Gifts for the Beery People in Your Life
May 8, 2011

I’m sure you have coworkers, friends and relatives who share your love of beer.  What do you buy them for their birthday or as a thank you or just a dude-you’re-awesome present, besides more beer?  I’ve carefully combed the hand-made Emporium of Etsy to find the best beer-related gifts from small makers.   Here is a hand selected array for yourself or your beer peeps.  May you never be without a beer related gift idea again.

ACHTUNG! SCHNEE!
January 7, 2010

Lately I’ve been wondering where that famous British grit has got to. There certainly isn’t any on my hilly road which is now an ice slide. This picaresque weather has brought Britain to its knees. In the words of my friend Steve, if the Nazi’s would have sent snow we’d all be speaking German now.

Growing up outside of Chicago, this all feels like MiniWinter, except no one is prepared for what, by American Midwestern standards, is postively mild.

After spying this tidbit in the Metro (OK, I read it for the animal pictures…) I will forever hold my tongue:

When There’s Beer to Save…

Scotland faces running out of beer after breweries struggled to get supplies to pubs, shops and supermarkets.  But villagers in Moniaive, Dumfriesshire, were determined to help the cause by forming a human chain in sub-zero temperatures to rescue 150 barrels (13,000 pints) of Belhaven Beer from a lorry after it slid off a road in blizzard conditions.

Blitz spirit, innit?

Oh, England, My Lionheart…I Don’t Want to Go…
December 12, 2009

Green Man from the Beltane Bash Street Party, 2006

Yesterday I passed  the Life in the UK Test which all seeking residence must take after the law changed in 2007.  The experience was of course a series of jumping through hoops placed in front of you by a patronizing bureaucracy, the same absurd behemoth that has been the birth mother of so much brilliantly sardonic British comedy.  The test is that unnerving combination of stupid and hard; it had almost nothing to do with life here– an arbitrary series of factiods, most 8 years old, memorized and spat back in tick box format.

And, with all this, Operation Don’t Deport Me, or ODDME, has just begun!

It’s forced me to focus on what I do love about living here– everything that wasn’t on the test and that will never be in any oath.  Ale is one–my informal passport to real life here.   Beer has shown me this place and the people in it in the most glowing, welcoming way.

There are no coincidences in life, really.  Shortly after returing home, demoralized and frustrated despite my success, I read Zythophile’s transcription of Carol Ann Duffy’s beautiful poem, a meta take on one of my favourite folk songs. I reprint it here with what I hope is fair use.

John Barleycorn

Carol Ann Duffy

Although I knew they’d laid him low, thrashed him, hung him out to dry,
Had tortured him with water and with fire, then dashed his brains out on a stone,
I saw him in the Seven Stars, and in the Plough.
I saw him in the Crescent Moon and in the Beehive.
In the Barley Mow, my Green Man, newly born, alive, John Barleycorn.

I saw him seasonally, at harvest time, in the Wheatsheaf and the Load of Hay,
I saw him, heard his laughter in the Star and Garter and the Fountain and the Bell,
The Corn Dolly, the Woolpack and the Flowing Spring.
I saw him in the Rising Sun, the Moon and Sixpence and the Evening Star.
I saw him in the Rose and Crown, my Green Man, ancient, barely born, John Barleycorn.

He moved through Britain, bright and dark, like ale in glass.
I saw him run across the fields, towards the Gamekeeper, the Poacher and the Blacksmith’s Arms.
He knew the Ram, the Lamb, the Lion and the Swan,
White Hart, Blue Bull, Red Dragon, Fox and Hounds.
I saw him in the Three Goats’ Heads, the Black Bull and Dun Cow, Shoulder of Mutton, Griffin, Unicorn.
Green Man, beer-born, good health, long life, John Barleycorn.

