THE EDITOR’S DESK :: Boutique Beer—The Code of the Craftbeerman

by Harvey Gold on September 30, 2013

imagesYears ago, I had the privilege of shooting an interview with the great Harry Dean Stanton. Surprisingly, it was one of the most boring interviews I ever worked on. But once the camera stopped rolling, he just hung with us crew members for a while. Now THIS was brilliantly interesting. He sang a cappella—just to the three of us—one of his lovely Spanish songs, and with a little nudge, recited the Code of the Repo Man, from his great cult film classic.

Upon opening this impressive book by Ben MacFarland, Boutique Beer: 500 quaility craft beers, I decided, before turning the pages to look at all the yummy pics and cool logos and labels, to read the introduction.

What Ben wrote was OUR CODE, everything about why I—previously an occasional imbiber of Guinness, sometimes a Bass, every now and then a Black & Tan (the best of them drawn, with a lovely little shamrock on the head at The Kinsale Tavern in my old Upper East Side neighborhood)—became a beer “freak,” ultimately starting this site and other efforts on behalf of Your Beer Network.

Ben speaks to the people and places that embrace the beer they create and drink; as one of those people, a romantic, a dreamer, a person with heart.

So rather than paraphrase, we’ve been given permission to reprint the introduction. Ben simply nails it:

Boutique BeerWhat Is Boutique Beer?

There are more than 500 boutique beers in this book, each made with the same four key ingredients. But every single one is different.

What declares them distinct is not merely the ingredients used, nor is it the method by which they are brewed. What makes each beer in this book unique is that behind each and every one is an individual.

Peer into the frothy head of each boutique beer and you will discover that an awful lot is going on in there beyond hops, grain, yeast, and water. Beneath the surface there are individual ideas, passions, friendships, problems, desires, disappointments, beliefs, and more.

Whether made by an Australian who brews using boiling hot Fijian boulders, a bipolar depressive who picks hops in an Amsterdam garden, or a former underwear model who has breathed life back into a 9,000 year old brewing recipe, each beer is a liquid legacy of the complicated lives of others.

And just as people’s lives are shaped by what and who is around them, so too are the beers that adorn the next 218 pages. These boutique beers are not brewed in a vacuum; they reflect the cultural context of a particular place and the people who live there.

A beer reveals a lot about its native surroundings, and there is no better way to get to truly know a beer than experiencing it at its source, meeting those who make it and those for whom it is brewed, visiting the pubs and bars where it is drunk, and eating the food that it complements.

PageIt is the same with all drink. In my early 20s, I studied in Grenoble, France, when I had lots of time and very little to do or worry about. I spent a lot of time playing petanque against pensioners. The local specialty was Chartreuse, a potent green liqueur distilled up in the mountains by monks. We all drank it as if it was going out of fashion.

When I returned to London, where Chartreuse had never been in fashion, none of my British buddies, or indeed any pensioners, were willing to drink it with me. For me, Chartreuse conjures up magical memories of carefree days. For others it conjures up mouthwash.

Similarly, I simply did not understand Gueze until I saw Lambics foaming forth from fusty barrels in Brussels, nor did I truly understand the underplayed anarchy of Walloon brewing until I was sat sipping a Silly Saison in a village called Silly having, just the day before, driven through a small village called Dave with a man called Dave who, rather inconveniently for this anecdote, was very serious and didn’t do anything very silly at all.

Similarly, before going to Cologne, I mistakenly thought I knew Kolsch, a light-colored, easy-drinking hybrid beer served in small glasses, and brewed only in Cologne. But then I discovered Kolsch’s true character firsthand, within the city’s famous brewpubs.

Roped into endless round buying with strangers, I realized the small 20cl “stangen” were core to Cologne’s famous conviviality, and, surrounded by every stratum of stangen-swigging society, it dawned on me why Karl Marx had deemed Cologne immune to revolution: The workers, he said, drank too much beer with the bosses.

Cologne "...it’s the drinking in of a dream."

Cologne “…it’s the drinking in of a dream.”

It slowly occurred to me that the accessible and easy-going beer was the city’s culture in a very small glass; that it’s the local dialect and a philosophy: a relaxed way of being, a shoulder-shrugging acceptance that “Hatte noch immer jot jejange” (“It will be all right in the end.”)

Back in London, Kolsch actially tastes different now. I tastes better. It’s not just a dizzy blonde; there is genuine depth to it. My drinking buddies who have not been to Cologne still tell me I’m wrong. But I keep telling them like a Vietnam vet, you weren’t there man.

Of course, if this was a wine book, this would be the part where I would begin to pontificate luxuriantly about terroir. But such a dreamy, ethereal concept has never quite taken root with beer. It’sa wine term, and beer’s not going to use it just because wine does. Beer’s better than that.

Although the provenance of hops, barley, water, and yeast is clearly integral to a particular beer’s personality, it’s only a small part of what makes beer so enticing. Beer is not just geography and geology; its secret is not simply in the soil, nor are its interesting bits only in the air.

Beer is more profound. It takes you beyond mere terroir. It’s everything. It’s geography, art, science, politics, religion, history, and nature… It’s intoxicating liquid life. When you drink a beer, you don’t merely drink the ingredients or the methods that make it.

More inspiring and intoxicating is the story; it’s the people and personalities who shape it; it’s their stories… It’s the romance; it’s the drinking in of a dream.

__________

Ed. The above introduction is reproduced, with permission, from Boutique Beer: 500 Quality Craft Beers, by Ben McFarland. Copyright 2013, Barron’s Educational Series.

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