Another Day, Another Opportunity To Write A Beer Poem

Yes, I do go on…poems, poems, poems. But I really need to have these tickets for free beer at TAP NY 2007 in the hands of those who will use them to drink free beer. Is that so wrong? Listen. I am the one around here who put in four good years of my life to get a BA in English Literature and I better get some action on this contest or I will think of them as lost years. Lost. Which is kind of appropriate as my quick survey of some of the better known pub and beer sorts of poems out there is kind of depressing. Let’s review them, shall we? Because that is what four years of B-grades in English Lit got me, the power to review.

The comment by Captain Hops of Beer Haiku Daily is exactly right. “At The Quinte Hotel,” posted yesterday, is a fantastic poem. Likely the best you will ever read or at least the best I have read so far.¹ Yet there is a melancholy about the respective place of beer and poetry that is at the core of the poem.

Back in the Enlightenment, things were not so cheery as that. In April 1737, Aaron Hill penned “Alone, in an Inn, at Southhampton” which is about as dreary a sentiment as any I have come across. Mind you, 1737 wasn’t any sort of non-stop party generally but really:

Scarce can a passion start, (we change so fast)
E’re new lights strike us, and the old are past.
Schemes following schemes, so long life’s taste explore,
That, e’er we learn to live, we live no more.

Perhaps one less drink for Aaron next time, bartender. A generation later, Thomas Warton wrote “Solitude at an Inn” and at least recognized the opportunity to stay away from the outside world and even the others at the inn as something of a positive:

No poetic being here
Strikes with airy sounds mine ear;
No converse here to fancy cold
With many a fleeting form I hold,
Here all inelegant and rude
Thy presence is, sweet Solitude.

Inelegant and rude! Sounds like a snob out for some slumming to me. Warton’s contemporary, William Shenstone, on the other hand gets his values right in his poem “Written At An Inn“:

Here, waiter! take my sordid ore,
Which lackeys else might hope to win;
It buys what courts have not in store,
It buys me Freedom, at an inn.

Fabulous. While Hill, Warton and Shenstone all provide that personal reflection that foreshadowed romanticism, only the latter was not a total drip and might have actually been someone you might have enjoyed meeting at the pub.

Another generation on and we have “Original Elegy on a Country Alehouse” by Thomas Dermody which loses me somewhat as to who is the subject of any given line, leading me to think I am suppose to mourn the passing of a poetic ale-swigging cat. Flash forward to the late Victorian era and consider he-of-the-ale Thomas Hardy‘s 1898 poem “At an Inn” from Wessex Poems and Other Verses. Please consider it yourself as I have really no idea what is going on except perhaps a Victorian version of “Day Time Friends, Night time Lovers” or some other 1970s new country crap.

Finally – for now – we see that contemporary tavern poetry is well exemplified by “In The Black Rock Tavern” by Judith Slater, published in 2004. Like Purdy’s work, it wells you why the comfort of the pub is important without discussing the point. No tryst gone wrong, no nose turned up at the company. Just a place and a moment where you are taken for you are.

So enter now and enter often. I set the limit at 50 words minimum or three stanzas of thematically connected haiku. More about the contest here. I had said that you should post your poem in the comments before the deadline of 4 pm EDT, Tuesday 10 April 2007 but lets extend that to the 12th. I need time to make sure the prizes are in hand but want as many entries as possible. After all – free craft beer. Not bad.

¹For someone with a B-grade in English Lit from over 20 years ago these two concepts merge.

Knut Pays The Taxman

[This post was written by Knut Albert Solem aka “Knut of Norway”]

The wait is oknutsbeersver. But the picture of the package on my doormat is not quite how it went. No, there was a new slip of paper in my mailbox, telling me there was a package to be picked up at the post office. So, what was the tab?

  • The alcohol tax was about 100 Norwegian kroner.
  • The value added tax (based on an estimated value of 300 Norwegian kroner!) was about 100 kroner.
  • The fee for the postal service to process this ended up at 180 kroner, including tax.

A total cost of 386 Norwegian kroner. 47 Euros or 61 Dollars. Not the most expensive beer known to man, but pretty close, as these beers retail at a few Euro is civilized countries. But, considering all the man hours involved, it was a quite cheap service. And they managed to stall me from abusing these beers for a month. The beers look fine, they have been carefully packaged, and their warehouse is probably quite cool at this time of the year. So, it is time for a big thank you, to Alan, to Jeff from the Cracked Kettle. I don’t know about the Department of Substance Abuse, though.

