarized world. The majority of people I have met through our attachment to the demon drink have the ability to rise above the petty squabbles of religion, politics, and culture, to see into the heart of honest people and recognize a kindred spirit. Yes I know many people whose beliefs I find baffling, and who I will debate with over pints of beer, both warm and cold fermented, but they are sincere, honest, and willing to listen even if never the twain shall meet.

I have said many times on this blog that many of the best people I know have been met over a pint or several of beer, and that is a truth that I hold on to regardless of the quality of the beer being consumed in many a session (in my world sessions begin at the fifth pint, the first four being proof only that a beer is pintable). Given the essential humanity of beer, beer must ultimately take second place to the quality of the humanity one is imbibing with. Many of my favourite, and most memorable, nights out have been whilst drinking beer which would be considered by many a geek as mere swill, Gambrinus in particular springs to mind.

So, in bringing this vaguely rambling, and longer than normal piece, to a close let us remember one simple truth, beer is really nothing more than a vehicle to a raging headache the morning after without the people in whose company you choose to spend your time drinking. Whether you see those people most weekends, a couple of times a year, or just once every half decade or so, treasure them more so than you treasure the beer itself, because it is they that bring real joy to the experience of drinking.


  1. I've always found 'beer people are good people' slightly nauseating but your explanation makes some sense of it. The same is probably true of any hobby, though -- bet model railway enthusiasts avoid discussing politics when they're putting tiny trees on a polystyrene hill or whatever it is they do together.

  2. That's probably very true, and I have certainly met some out and out jerks as a result of beer, whether that be meeting online or actually in the pub. Thankfully the jerks are by far a minority.

  3. Wonderful post. I went on a trip to Germany last fall and while I saw many beautiful things, one of the most vivid memories of the trip was after a tour of the Erdinger brewery when my girlfriend and I seated with a couple from Berlin and another couple from England. It was awesome to talk with them all, even though I'll never remember their names or see them again.

  4. Lovely way to describe it. Sometimes you wonder how is it that one beer is that good, and then you look around, down a couple more, and see why.


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