Archive for May 5th, 2010

Beer Tribes
May 5, 2010

Hastings May Day Revelers in the ruined castle

Sometimes I’ll be at a pub and see people drinking one thing or another and wonder how they came to that decision– these burly footie fans drinking Guinness– did their father’s drink it?  And the lager drinkers, did their mates give them the first sip, ages ago?  To change their beer is to change teams.  There’s something tribal about it, even the real ale drinkers– or perhaps especially.  Is Timothy Taylor Landlord the tribal beer of the ale nerd? I’ve never had a decent pint of the stuff, though I’ll admit to ordering it when I think someone’s watching and there’s nothing else.  I always regret it.

But what if it’s the May Day bank holiday weekend and you find yourself in Hastings (with the inimitable Pete Brown no less) amongst a sea of people painted green, festooned with leaves, dancing in the street and singing.  What do you drink?

Most of the pubs are Shepherd Neame, and the brewery has made a beer just for the Jack in the Green Festival. It had a lovely malt character, laced through with ripe green hops, very fitting of the day.  But I didn’t drink a lot of that.  I’ll admit I’m put off Shepherd Neame beers because of their ad campaigns– the “Bishops Finger” still manages to make me queasy whenever I even see the name, and the “…and a bowl of water for me bitches” campaign just compounded my dislike, making it difficult for me to enjoy their beers.

But what beer is most loved among the greenery?  It’s Harveys Best Bitter.  Two years ago I happened upon some neo-pagan shenanigans in the City.  These folklorists of the street had  fashioned a giant tree in the Market Porter pub, and it was worn by someone and paraded through the streets of the financial district with the help of green leafy bogies, while everyone followed, playing music on tin whistles and accordion, getting more blotto with every pub and bank we passed.  It was the best pub crawl, ever.  And we drank Harveys.

The similar festival in Hastings, Jack-in-the-Green,  is much bigger and even more life affirming. Harvey’s was on offer at the Dolphin, a sea-side pub right by the imposing black net huts and the motley fleet and fishing equipment strewn about this working beach. I could have stayed there drinking that all day.

It was interesting to note that one of the Shepherd Neame pubs in the old town, the Stag, was filled with song on Saturday afternoon– everyone in the room seemed to know the folk songs and the tiny room reverberated with their voices which welcomed spring with a melancholy certainty that these songs might be forgotten, and soon.  One gentleman had written his own clever lyrics to old tunes and he mentioned a wayward lover who’d sneaked away with the green folk to sing and dance and drink Harvey’s Best. That’s exactly what I would have been drinking, had the pub served it, because two years ago a kind man with a green beard put a pint of it in my hand and at that moment, which is this moment, it was the loveliest beer.

The Meta Post
May 5, 2010

I have let this blog atrophy.  I’m not a competitive person but I’ll admit I was a little sad at not even making the top 20 wikio rankings this month. (If  Stonch can have a zombie blog, why can’t I?) The very inclusion in that list denotes a closed circuit: other beer bloggers must read and link to this blog for it to be included, and I need to keep writing.

But do I?  This is not a plea for inclusion or encouragement, but a searching aloud.  I never intended this blog to be read by other beer obsessives.  To my delight I have found the community of UK beer bloggers to be really welcoming, fun people, but my purpose with this blog as it grew was to turn casual beer drinkers or even non-beer drinkers on to the marvel that is beer by communicating the context– the specific social moment.  Beer is a genius locii– to drink it is to get to know where ever you find yourself.

I have written about bottles I’ve drunk in my flat all alone, but is it interesting? And for a time I was starting a new career which was quite physically and emotionally rigorous– the exact opposite of an office job.  The last thing I wanted when I was done for the day was a drink that I then had to write about.  Though also during that time I would look at my neglected Google feed and see 500+ beer posts I hadn’t read and I would despair.  I had completely fallen away from this community I’d really come to love, but it also made me wonder where everyone found the time to read all the other blogs and continue to write themselves.

There is an unhealthy notion that if you have a blog you must keep it current.  The  “Blog or Die” attitude is a problem.  Why keep talking if you have nothing to say?  What is an online persona anyway and why do I need one?  If you stop talking, does your persona die?  In any blogging sphere there is the fantasy that a blog can be a stepping stone to some other media opportunity, some professional gig, instant internet stardom.  If that ambition can’t involve productive silence every once in a while, then something’s wrong.

As I wonder about all of this, beer bloggers get a challenge from Pete Brown to up the ante, take risks and make the beer blog matter.  I’ve never shied away from a challenge.