Knut Goes Nowhere And Hangs Around His Mailbox

[This post was written by Knut Albert Solem aka “Knut of Norway”]

knutOn the outskirts of Europe there lives a peculiar tribe of people. Like most other nations, they feel that they have the solution to every problem on the planet. Other small nations have had to bow to the necessity of adjusting to their surroundings, but Norway had the curse to find oil and gas in the 1970s, giving them the possibility of constructing their own reality.

One of the inhabitants of this country is a contributor to A Good Beer Blog, sending his impressions from his travels across Europe. When the generous editor Alan managed to find some sponsors for his blog, he wanted to share some of the spoils with his contributors. One sponsor is the Cracked Kettle in Amsterdam, and Alan figured that they could probably send a few beers to two of his European contributors. Packages were dispatched in early February, and the one sent to England arrived within days. Here is what happened to mine:

The package to Norway was first returned because the shipping company couldn’t deliver outside the European Union. Fair enough, they found an alternative.

Two weeks later, I get a letter from the Norwegian Postal Service, Posten. They can tell me that they have received a package from abroad, and that they can do the customs clearance for me. For a fee, of course. I sign a form authorizing them to do so, and wait for the package to arrive.

Another two weeks, and they send me a new letter, telling me that I should provide them with a receipt, an invoice or similar documentation for the package. I reply with a short handwritten note that this is a gift, and I do not know the value of the package.

Another two weeks, until yesterday. A new letter, cheerfully telling me that I must fill in a form. This is an application that has to be processed by the Directorate of Health and Social Affairs, which decides if I should be allowed to receive the gift. In the instructions following the form, I am told that the maximum amount of alcohol I can receive in this way is 4 liters. Luckily the package only contains 2 liters. For more information, see the back of the page. The back of the page is blank.

I do not know which criteria the Directorate of Health and Social Affairs use to determine if I should be allowed to receive the package or not. Will they check if I have been prosecuted for bad behaviour in public places? Will they ask the neighbours if I beat my wife? The answer is probably written in invisible ink on the back of the form, or possible posted somewhere in a basement as in the Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I faxed over the form today. If the Directorate of Health and Social Affairs decide in my favour, I will then receive a permit to import the beer. This permit will then be mailed to Posten, who will then talk to the Customs people.

It would be interesting to find out how many hours of work it will take for various government employees to process this package containing two litres of beer. And I have a strange feeling that there might be more efficient ways of combating drunkenness and alcohol abuse. But what do I know?

Pete Brown: The Interview

pbboI like my non-job here at A Good Beer Blog. One thing I get to do – other than never have a second beer of the same type – is meet interesting people involved with beer over the internet. Consider this exchange about beer and language between me and beer book author Pete Brown:

Pete: Hi Alan, What’s a dink?
Alan: Hmm. A dink? A dink is a minor league jerk. A child’s word for penis. Actually it has a beer angle as in the Nova Scotia of my youth a six-pack was called “a dink pack” now that I think if it. A dink is a bore who is also a newbie.

Wow. Gripping linguistic drama. More to the point was the more thoughful exchange Pete provided to questions put to him by both me and guest writer Knut of Norway. Pete (no relation to the lead singer of the illustrated Pete Brown and his Battered Ornaments) has recently published a great book on his global beer travels called Three Sheets to the Wind and Knut and I thought it would be great if we could have a few questions answered in a three-way North Atlantic quiz as part of our review of his new work. You will recall I reviewed his last beer book Man Walks Into A Pub back in July 2003. In that book Pete considered some of the trends and brewing history of Britain. In this year’s book, he takes a stab at getting a hold of the global beer culture. I will review the book separately in a few days but for now, here is the interview.

+++++

Alan: You speak quite strongly about CAMRA. We do not have an equivalent in Canada though there are outposts. In “Three Sheets to the Wind” you visit Portland Oregon and experienced an expression of the North American real ale culture and appeared to love it. How would you compare the two?

Pete: I was so surprised by the US approach to craft beer – they’re really passionate about it, and the key thing is they want you to be passionate about it as well. The thing I always say about Portland is that if I was talking to a brewer about his beers and how much I liked them, he’d tell me six other beers from “competitive” brewers that I should also try. When I go to CAMRA events, I always get the sense that if you don’t already know what you like, there’s very little effort made to draw you in and help you. This is starting to change now, but there’s still an attitude about “I know more than you.” In North America, it’s more like, “I want you to know as much as me.”

Knut: Do you think CAMRA still could be used as a platform to fight for good beer, or have they painted themselves too much into a corner? Could an alternative be to start anew, based on a support for new and coming micro breweries instead of focusing on the techicalities of brewing?

