I’ve had a thought, an observation, rolling around my head for a few days and as blogging is an excuse to at least attempt to form those thoughts into a coherent point of view I thought I’d give it a go. But first an apology for not taking the piss out of anything to do with beery pretentions or beards.
Beer and food matching is something I thoroughly enjoy deriding, but I’m going to lay off on this one. My observation from reading newspaper columns and watching TV shows is that wine experts often eulogise about fine wines that may indeed cost a few bob more than a regular 3 for £10 Jacobs Creek special offer that I might buy to go with whatever attempt at cookery I’m about to thrill my lovely lady squeeze with. This may be an attempt to encourage the reader or viewer to be a little more adventurous in their choices though I also observe most of the audience for such things are more interested in reading and watching than doing. The only recipe I have ever knocked up from a cookery show was courtesy of Delia Smith, though I would credit watching daytime telly favourite ready steady cook as a student as being full of informative tips on knocking out edible scran quickly. I’ve never bought a bottle of wine recommended to me by a wine ponce off the telly or in a newspaper lifestyle section. However my main observation is that whatever grog they are banging on about, it is never referenced from the perspective that the regular commonly enjoyed brands are in any way shite.
I don’t think I’ve ever read or seen a wine expert bang on about a £14.99 bottle of nice Italian wine that goes with whatever dish the cook has knocked up by expressing the view that it is so much nicer than a £3.99 bottle of Echo Falls or that bottles of £3.99 plonk represent vile chemical rubbish only the undiscerning neck and we’d all be far better off is such shite did not exist. I think I understand the reason why, but correct me if you disagree. They understand the audience will by and large like a glass of wine, that those that don’t will not be reading it. They understand the audience may or may not have an interest in wine but probably are familiar with £3.99 plonk and may drink it regularly. They understand that the £3.99 plonk actually isn’t vile filth but a perfectly decent standard product enjoyed by millions. They understand that telling people the wine they are drinking is vile filth may turn them off drinking wine rather than turn them on to paying more for a bottle. They understand you can eulogise about how great this wine is without any reference at all to the bottle of cheap plonk. Cheap plonk isn’t really relevant to explaining the wonderful fruity notes of this more expensive plonk.
It is far more common when reading and watching the same basic stuff about beer to see more expensive beers framed within a reference point how much better they are than cheaper beers. An example is here, from notable professional beer writer Adrian Tierney-Jones. It is in no way a criticism as I enjoy his writing, hold him in high esteem and he has been kind enough to leave the odd comment on this rubbish I knock up. It is an observation that whilst the article eulogises about the beer, this is framed in the context of what the beer isn’t rather than what it is. It isn’t a bottle of beer that retails for about a quarter of the price. Well we knew that before we knew anything else about the beer. An alternate example is the marketing of Brewdog beers, a cracking example here, where the marketing of their own premium lager takes as its main reference cheaper lagers that cost about a third of the price of a bottle of Brewdog lager. Rather than tell us how wonderful their own lager is, they insist on telling us how shit popular cheaper national brands of lager are.
What do I make of this notable difference that the world of beer has to the world of wine? Well one thing I note is how I am rarely told by wine buffs that wine is a nasty unnatural product. I rarely ponder the ingredients of the wine I drink wondering whether there are any nasties in there to harm me. I notice most bottles of wine mention they contain sulphites but I also understand sulphites have been used since Roman times to preserve grapes. The wine may or may not contain cheaper fermentable sugars added to the grape juice to produce a cheaper product but my judgement is based largely on how drinkable it is and how much I paid for it. That wine is a natural healthy product to be enjoyed and that by and large the more I am willing to pay the better bottle of wine I might get.
I also note that when drinking in Germany the view held by many drinkers regarding their National product of beer is somewhat different to us. That beer is considered a natural agricultural product to be celebrated alongside bread, meat and all other delights. That what I as a tourist think is a beer festival is actually a celebration of agriculture that happens to include beer because beer is the best thing you can make from agriculture. It is only English friends that tell me they are feeling rough because last night they had a skinful of “dirty beer” combined with being “a dirty stop out”. Not exactly a serious statement of being dirty but hardly an affirmation of a natural and healthy product.
When pondering beer it is easy to wonder whether that can of Foster’s is vile and unnatural filth. Is it really? Well of course it isn’t. It is made of regular barley & hops though there may indeed be not that many hops and other natural cheaper commodity grains may form part of the recipe that keeps the cost down. Nothing unnatural, vile or filthy about it. The beer is arguably popular and to a large number of peoples taste, though clearly not to everyone’s. However it is easy to note the effect of being regularly informed that standard regular brands of beer are vile and unnatural filth. It may be assumed that the effect is to push me as a punter to “better” or more expensive beer that also funnily enough is unclear about what it contains. Those beers may be fuller in flavour but not necessarily to my taste or to my pocket. It is just as easy to assume that regular beer is the vile filth many beer writers tell me it is, entirely unrelated to the fuller hoppier beers I am told represent the embodiment of the brewers craft and opt instead for a bottle of wine. After all no one has told me any of that is vile filth.
So the conclusion I find myself heading towards, is one of sharing some of the amusing pessimism of Mudgies blog post regarding the inexorable decline of beer drinking, and pondering the first comment by Pete Brown. It depends on whether you thing people are genuinely influenced by TV shows and lifestyle articles in the press. I know anything on the blogosphere is read by about 3 or 4 people but wouldn’t you expect established media more widely consumed to be influential?
I do laugh at the beery cheery types that appear to take issue with views expressed in the press that does not conform to their own established agenda of “being good for beer”, but wonder whether “being bad for beer” includes anything and everything that cannot establish something positive to say without first explaining that all those popular brands lots of people like are complete muck.