I saw him festively, when people sang for victory, for love and New Year’s Eve,
In the Raven and the Bird in Hand, the Golden Eagle, the Kingfisher, the Dove.
I saw him grieve and mourn, a shadow at the bar, in the Falcon, the Marsh Harrier,
The Sparrowhawk, the Barn Owl, Cuckoo, Heron, Nightingale.
A pint of bitter in the Jenny Wren for my Green Man, alone, forlorn, John Barleycorn.

Britain’s soul, as the crow flies, so flew he.
I saw him in the Holly Bush, the Yew Tree, the Royal Oak, the Ivy Bush, the Linden.
I saw him in the Forester, the Woodman.
He history: I saw him in the Wellington, the Nelson, Marquis of Granby, Wicked Lady, Bishop’s Finger.
I saw him in the Ship, the Golden Fleece, the Flask
The Railway Inn, the Robin Hood and Little John.
My Green Man, legend-strong, reborn, John Barleycorn.

Scythed down, he crawled, knelt, stood.
I saw him in the Crow, Newt, Stag, all weathers, noon or night.
I saw him in the Feathers, Salutation, Navigation, Knot, the Bricklayer’s Arms, Hop Inn, the Maypole and the Regiment, the Horse and Groom, the Dog and Duck, the Flag.
And where he supped the past lived still.
And where he sipped the glass brimmed full.
He was in the King’s Head and Queen’s Arms. I saw him there:
Green Man, well-born, spellbound, charming one, John Barleycorn.

This Gendered Pleasure
October 28, 2009

In the news yesterday: Ex-Anheuser female executive Francine Katz, the “Queen of the Beer Industry”, sues for gender bias and pay descrepancy, claiming working for the company which oversees brands like Stella and Bud entailed enduring a “frat party atmosphere.”

Katz said that by 2007, her base salary and bonus were only 46 percent of what her predecessor on the committee, John Jacob, had made six years earlier.

It’s no surprise that corporate, big-lager culture would be a hostile place for a woman to work, but I think it puts the arguments of sexism and the beer-o-sphere in perspective.  It goes all the way to the top and trickles all the way down. I would like to think that microbreweries and independent pubs could separate themselves from the Big Boys in many ways.  That would mean not just keeping quality and tradition alive but also involving women respectfully and equally. Is that so hard?  What is it going to cost? Other beer bloggers have argued it’s not up to the small businesses to change things in this way.  But it is precisely on this level where we have seen change in the US and here in the UK as well. (For example the Pink Boots Society was started by craft brewers, not macros.)

A couple of weeks ago I was discussing the sexism in the beer world with a friend of mine, also an American immigrant.  Both of us are from the West Coast of the US, where, she argued, we lived in a bubble of progressive thinking.  It’s true that in Portland, Oregon and many other brew-happy cities along the coast women drink beer, brew and serve it expertly, and they do so without being some kind of anomaly. They don’t have to worry too much about what kind of image they are projecting or whether their involvement with beer has made them less attractive to men. (I’m happy to report I’ve lived unburdened by the “I’m drinking from a pint glass– will a man ever want me?!?” dilemma.)

A recent conversation amongst beer bloggers has discussed whether beer-drinking women are sexy.  The Bittersweet Partnership, a branding “feeler” from the Coors corporation, has asked the internets what men think of women who drink beer.  I have written about the Bittersweet Partnership before.  I think it’s missing the point, at least for serious beer drinkers who are more interested in the flavor, history and culture instead of the image it projects to the opposite sex.  Their approach is clumsy and corporate, and doesn’t speak to me as a woman consumer, but with that said there is a part of me that really hopes they eventually hit it.  Especially if that’s what it would take for the “small guys” to listen.

In general men are not expected to subscribe to the same acute self-consciousness as women. Are men worried they will be rejected by women based on what they are drinking?  I wouldn’t waste my time turning the tables–  let’s face it, asking if beer-drinking men are sexy is a pointless and slightly depressing question.  Homer Simpson swilling Duff or worse– Beer, Sex, Chips and Gravy comes to mind. Beer isn’t very sexy, period.  Or is it?