Pete: Of the two alternatives, the one I’d like to see is that CAMRA reform themselves. They’ve got a terrible image problem, but they have so much stock in terms of public awareness, I still think they’re very powerful. As I’ve hung around the beer scene longer I’ve got to know more people. There are a great many executives within CAMRA who have exactly the right ideas, who know they need to reform in order to move forward – and they’re really nice people. But policy is dictated by committee and volunteers, and a lot of these guys are just professional activists – it’s not enough to be for something, you also have to be against something. I believe a lot of these guys couldn’t give a shit about getting more people into great-tasting beer; they simply enjoy the process of arguing about technicalities and being pissed off for a living. I’d like to believe the more sensible factions will eventually win the day, and we’re seeing some signs of CAMRA taking steps into the twenty first century, but there’s still a long way to go. The biggest problem is that CAMRA hardliners interpret any criticism of CAMRA as a criticism of cask ale, which is not only wrong, it’s breathtakingly arrogant, and kind of stops any really useful constructive debate from emerging.

Knut: After travelling the world, where do you see the best potential for beer tourism? I know Ireland has managed to do this based on one beer (!), and you have the mass hordes descending on Munich. But how about bicycling holidays in Bamberg and Denmark, micro breweries offering bed, breakfast and rare cask ales etc?

Pete: I’d love to see that in loads of countries. What I’m discovering now is that you can stick a pin in a map, and there’ll be interesting, often new, breweries not very far away. But I think in terms of holidays, you’d start with Belgium. I’ve been back a few times now since I went there for Three Sheets, and you can go from village to village, each with its own brewery, trying amazing beers, and it’s beautiful country – at least when the sun is shining!

Knut: Carlsberg is responding to the challenge of craft beers by a) trying to control the Danish import market and b) by setting up a micro of their own, putting a lot of prestige in it and linking it up with their brewery tours. Is this the way to go for the other big European brewers?

Pete: I think so. Big corporations in any market tend to play to the lowest common denominator with consumer tastes. You forget that to get a job as a brewer in a really big brewery, you have to be at the top of your game – the people who brew Budweiser are some of the best brewers in the world! What Carlsberg have done is give their brewers a bit of creative freedom and – surprise surprise – people can’t get enough of it. In the US, Anheuser Busch are responding to the growth of craft beers by launching some of their own, and much as I hate to say it, some of them are very good – they would be. The only thing that worries me is when big corporations react by simply trying to strangle interesting small breweries, denying them distribution and so on. This is very idealistic of me, but I wish brewers would simply let their beer do the talking – produce the best beer you can and try to sell more than your smaller competitors without resorting to dirty, underhand tactics.

Alan: I have been trying to figure out how you would approach Canadian beer culture. For me, so much about beer is centered on the kitchen party, the garage fridge or the cottage/camp as opposed to the pub or bar. In his book “Travels with Barley”, Ken Wells notes that bar bought beer in the US has gone from 75% of all sales to 25% over the last 20 years. This is a startling figure. Do you see this as a global trend? Do you also see that these sorts of home-based drinking is something that you ought to include if you extend you study to a “Son of Three Sheets to the Wind”?

Pete: That would be a great idea! An excuse to go and do the whole trip again. What we see now across the world is a consistent set of trends in markets that are “mature”, where beer has been around for ages, and a different pattern in new and emerging markets, such as Asia and Russia. In mature markets there’s a general thing about “staying in is the new going out” – we spend a greater portion of our money on interior design, big screen TVs, Playstations, cookbooks and so on – we invite friends over more than arranging to meet up with them. I think the pub or bar will always be the gold standard – you’re getting a whole experience, not just a beer. But we will all increasingly be doing more of our drinking at home.

Alan: Your references to cultures with respect for or even celebration of the three-beer buzz is really interesting to me. How, though, can an industry promote the idea that what I might call “getting a jag on” rather than “getting loaded” is the point of beer and one that we should all embrace? Doesn’t english-speaking puritanism somewhat snooker that opportunity leaving beer prone to being effectively represented as something you take to enter a fantasty land of TV advertised sports, pals and bikini-clad teens?

Pete: The reason people drink beer is to help social interaction – and you’re not allowed to say this, or even hint at it, in any promotion or advertising for beer – it’s one category where you are not allowed to tell the truth about the main product benefit. But I’ve done quite a bit of work in the UK on this subject. Many brewers now are pushing these “please drink responsibly” messages, which is fine, but a lot of people are drinking precisely because they want a break from behaving responsibly all the time. We need people to show that moderate drinking can actually be fun, rather than simply telling people not to drink as much. There’s a new campaign in the UK by Amstel that does a half-decent job of this. It ties the beer back to the laid-back attitude of the Dutch, and has lines like “drinking is just something we do between talking”, and “why rush your beer? The bar is open all night.” I think there’s a lot more that could be done along these lines. I’d like to see campaigns focusing on sentiments like “surely the best nights out are the ones you can remember.”

