Hold on a minute.
I have read and written words to this effect many times — and many times have I failed to think about the meaning. If you like beer and write about it and occasionally read about it then I wonder if it gets too easy to imbibe the words and phrases without thinking too much about them. ‘Long drink’ always sounds so trade and industry and clunky, as if it were designed for the sort of magazine that tries to make cement mixers sexy (Cement Mixer World perhaps). It’s a set of words carelessly used, bandied about like business cards at a convention, dumped from a great height, shattered and then reconstituted into sentences, lazily used, like a desultory swipe of the hand against a fly on a hot, draining summer’s day. I know because I do this time and time again.
And yet beer is my favourite drink after water and the only alcoholic beverage that I regularly drink (occasional red wine, a one-off in autumn, and some cider and that’s it). So as Lenin wrote: what to do?
First of all: I asked myself the question — what do I like about beer? Sat and pondered, looked out of the window, took a sip of a beer (Young’s Special London, which I had in a glass for the first time in ages and thoroughly enjoyed), rolled it around my mouth, enjoyed its bitterness and the weight of the alcohol (6.4%), inevitably wishing I had bought more. And so first of all I thought: I like beer because of its versatility. It’s a beer that I can make vanish down my throat with the minimum of fuss, perhaps when I’m hot, thirsty or just enjoying a wet, bittersweet, gently carbonated pint of cask bitter (it could be Rambo-hopped or not, it depends on my mood and the surroundings in which I stand or sit) or a brisk yet swoon-like swallow of the best světlý ležák. On the other hand I also like beer because it can sit alongside me like a faithful hound, a pat on the domed, noble head now and again translated into a sip or even a swig, a beer that keeps company with whatever book I am reading (currently Now All Roads Lead to France). Barley wine perhaps, or a beer that has gone through the valley of the shadows and been reborn into something else.
Secondly, I grew up drinking beer: Holsten Pils, Stones Keg top, Greene King IPA, more Holsten Pils. You could say that I got used to the relative sweetness of beer (as opposed to wine’s acidity); I got used to large pint glasses; I got used to drinking in pubs rather than bars (I remember feeling rather lost in Soho’s French House in 1983 — the only beer they had was a small bottle of Carlsberg, unchilled). So there’s a cultural aspect to beer for me: it has framed the sociability of most of my adult life (though cocktails in the early 80s and wine during my periods in France ran it quite close). I’ve gone through the whole wine-makes-me-posh phrase back in the 1990s and I still enjoy a glass of good French wine, but I don’t feel like I’m missing out.
Thirdly, why do I like beer? Or do I love it? Love sounds peculiar, but then as well as loving our wives/husbands, children, parents and pets, we love goals/tries scored by favourite players, a piece of music, a dish, a view, a feeling, a bodily sensation. So I suppose we can say that we love beer. So why do I love beer? Maybe it’s a habit; in the same way I like a cup of tea in the morning or a bacon sandwich on a Saturday morning. Nothing wrong there. I also like the buzz, the lift that alcohol gives, the loosening of thought, the quickening of speech in which I often imagine words to be like seagulls riding the winds above the changing tide, the visual stimulus and the hit of adrenalin (something similar I get from physical activity).
Fourthly, I like the flavour, love the flavour, something that links to the sense of bittersweetness that has been with me since my mid-20s when I started to drink beer slowly without pulling a face. In all of the varieties of beers that I drink there are elements of sweetness, dryness, bitterness, fatness, a moussec-like mouth feel, acidity, harmony, integration; the sense of an orchestra seamlessly sliding into a Schubertian symphony, only in the mouth rather on stage. It is pleasure, it is joy, it is uplifting, it is love, it is restful, it is engaging, it is infuriating, it is mournful, it is as part of life as is roast duck, pad Thai, paella, Yorkshire pudding, oyster tempura, the sight of a hillside wood sashaying in the wind, the fierce spearing of heavy rain on secure roof tiles, an old book, a smile from a loved one, a child’s laugh, a dog curled up on the lap, a city street at dawn, Edward Thomas’ poems, Vaughn Williams’ London Symphony, the sound of a Tornado flying over our valley. I could go on. It’s life. Beer as part of life? Hmm, beer is life, not beer is my life, beer = life, beer/life.
(at this juncture I stared out of the window and watched fluffy, mucky grey-white clouds spreading in from the west and thought about nothing in general)
Beer. I don’t know. It’s very hard to sum up beer, which is possibly another reason why I like/love/enjoy it. How about: Beer as one valuable, beautiful and endearing part of this complicated system we endure that we call life? Somehow I don’t think it will be on a poster somewhere near you.