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

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Thought is free

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.

It was inspired by two blogs, Firstly Pete Browns blog post about beer and food matching, here, but also inspired by Mudgies attempt at crystal ball gazing, here.

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.


Adrian Tierney-Jones said...

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: Stella Artois = Gyles Brandreth in a bottle screaming to be let out to do his business on the world (that’s me out of the running for doing any work with AH-Bev). I’ve tried washing my feet in Fosters and it hurt, while Carling is very good for the roses at this time of year. Mind you, a bottle of home brewed Old Scroggins (or some other name dreamt up by hale hearties) is also good on the compost. Mind you using the word Stella in the headline came about after a chat with Pete Brown who said that his hits went into overdrive whenever he put Stella in the title, same with porn I suspect.

thanks for kind comments though — I laugh at people’s haircuts, clothes, their annoying habits, Mrs Bucket behaviour, crap drinks, crap books, crap music, crap politics, even some countries’ crap armies — and then I remember Danny the Dealer dealing out the Coalman’s wise words: You think you look normal, your honour?’

Cooking Lager said...

Oh I don't look normal, why do think I don't have my own picture on my avatar? I scare children when they see me.

Adrian Tierney-Jones said...

It}s not your own picture? Oh. I just thought you might be a relative of Dickie Davies or something.
and then aren’t most of the kids oop north chain-smoking scrag-ends always asking if they can look after your car, mister?

dredpenguin said...

A generally well thought out argument there Cooking.

The one hole in your argument is that the cheap wine you are talking about is still a product of providence.

The variation in wine is to some extent down to the winemaker but is a lot down to the terrior and skill of the grape grower. For example Jacobs Creek Shiraz and Penfold's Grange, both come from the same grape variety and are grown in the Barrossa Valley. The Grange is made from the best grapes grown in select locations pruned for low yields and more flavour, while the Jacob's Creek wine will be with any Shiraz grape that is grown locally optimised for max yields. The Penfold's Grange will cost probably 50+ times the Jacob's Creek Shiraz. They are however effectively produced from the same raw material, the accountants at Jacob's creek can't say take out some grapes and throw in some cheap adjunct and still call it Shiraz.

Beer on the other hand is much more a product of the recipe, you can remove the hops to reduce cost, swap barley for corn etc and this can still be marketed under the same brand name.

The closest analogy I see is with your beloved lout and British wine. Wine made from concentrated grape juice imported from wherever is cheapest (not English or Welsh wine who are totally different beasts). I'm sure if the consumers in the UK were drinking vats of this British wine at whatever cost, some of the real wine makers would be shouting about it and doing brewdog style guerilla marketing, trying to change the tastes of the general public.

Anyway you are on the right lines here...we should be promoting beer in general and good beer in particular and yes sometimes, in the right circumstances, lout is good beer.

Cooking Lager said...

Most? All Adrian, all. Those of us that do not die of rickets and grow up usually end up in jail. I believe it related to the poor weather and better football teams.

And of the 3 people that read this rubbish one or two might follow the link and that's 2 more hits, fella. Putting porn in the title works, I read that one straight away.

Cooking Lager said...

@Dred, well thought out argument Dred and thanks, and yes I see your point about region v recipe. However, maize & rice may not be the ingredients you believe afford the best flavour in a beer. They are, however just as natural as barley and wheat and no worse for your health.

Publius said...

The reason that wine ponces don't criticize cheap wine the way beer snobs criticize cheap beer lies in the different consumers of those products. Wine, in practice, has some level of snobbery built in where beer is "everyman's drink". The result of this difference is that appealing to the lowest common denominator is a much more powerful force in the world of beer than in the world of wine. Here in the US, for example, crappy beer makes up 95% of the market. So basically, I suspect that wine buyers are eager to spend some extra money to get something they think might be better, where beer drinkers by and large will buy whatever is cheapest regardless of which crappy yellow beer comes in the can.

Curmudgeon said...

£3.99 wine is cheap plonk? I thought that was the upmarket stuff...

Darren said...

Nice post Cooky. Totally with you on there being no need at all to slag off someone elses product just to make yourself feel good.
Things are popular because they are enjoyed by many (hence being popular!)like your cooking lager and wine.
I think you'e right in saying that they are not bad products, like McDonnalds, which is certainly not poor quality food (well it's not toxic just highly unhealthy for your waistline)but its not all that challenging (salt+fat+sugar=McDee's). The more challenging wine/beer/food is still worth the $ though, you just need the time to enyoy it. No point getting it from the drive through and eating it in the car!

The Hearty Goodfellow said...


...just trying to boost your hits.

Mark, said...

You make an interesting argument Cookie, and it seems to me very easy to call mass produced beers like Fosters 'industrial' because they use machines to make it yet beer geeks call Thornbridge's beer craft beer despite their own reliance on state of the art automated equipment.

Framing mass produced beers as shite is pretty standard across the beer community. I've done it myself, but because I genuinely don't like many of these beers. That said, down the Miners Arms a cold Carling does me just fine thank you very much.

Perhaps part of the issue you highlight is the fact that there are so many £3.99 wines. A plethora of them. Maybe this makes them less easy to paint with the same brush and scooped up into the same filth bucket as are the handful of ubiquitous lager brands. Brands which are far more well known and do much more advertising and sponsorship to align themselves with the lower end of the market. And brands which well known to be owned by drinks conglomerates associated generally as evil.

Or perhaps wine lovers and critics are just move lovely dovey about their product?

dredpenguin said...

I did not say that lout was bad for you cooking! The health benefits of beer is a whole different ballgame.

Cooking Lager said...

@Publius, The UK is little different in so far as wine has a built in level of snob value, but I thought that was due to being an imported product. Domestic products are often considered inferior here. The US has some great domestic wine so only you can tell me why wine has snob value in the US

@Mudge, I’m waiting for your cooking wine blog, matey

@Darren & Hearty ;-)

@Mark, yes the whole craft V industrial difference is bollocks. Any successful craft product will become industrial.

Publius said...

Cooking Lager, you are right that our drinking cultures are fairly different. Americans manage a level of domestic snobbery because of our inherent and often misplaced pride in all things American (maybe we're not that different after all?). People who drink beer do it to get pissed, as you recently said, wine snobs do it to spend money. These are the same people who read "books" on $200 electronic book-reading devices and drive $80,000 BMW's. Not all wine drinkers fall into that category, but point being, many are drawn to wine because of it's cache and price tag, not because it gets you shitty.

Whorst said...

I get pissed on good beer and enjoy the laughter that beer blogs bring. You silly twats who think there's something exceptional about your beer writing abilities when in actuality you don't know dick(knob?) Avery and Brown both know how to milk it, and they milk it well. Could you all just piss off and quit sucking the cock of your inner ego?? Please? That includes you too Herr Mann!!

Pivní Filosof said...

Really good write, and I agree with most of what you say. However, I think you are missing the point a bit with the wine analogy. The reason why you've never heard wine experts bang about the cheaper supermarket stuff is that they would not drink it. The few wine writers that I occasionally follow always leave me with the impression that they act as if those cheaper wines that most people drink didn't exist. The message, seems to me, is "if you are a proper wine lover, you have to buy expensive".

Flagon of Ale said...

By the way, if you're still wondering why wine writers don't crap on cheap wine the way beer writers do, this may provide some answers:

Namely, because they may crap on beer instead.

HardKnott Dave said...

I understand what you are saying Cookie, but the wine world and beer world are not that much different. In published books the beer world tends to be more reserved about it's opinion about cheap grog.

In the wine world the mainstream media does not publish such silly approaches to critical analysis. But have a look at the wine blogs will you?