Again with the “Wow!” It is amazing no one is pouring big advertising money down upon my head with quality stuff like this. We remain open to offers.A big thanks to Pete for both his book and his time as well as to Knut who is one of the guys who make this beer writing stuff fun. As I said, a proper review of Three Sheets to the Wind will be up in a few days.

“A Glass Of Handmade”

There are a few moments I can point to in my memory that represent elemental changes that helped frame my interest in beer. The first time I was allowed to dip a finger in a Labatt Blue; the Olands Ex I had at my pal’s house in high school; the visit I made to the Pitfield Beer Shop in 1986 from which I returned to Nova Scotia with beer making tools including two polypin cubes as well as Dave Line‘s Big Book of Brewing; and finding an article in an issue of The Atlantic in 1987 that gave me some hope that there was going to be a bigger world of beer out there, even with the first bottles of long-gone Hans Haus beers arriving in the liquor stores or our regular attendance at the first Granite Brewery at the old Ginger’s Tavern in Halifax (oddly excluded from the brewery’s own sense of history which starts in 1991 but referenced in this home brewers digest from 29 November 1989).

That article was “A Glass of Handmade” by William Least Heat Moon and I have finally located a copy on the internet which I have filed in the archives. It starts out with the following introduction:

The industrial brewers continue to prosper; but now they are facing a new challenge from local brewers across the country who are dedicated to turning out brews that have only one thing in common with industrial beer – wetness.

What I love about the article now is its place in time including some quirks – Redhook is considered a huge break-through, common terms need explaining as in “boutique, or micro-, brewery” and now famous names are played out like the obscure tiny operations they then were. It is a gem of an article with a great last line I have used for almost twenty years now. Here it is. Please add your reviews in the comments when you have had a good read through.

Book Review: Terry Foster, Beer Writer

Terry Foster is one of my favorite beer writers and the most interesting thing about him as a beer writer these days is he does not have a website. I don’t know how you can exist without a website these days. How else will all the Google bots be able to share your daily musings. Google bots…bots…Google…[Ed.: Giving author a good shake] Oh, right…there is no money and no audience in a website and others are doing it already so why bother. Good point.

I encountered Terry Foster as a home brewer. He is the author titles #1 and #5 in the Classic Beer Style Series published by the Association of Brewers, a US company promoting the homebrew industry. Pale Ale is the first in the series and Poer the fifth. These books are now over a decade old but recently I noticed that Foster has been writing articles for Brew Your Own magazine regularly as well. These sorts of writings as well as my years of one hundred gallons of output have convinced me that the appreaciation of beer is uniquely advanced by learning about and undertaking its production.

A number of the early homebrewing authors started me on that path and it would be my suggestion that Terry Foster is a continuation of that line of thinkers and writers about beer. In April 1963, month of my birth, the British Government ended the taxation of homebrewing under the Inland Revenue Act of 1880 which required records to be kept and a one ound license to be paid. As W.H.T. Tayleur states in his text Home Brewing & Wine-Making (Penguin, 1973) at page 15:

This legislation reminaed in force for eighty-three years, but although at first many thousands of private brewing licences were taken out the number of home brewers steadily declined over the years until by the middle of this century, and after shortages of the necessary ingredients caused by two world wars, hardly any of the few that were left bothered to take out licences.

By removing the need to license, the government created an industry and changed brewing, to my mind, for two reasons. First, self-trained home brewers became self-trained micro-brewers as the opportunities to make money with the skill became apparent. Second, consumers gained access to well-made home brews which were much cheaper and much tastier than the standardized industrial kegged beer the 1960s were foisting upon people. Without men like the 1960s authors C.J.J. Berry and Ken Shales as well as David Line in the 1970s, all writing primarily through Amateur Winemaker Publications, many a brew-pub or craft brewery on both sides of the atlantic would simply not exist.

C.J.J. Berry, Ken Shales and David Line

Foster is perhaps the last of this tradition of British home brewing writers – and not just because his slicked back hair, styled in common cause with them. His two books, Pale Ale and Porter each provide a history of the style, a description of the elements, a guide to making them and a discussion of the commercial examples. Like those earlier authors he provides the context of the style and also deconstructs the mystery of how the brews can be made. Context and technique are two things modern industrial commercial brewers would like to shield from their customers – they more they were to know about what is out there and what it costs, the less likely the concept of brand loyalty might hold the customer.

