I love beer and I care passionately about about the beer I drink. I care about who makes it and where it is made. I care about the ingredients that are used and the methods that are used to make it. I like small breweries that have a story behind them, with a brewer that I can meet and have a beer with. It’s even better when he or she actually own the brewery. I love local breweries, and wish there were more of them in my area.
But the thing that I like most about my beer is the way that it tastes. That is why I drink beer, I love the flavour of it. Beer isn’t an intellectual pursuit, or at least it shouldn’t be – we’ll leave that to wine. Beer is a hedonistic one. It is the pleasure that the flavour of a good beer can bring; it is the communion with friends while sharing it and, truth be told, it is also enjoying the mildly altered consciousness that the measured consumption of alcohol brings.
In reflecting upon my enjoyment of beer to write these lines, I have probably thought a little too much about beer than is healthy for a normal person
But I didn’t always think about beer. Once, I just drank it. Thoughtlessly and in volume. I didn’t care who made it. Actually, I did, because I was a Queenslander and Maroons drink XXXX. It’s our beer.
But in my mid twenties I tried a Corona. I loved the theatre that came with it, stuffing the lime down the neck of the bottle. It also marked me as someone who could afford a little to pay a bit more for my beverage. I thought girls might like that. I actually never really cared for the flavour, there wasn’t any…but I wasn’t drinking it for the flavour.
In my late twenties I tried Peroni while in Italy. It was exotic and interesting but, then again, so was the little Italian village I was in. I may have been drinking both in. I drank Peroni when I came back home. It reminded me of the tiny little village where I first tried it. And it let me talk about my visit to that tiny little village every time I drank it. I also drank Becks and Stella, but I didn’t have quirky little stories about them. I may not have been as boring for my companions when I drank them either.
In the early 2000s I tried a beer called Little Creatures Pale Ale. It was from a brewery that I had never heard of and knew nothing about. But it was like nothing I had ever tasted. What was that smell? Hops, apparently. I wondered if other beers taste like that…I started looking. James Squire Amber Ale was darker and had an almost shellac flavour to it. I learned that this complexity came from the malts that were used. I had never thought about malt before. I don’t think James Squire Amber Ale tastes as complex these days. I’ve learned that now it’s made in a different, bigger brewery because it got so popular. Then again, I have changed a little too since I first tried it. I drink many, many more beers now and I also know now that its owned by Lion which is owned by Kirin.
When I host beer lunches, a lot of people tell me they really like James Squire Amber Ale. But they also usually like the malty Holgate ESB that I often serve at the lunches – when it is available in Brisbane – to demonstrate malt character. They like my stories about the little Woodend brewery that makes it, and the passionate brewers crafting great beers against the odds. Most don’t really seem to care that James Squire isn’t struggling. They like the flavour of both beers.
Can they get Holgate in Ipswich, they ask. “Ohh, that’s a tough one”, I answer. Dan Murphy’s might have it. I had to chase around to get it. You could ask your local bottlo to get it in, if they can. Burleigh Brewing also do a really good ESB though, with a clever name…My Wife’s Bitter – and it’s local. You should find that easily enough.
Apologies for this stream of consciousness reverie, but this al came back to me when I was buying some cheese the other day for a beer and cheese tasting. I had an epiphany. I had carefully selected some Australian craft beers with outstanding flavours and impeccable independent provenance and I stopped by the local deli to buy some cheese for the matches. South Cape caught my eye. I grabbed the blue cheese to match with the Brew Boys Seeing Double, an excellent lightly peaty beer from a great team of South Australian brewing battlers.
The cheese wasn’t too bad. Not as gamey and complex as a French Roquefort or even as rustic as some of the farmhouse cheeses I have tried, but it was ok and the match worked quite nicely. But there was something about the thought process that I went through when I was buying it that jarred a little. In hindsight, the fact that I can get South Cape just about anywhere should have made me curious. South Cape can’t be too small if I can get it everywhere, yet I had seen the name South Cape and instantly thought of King Island. I’m not sure why, the packing didn’t say it was from there, but there was something about the name that had a secluded maritime feel to it. The label even had what looked like a sea bird on it. All-in-all I had visions of a rustic little farm on King Island making cheese.
I decided to find out about South Cape and – excuse my French – fuck me if my boutique little cheesery isn’t owned by Lion…who also own James Squires. Suddenly, all I could see stretching before me was a lifetime of having to research every cheese buying decision as well as every beer buying decision, just to make sure that I wasn’t tricked again.
But hold on. I liked the cheese. There are cheeses I like more and am often willing to look around for and pay much more for. On occasion. But it was fine. I like cheese and I really like the idea of small, sustainable cheese makers…but I’m not passionate about cheese. So what if I buy South Cape cheddar from time-to-time to grill on my toast?
In that moment of clarity I realised that while some people are passionate about cheese, I’m not. More importantly, not everyone cares as much about beer as I do. Not everyone is willing to spend the price of a carton of James Squire to purchase a single bottle of Nail Clout Stout (though I think they should). While lots of people might like the idea of small, traditional and independent, a small percentage of those actually care about it in practice. While I will be ceaseless in trying to convince people that they should care about these things, I secretly know that only a percentage will.
The trick then is to get more people interested in beer, get more people drinking better beer. The more people there are who couldn’t give a shit about what the definition of craft beer is but drink it anyway, the more people there will be who who will care passionately about it too. Rather than just set out just to try to find the people who will be passionate about definitions, get more people drinking beer and the passsionate ones will find you. And the more of them there will be too. The biggest thing holding back craft beer isn’t big brewery bastardy, it’s the size of the market for craft beer.
Now, I tell myself, if only Australia’s brewers can be as reflective and insightful as I am instead of fighting over stuff that most people couldn’t give a crap about, we might be able to all work together to get more people drinking better beer. You never know, some of them might even end up being passionate enough about it to consult the internet or read a bottle.
Who knows, we might even end up dismantling the apparatus of the Roman state while we’re at it.