Friday, May 10, 2019

Come Helles or High Water

One of my favourite places to grab lunch and a bevvy on a Friday has for a good few years now been South Street Brewery. When I worked in Charlottesville itself the place was just across the street from my office, these days I tend to go in and meet folks for lunch and do some work parked at the bar. So much of a regular am I at South Street that several of the bar staff no longer bother to ask me what I want to drink, they know I want a glass of My Personal Helles straight off the bat. If there is something new, and potentially worthy of further inspection, they'll give me a sample, just in case I wish to veer from the path of helles righteousness.


As there was no-one else at the bar I got talking with the barman about the brewery's bottled offerings, and wondered out loud more than anything else whether My Personal Helles would ever be part of that range? Thinking about it a bit more, I came to the conclusion that it would actually not benefit the beer itself to be available in bottles, especially given the abuses that appear to be the norm in the distribution and retail channels.

The barman, who to my shame I had been calling Drew forever until my mate told me it was Adrian (ugh....parent brain is a think for men too I am sure) asked why I thought that helles as a style was not really suited to the bottled format, especially given the prevalence of helles (heli?) in bottles as the style has gained traction with American drinkers. In reality it came down to one simple thing, I believe there are some styles that are simply best drunk in a pub, beer hall, or beer garden. Random memory from my early years in Prague, there was a beer hall in the heart of Staré Město called Radegast that was basically the perfect beer hall, sadly it is gone now, sacrificed to the "improving" Noughties that stripped the centre of the city of so many characterful boozers and drinking dens.

Beer styles, for want of a better word, are the product of the beer culture from which they arise, and there is something delightful about drinking German style lagers in Germanic style surroundings, hence beer hall or garden is perfect. Sure the beer tastes broadly similar sat on my deck, and I even have plenty of trees to look at, but the purest element of a beer culture is missing. People, lots of them, enjoying beer in a convivial environment.

Perhaps they are sitting alone at a table reading the newspaper, or with their minds buried somewhere in a book. Perhaps they are a family enjoying the garden, kids free to wander around a bit while their parents keep an eye on them and feel relatively normal for a little while (this particular street is a two way one, family friendly boozer, boozer friendly families). Perhaps they are a works outing for a Friday liquid lunch before calling it a day a few hours early. For whatever reason people are in a drinking establishment they are creating a culture, of which the beer itself is just a single part, and in the case of helles, and arguably the standard beers of beer cultures around the world, it is the supporting act, not the star.

It's entirely possibly that I am a contrarian, but I have never really been much of a trend follower. I have an inbuilt aversion to people of an evangelical persuasion, whether their evangelion be religion, craft beer, politics, the list could go on for pages, though I am sure my aversion is in reaction to my years as an evangelical Christian, even though Brit evangelicals are nowhere near as bad as many a 'Murican Evangelical.

I can't imagine a helles ever really being the main act. Even at South Street My Personal Helles isn't part of the core range, but it has a dedicated following among regulars. Perhaps that is why it is better as a draught only beer, you actually have to deliberately go there for a pint rather than having it commoditised into cans or bottles, thus participating in the beer culture, and the culture is the important thing.

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