An artisanally crafted blog curated by Cooking Lager for discerning readers of beer bloggery

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

The first noble truth

As someone that has made the transition from “Normal” to “Beer Geek” the question I am asked most is “How does one become a beer geek, cookie?” In fact that’s a lie, no one ever asks it. The question I am asked most is “If there is this underground civilization at the center of the Earth you insist is real and that’s where the UFO’s come from, how come they are not members of FIFA then?” But that’s not relevant, and a harder question to answer and one I’ve not got an immediate explanation for, because let’s face it they are bound to play football. Every country does. That’s why football has a proper world cup and other sports don’t. You can only have a world cup if the world plays. Baseball world series? Rugby or Cricket world cups? What? Nah, sorry pal, it may be an enjoyable tournament and a suitable sort of football for posh fat lads that can’t run but it ain’t a world cup. Maybe it’s because the underground people are Nazis or something but who really knows? Beer geekery is a question I can have a stab at so I shall and that is the crux of how to become a beer geek. 

Because rule Number 1 is:

Beer is the single most important thing in the world ever.

That’s in a big font because it’s a big rule, what with being rule number 1. Rule number one tends to be the biggest rule in most things that have rules. You’ve heard of the axiom “Life is suffering” right? Well that’s the first noble truth of Buddhism. It’s actually “All existence is dukkha”, but no one knows what dukkha is, even the guy that made the word up,  so it got translated as ‘suffering’, ‘anguish’, ‘pain’, or ‘unsatisfactoriness’.  Them truths are not really rules but kind of sort of rules if you, like me, like to stretch things a bit and think a rule is kind of a law and a law represents some sort of truth. There are by all accounts 4 noble truths. You know what the 4th one is? Nope? Don’t sweat it, neither do I. In fact no one does. Not even Buddhists and they are down with that sort of stuff. You don’t need to know the whole gubbins, just enough to sound clever. So the 1st rule by and large is the only one worth doing.

So how’s this different to how Normals see things? Well, when I was “normal” I used to think the rule was

Beer is like a product you drink and it gets you a bit pissed and makes you go to the toilet.

To make the transition from that to the 1st noble truth of beer geekery is all about understanding that beer is so much more than just a product and is the single most important thing in the world ever.

What else might you initially think are important? Your girlfriend/wife/kids? Your relationships? Your family? Your job? Your friends? Whether your trainers match your jacket? Whether your toilet is clean enough for visitors to pop round? Deleting your browser history before your girlfriend gets back from work and flushing the pile of Kleenex next to the teapot in your home office/ spare room?

Well, you have to accept however important that is, it’s less important than beer. You need to lower the relevance of this and elevate beer.

The type of thing you might look at on the internet when the girlfriend is at work.

Beer is something that should consume every waking moment of your existence and occupy your dreams. What beer are you drinking? What beer is next? Where are you drinking it? What are others drinking? What is the history of beer mats in the 1930s? What is an authentic porter beer? Should you say hello to a pretty lass in a pub if you’re single or enough of a cad to pretend to be and she makes eye contact and smiles and might be up for a bit of how’s your father or should you respect her feminist right to concentrate totally on the beer she is necking and not be bothered brushing you off if she’s not up for it? Do proper pubs have karaoke nights? Is this beer acceptable to the wider community of beer geekery or macro pisswater? What size is the brewery and is the brewer a celebrity like a footballer and its news if they sign for a new team? What weird ingredient makes this beer taste of your dads’ socks? Is pink beer a way to get ladies off the white wine and necking beer? What price is too much for a pint? Is a weak unfunny sexist beer advert just lame banter for insecure men that feel modern society emasculates them and think maybe everyone else has a bigger knob than them (they do, sorry) or is it a vile crime on a par with murder against ladies that like to drink beer and want to be respected for being people that like beer and not sex objects to leer at? What time does the pub open? Should a pub ploughman’s lunch have a pork pie in it? Should cask beer be served with a sparkler? Should people be allowed to drink craft beer if they don’t know who John Kimmich is? When should you stop tweeting about your hangover after a crazy night on the pop and start tweeting photos of your overpriced grog on twitter? Why should everyone in the world care about beer? Is every dish you knock up in your kitchen improved by the addition of beer?