Foster’s recent articles in Brew Your Own magazine continue this tradition. I have copies of the following articles:

“Pale Ale”, BYO September 2003, page 30.
“Old Ales”, BYO, September 2004, page 27.
“Anchors Away – A History of Malt Extract: Part 1”, BYO October 2004, page 30.
“Let’s Get Rid of the Water – A History of Malt Extract: Part 2”, BYO, November 2004, page 34.

As is the mandate of the magazine, Foster provides context and technique, showing how historical styles can be recreated with confidence. For example, in the third article he discusses how the British Navy invented malt extract in an effort to provide beer to sailors as a necessary food while in the fourth he describes how later extracts were used to avoid the stupidities of prohibition.

Foster’s style is attractive in that he is a plain speaker. In a world of where reputation and brand is all important, he can write of Yuengling’s Pottsville Porter:

…this is in some sense a classic porter, although it is bottom-fermented. Unfortunately, although it has many adherents, I am not one of them as I find it a little disappointing.

Not only is he not looking for the next PR opportunity when he writes, he is a bit folksy while also well researched. He is a trained chemist and has been a professional brewer for over 40 years, according to his BYO bio. He is interested and as a result interesting.

2002 C.J.J. Berry Obituary

[Source not recorded]

It is as though a chapter has closed in the annals of the winemaking movement with the death of Mr. Cyril Berry in Spain on the morning of Friday, 8th November 2002.

Cyril was a wonderful man, as anyone who knew him well will endorse. Without doubt he did more for the winemaking fraternity than anyone else. In fact there probably would not have been the unison of so many winemakers in Great Britain and overseas had it not been for his energy and acumen.

After World War II, when sugar came off the ration, Cyril founded the Andover Circle, which still flourishes today and of which he was still a member. Then Cheltenham, Bournemouth, Harrow and Hertford Circles sprang to life and gradually the bubbles of wine spread all over the country. Clubs learnt about each others’ events through a little magazine which Cyril and his dear wife Peggy produced in the upstairs bedroom of their house in Andover. This was for sale to Clubs at 6 pence a copy.

Cyril had an ebullient personality and energy which not only embraced his family and social life but also gave him the courage at a mature age to give up his safe, professional life as Editor of a local Andover paper in order to concentrate on producing the Amateur Winemaker magazine on a National scale. He also wrote the best-ever selling winemaking book ‘First Steps in Winemaking.’ Not only was the title very clever and appealing but it gave people the chance to make wines from fruits, flowers and vegetables in an easily explained manner. Yes, the recipes were ‘country’ style, often using a lot of sugar, but they gave the encouragement necessary to try them out and, in those early days, it was THE book to own. When a chicken was really a treat to be eaten just at Christmas and a bottle of wine had to be sought out and afforded only once in a while, the idea of making one’s own wine was very attractive. No rows of wine in Supermarkets then.

The main names at that time which readily come to mind after Cyril were Cyril Lucas of Bournemouth, Ben Turner of Harrow, ‘Andy’ Andrews of Hertford; they and some others got together to form a nucleus to start the National Conferences. A little later, after a Conference in Brighton, the Amateur Winemakers National Guild of Judges was formed (now N.G.W.B.J.) In those very early days Cyril was asked to assess vast volumes of competition wine at one sitting, which he manfully attempted. No wonder the Judges Guild was formed!

Clubs proliferated and prospered, friendships all over the country were cemented, winemaking graduated from granny’s country brew to commercial quality counterparts, all in essence due to Cyril Berry’s original initiative and drive. Winemaking queries were answered, informative articles published and Club News kept everyone informed. Someone once sent in to the Winemaker a recipe for a Yorkshire Pudding wine as a joke (Jack Dixon I believe – now no longer with us) and to keep the joke going Cyril printed it. He was taken aback some months later, however, when a member of the Andover Circle asked him to taste just such a ‘wine’! Many books associated with wine and beer making evolved from Cyril’s printing presses until he eventually retired and bought a holiday flat in Nerja, Spain, so as to enjoy the winter sunshine.

Although Peggy, Gay and Natalie, their daughters, and the grandchildren, were the heart of Cyril’s life, he found time for other interests such as gardening, viticulture, music and painting. He even had time to be on the local Council and received the honour of being Mayor of Andover at one time.

He was a warm, friendly, very special person, who will never be forgotten by those who loved and admired him – always with a smile and a joke on his lips – truly the Father of the winemaking movement. Blessed he was to leave us, sitting having a pre-prandial drink in the Spanish sunshine, but our heartfelt sympathies must go to Peggy and his family for his passing and the abruptness of this sad farewell. May he rest in peace.