By Jack Kenny
We are beset by change on all sides, more so than ever before. Depending on how you look at it, we are either dodging the shrapnel of too much information, or bathing in it with ever-rising enjoyment. We know more than we probably want to know about the fiscal problems in Greece. Facebook and Twitter were not in our lexiconfive years ago. Today they’re everywhere. I had to stop myself the other day from mentioning the cloud to my 89 year old mother. She’s just fine with the white fluffy kind in the sky.
Most of the technologies that are changing our world today are disruptive – they overthrow existingmarkets and displace older technologies. Can craft beer be thought of as disruptive? It certainly has changed the way we do business on-premise and off. But although it has pushed slowly and steadily against mass-market beers, it hasn’t pushed them off the shelf. No, the beer revolution has been much more gentle.
The beer revolution in the United States, now in its fourth decade, has created a new class of consumers.These are people who want to try new and differentbeers, to talk about them, to make use of recent technology and blog about them. To them, beer is important. It matters.Writer Evan Rail has published a valuable essaytitled Why Beer Matters. A resident of Prague, he writes for such English language publications as The New York Times and Condé Nast Traveler on food, drink and travel, among other topics. When he started writing about beer some years back, he found that he had an audience, a smart, aware and vocal audience,people who were devoted to beer. “I started asking myself why people cared,” he wrote. “Why did beer strike such a musical note with readers? Why did beer suddenly matter?”
In answer, Rail explores the soul of beer. Apart from so many other of life’s pleasures, beer makes it possible for us to enjoy, to appreciate now, somethingthat made our progenitors happy. Throughout history – yes, back to Socrates at least – elders have complained that the good old days were better. Today a good brewer can take a recipe from the good old days and bring them back in a keg or a bottle. (This, by the way, is not something that can be done with wine. A famous vintage year is gone when the last bottle is drunk, never to return.)Beer’s nature, the author says, “is quite immediate, even ephemeral.”“Beer might be freed from the time trap of wine, but the ricochet is that beer often seems to exist in an eternal now. It wants to be consumed quickly afterfermentation… Remember, in the world’s greatestbeer drinking countries, beer is overwhelmingly a draft beverage, as it always has been. By the time we ever taste most beer, its aging – or conditioning – has already taken place as a part of production.
Today, when most beer leaves the brewery, its clock is ticking like a time bomb.” He waxes eloquent about the variety of beers that “connect us to the passing of time and the movement of the seasons. They give us something to which we can look forward, and they make us aware of time’s unstoppable march into the future.” Contrast that, he asks, with the “timeless fog where every beer you could drink was the same, every day of the year: Every day of the year would be just like the ones on either side of it.” That leads Rail to the geography of beer, the sense of place that beers have established over the generations. Today it’s difficult to find a city in the world without a McDonald’s or Coca-Cola. But thanks to the awakening of the human beer palate and its revolt against the bland uniformity of commercial beer, brewers have revived local styles with a vengeance.
Beer, the author says, is more democratic than other beverages, and cheaper any way you look at it. “Consumers’ relationship to beer is decidedly more flat and fair than the old-fashioned, top-down approach – I will tell you how good this is – that is still so common in the world of wine. Beer is a beverage for the age of Yelp and TripAdvisor, an age when individual consumers have a greater say in declaring value, worth and merit. “And beyond being merely democratic, this interest on the part of drinkers seems to connect to a valuable new way of living, in which people begin to care about what, exactly, they are pouring into their bodies.”
“It is beer’s nature,” Rail says toward the end of this pleasing work, “to be carefree and easygoing, to defy intense study and introspection, to just ‘have a beer and relax’. This is also part of beer’s great appeal – there is an oxymoronic nature to the very concept of a ‘beer snob’ – but one which does not itself bear much scrutiny.”
Why Beer Matters is available as a Kindle book from Amazon for $1.99.