These my friends are the questions. There are more, but let that be your discovery. The answer to these should be your goal. Not mundane stuff like fixing the wobbly curtain rail your girlfriend has been banging on about since Christmas.

Once you re engineer your life to the first noble truth of beer geekery you begin to walk the path towards beer geekery and eventually you, like me, can be a beer geek and talk to other beer geeks in pubs and on twitter and what not.

Now in truth all beer geeks are somewhere on the path, few have obtained total beer nirvana. Even many of the most proficient beer geeks appear to sometimes consider other things, but that’s only because they are still on the path, still on the journey and not yet quite there.

At the beginning of the journey beer may be only one of a number of important things like cultivating an appearance.

Take your modern day craft beer hipster. Obviously getting pissed up on obscure peculiarly tasting grog is pretty important but clearly they also care about their appearance. Not to worry, they are on the journey. Currently they think that spending £200 on a pair of ill-fitting trousers to go with a daft hat is a thing they want to do. Soon they will walk through the local Aldi, beer gut bursting out of them trousers and wearing an unwashed CAMRA festival T shirt and see a pair of cords reduced from £10 to £8 and figure, why not? One day skinny jeans and appearance will not matter, only beer. Then the journey will be nearing completion and beer enlightenment only a fleeting whisper away.

Mudge (left) and Me (right) have progressed on the journey and now beer matters more than appearance and we have not even noticed the beer feminist in the center and not bothered her.

But the journey begins with accepting the first noble truth. Rule 1.

Beer is the single most important thing in the world ever.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

The Fifth Beatle

The British pub is a rich and diverse place and at its best can include all social classes present in the British Isles. Certainly some are quite narrow in the range of clientele, but of the very finest of establishments you can truly say “All Human Life is here”. In fact in some pubs you can look at the state of the gents and ask “Is all life here human?”

Whilst I rarely drink in pubs due to fear of the types that drink in them, I occasionally lower my standards and step foot in one. Usually when I am not wearing my best clothes as you can never be sure what is stuck to a chair in a pub, but so long as your trousers are machine washable it is often worth the gamble, as you may too, like I did, meet a living breathing member of beer history who will rock your world.

After a policeman rudely moved me from my park bench and confiscated my cider I had cause to visit a hostelry and whilst in there enjoyed what can only be described thus.

Most of the beer blogosphere is familiar with the organization known as CAMRA or The Campaign for Real Ale. It is an independent voluntary consumer organisation, whose aims are promoting real ale, real cider and the traditional British pub. We are all aware this great and noble organisation saved beer as we know it and without them we would all be drinking fermented cold and fizzy horse urine sold as “beer” and not the actual made of some sort of ingredients type of beer we enjoy today. They, quite literally, saved beer. We all think we know the story of the formation of this mighty and proud group in 1971 in Dunquin, Kerry, Ireland by Graham Lees, Bill Mellor, Michael Hardman, and Jim Makin. However this is not true. CAMRA was formed by a gentleman called Norris Shuttlewallop in 1970.

Norris Shuttlewallop

I have read what you have and thought as you did that I knew the story. But a meeting in a pub changed my understanding of the world we live in and now it will change yours.

Upon venturing into a pub and asking for “a pint of your cheapest bitter, unless there is a cheaper lager, then I’ll have that, mate” when a white bearded elderly gentleman sat at the bar stopped reading his book “The Good Beer Guide 1981” and informed me “You don’t want lager, sonny, you want to drink this fine natural real ale, it’s better for you, not that unnatural chemical filth”

“Natural?” I replied “Everything’s natural, pal, as in comes from nature. How else would it appear in the known universe? Even stuff you think is unnatural was processed from something found in nature. And if by processing that makes it unnatural then pretty much everything is unnatural. There’s fuck all that is unnatural pal, unless you happen to be religious and the subject at hand is bumming and not beer, but even then you’d only think it unnatural if you had irrational superstitious beliefs in an almighty creator that didn’t like bumming when if you think about it if you were an almighty creator wouldn’t you have more important things to concern you about the morality of your creation than a bit of bumming? You know, like war and shit or little kiddies dying. I mean, being an almighty creator and creating the whole universe in all its glory and beauty, in all its cruelty and death, in all the hope and fear felt by every living creature and then after all that worrying about bumming? That’s pathetic. If I was God I’d leave the bummers to it and spend my time necking beer and rogering that model, Emily Ratajkowski, she’s a corker and likely be dead impressed that I was God and well up for doing all manner of filth with me and I wouldn’t worry at all about what a few unusually stylish and well groomed men with an interest in soft furnishings consensually do to each other in private”

A tenuous excuse at best to include a picture of a pretty lass.