Good beer has an undeniable earthy sensuality, and it makes you feel good. If we are to find the sex appeal in this beer culture of ours, we only have to think back to our last festival or gathering where someone said, “Oh, this is wonderful.  Try it!” That generous spirit is much more appealing than insisting on “no beer guts.”  We need to ask ourselves which is sexier– the image of the drinker in the right clothes, striking the right pose and drinking out of the right glass or the attitude of someone who sees new beers as an adventure– someone who is totally present while they taste things.  To prefer the former is, I’m sure, a failure of imagination.

Hop Tonic
October 23, 2009

Guinness ad from the 1920s

Guinness ad from the 1920s

My best friend in college happened to be Irish and once when I had a cold he offered me his cure-all: a pint of Guinness and a raw onion.  Did it work? Why yes.  My guess is it was the raw onion that really made you want to be better so badly that you decided you were.

But the health properties of Guinness were renowned, if perhaps fabricated. “Guinness is good for you”– so good that it was given to people recovering from surgery, blood donors, pregnant women and nursing mothers.

But new research suggests beer might have some health benefits.  Beer is lower in calories than milk, juice or, contrary to popular belief, wine.  Beer contains a chemical which has recently been found to protect mineral bone density.  Beer can provide you with B vitamins, can lower your risk of hypertension and heart disease.  The hops in beer have sedative, anti-anxiety properties.

But is beer good for you?  This is the question I’ve been mulling over for a few months now.  I have recently finished a course in Holistic Therapy, and my fellow students were a varied bunch, but very few were beer drinkers.  One classmate said to me, on finding out that I wrote a beer blog, “What will your clients think?” I believe she was fairly scandalized. Why would someone in a healing profession publicly confess to drinking beer?

While the benefits of beer can be found in other foods, and no one would propose beer as a health tonic, is it really that bad for you? It kills brain cells; it taxes the liver.  Is it beer that makes the belly or the 6-pint sessions that do it?  Most caloric comparisons of beer and other beverages are not ounce-for-ounce.  Consistently beer calories are measured by pints, while other beverages are listed in smaller measures. What if we rethink the pint?  I’m not asking for stemmed glass.  I’m just wondering when more pubs will start to server more flavorful, compelling beers in smaller measures.  This is how I like to drink beer, and when one considers the way beer is presented in places like Belgium, it’s not so unusual.

I have always balked at subscribing to a lifestyle, which is just another way of signing yourself up to be a marketing demographic. The phrase healthy lifestyle makes me recoil, bringing to mind as it does supermarket shelves full of bland, packaged foods and patronizing advice from experts seeking to capitalize on our mortal fears.

But many who do subscribe to a healthy lifestyle are trying to eat organic and they’re probably even counting their food miles, which means, whether they know it or not, they are warming up to the slow food movement.  And most ale drinkers are–perhaps unwittingly– part of the slow food movement: they know their beer miles because they know the brewery that’s made what they are drinking.  They probably know how it was made, how long it took and the resources that went into making it as well as the history behind it.  Some probably even brew their own.  And, in knowing all this, we ale drinkers savor what we’re drinking and that’s healthy.  But how do we explain this to people who only equate beer with cheap lager, binge drinking and the infamous “gut”?

It would be wonderful to see beer festivals pitched to the slow food movement.  Recently there was a BBC 4 show on a slow-food cheese festival in Italy. Cheese is probably as bad for you as beer, maybe worse! But the cheeses at this festival were being savored in small amounts, which is the same approach many beer drinkers take to tasting at a festival.

The healthy lifestyle industry has at its heart certain puritanical ideas.  In its most cynical aspects, it’s hoping to appeal to the self-hating kill-joy in all of us.  Has the misnamed “Be Good to Yourself” Diet Frozen dinner ever filled anyone with glee?  Has a Lite beer ever really brought joy to anyone?  Guinness used its 1920′s slogan because after drinking the beer, people said they felt better.  Good beer can make us happy.  Happy people live longer.

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