This is usually enough to scare the pub bore off. Especially if you combine it with a mad unblinking stare of the eye. You have to out nutter the nutter to survive in the jungle of the British pub. It’s pack dominance, like what Gorillas do. You have to be the biggest baddass Gorilla to survive. Or in the case of pubs, the biggest nutter. Not in this case. The man warning me of the perils of lager was made of sterner stuff.

“Lager’s not natural, pal. It’s worse than bumming, not that there’s anything wrong with bumming. I had an Uncle into that. Not that he bummed me, he wasn’t a Gary Glitter. Only that he never married and lived with his Moroccan house boy, Karim, though no one ever talked about it back then. Mum in particular didn’t like to talk about her brothers’ unconventional bachelor existence but he was a generous Uncle at Birthdays and Christmas. He bought me a bicycle and Karim taught me to ride it.  Lager is worse than Hitler, I should say, and Hitler was pretty bad. Pretty much the worse person ever, was Hitler. He did some pretty evil shit. You wanna read this; it’s a CAMRA beer guide. Everything you need to know about beer comes from CAMRA. I should know, I’m a member. The first ever member in fact. I’ve been a member longer than anyone, even that Protz fella” And then he passed his 1981 beer guide to me.

I was intrigued. The first ever member of CAMRA? The man in from the beginning? This was beer history. Living and breathing and in front of my very eyes. The type of person other beer bloggers seek out, interview and write books about. Presented to me on a plate, like there may be a God or something directing our existence. Leading us to where we need to be, to become who we need to become and eventually lead us to the place of our death.

I have to confess I was a sceptic. I replied that he could not be the first ever member as the first 4 members would be the founder members one to four that set it up. The best he could be is number 5. The fifth Beatle.

“Them bunch of bastards” he retorted “They ripped me off. CAMRA was all my idea. I created it. I was living with my Mum back then and had just finished my tea of fish fingers, peas and instant mash potato. I had a slice of Battenberg for afters. It was bath night and I was filling up a tin bath in the living room by the coal fire when it occurred to me. What was needed was a large consumer group to advocate and campaign for better beer in British pubs, which had become by then a much debased and even adulterated product of large scale brewers more concerned with profit than quality beer or the fine traditions of our island nation. When the bath was full, I got in and formulated the plan for what would become the CAMRA we know today. We would need members and membership cards and meetings in pubs and magazines and beer festivals and books about beer. I had it all planned out in my head. I figured out we needed a technical definition of the type of beer we wished to save and that night, in 1970, the campaign for real ale was born including the definition of what real ale was. Years later I discovered some other twats had ripped my idea off, even renaming their campaign for the revitalisation of beer into my campaign for real ale. They asked me not to sue them, claiming they had members and I didn’t and saying my campaign was bollocks because I was the only member and I hadn’t done owt about it anyway. They asked me to join their CAMRA but I only agreed so long as it was technically a merger of the two campaigns. The man at the new members stand at a beer festival said “whatever” and I filled out a form. Years later they have forgot my pioneering work and claim an altogether different story of the campaigns origins. At least they still hate lager, though. I was going to resign in protest but then the Wetherspoons tokens arrived so I thought, what’s the point? 50p off a pint is 50p innit?”

Innit? Innit indeed.

Wow, I thought. The very founder of CAMRA. A full year before the official recorded history. A tale of 2 CAMRAs. Of a merging into 1 CAMRA. Of putting aside ego for the greater good of the cause and working together for better beer. It is amazing what you learn in pubs. To think, had I never gone for a pint I’d still accept the official recorded version and never know the truth. Isn’t it time CAMRA recognised the original pioneer? Norris Shuttlewallop was his name. It is him we should all thank for the beer we enjoy today. 

Please, tonight, raise a glass to old Norris. Founder, pioneer and the first original member of the Campaign for Real Ale. It is he we ought to thank for all we enjoy.