The end of the year is fast approaching and once again I find myself in a rather reflective mood. I will save the summary of “My Year in Beer” until January, but picking up on a recent blog theme, I see that I’m not the only one who’s feeling a bit jaded.
Over at Total Ales, Matt Curtis was complaining about “beer fatigue”, as it seems that sometimes you CAN have too much of a good thing. Well no shit Sherlock, but I’m not talking about over-indulgence here, and neither was Matt. I know what he was talking about, as I’ve experienced the same thing myself on several occasions in the past.
“Beer fatigue” is what happens when you no longer find beer enjoyable. You don’t dislike, but you do feel that it’s not giving you the same pleasure it once did. I found that these episodes usually coincided with my return from a foreign holiday, where I’d been drinking some fantastic beers. Back on home turf, I would find much of the local beer tasting dull and un-interesting; especially in comparison to what I had been drinking whilst away.
These episodes generally lasted a week or so, but sometimes a little longer. They always pass though, along with the mood associated with them. Personally I feel the term “beer burnout” is a more accurate description, and this I think has been Matt’s problem. On his own admission, he has spent much of the past year travelling extensively; primarily to major beer destinations where he obviously got to drink some truly amazing beers.
Coming back to Blighty is like coming back down to earth with a huge bump and “beer burnout” is pretty much inevitable. Matt even went on to say that after drinking all these world class beers, he didn’t think the majority of British beer is good enough to compete.
It took a response from veteran blogger Tandleman, to put things in perspective when he said, “As you get further along the beer journey you realise that the perfect beer, or even the next great beer, is just a will o' the wisp. Beer’s for enjoying and drinking.” I couldn’t agree more, as it seems that many beer lovers become so caught up in the “thrill of the chase”; that search for the elusive holy-grail of a “supreme” beer, that they miss out on what’s available on the way – often right in front of their noses.
As you get older you appreciate that life is much more about the journey than it is about the final destination. If you rush to get somewhere, without taking time to see and enjoy what’s available along the way, you will inevitably miss out on much of what life has to offer. This applies as much to beer as it does to life in general, but is often lost on the new generation of beer enthusiasts because of their rush to move onto the next “in thing.”
A post I wrote, back in September, made the point that like the Emperor’s New Clothes, devotees of the new, the novel and the downright bizarre, will sooner or later get tired and will inevitably end up suffering from “beer burnout.” Tandleman is right; beer is for drinking and enjoying. It is essentially a long drink best enjoyed in the company of friends or like minded individuals, and whilst beers at the cutting edge of what’s possible in a brewery will always have their place, the pursuit of something different, just for the sake of it, is a road which will eventually lead to nowhere.
By writing this I don’t wish to denigrate, in any way, the enthusiasm of the younger generation of beer enthusiasts in their pursuit of beer excellence. On the contrary I admire their keenness and zeal. I can remember acting with much the same sense of urgency in my desire to sample as many of the UK’s remaining cask beers, when I first discovered the delights of “real ale”.
I though am much further along the beer journey, described so succinctly by Tandleman, and I have learnt to savour the moment, rather than rushing on to try the next new beer, or the latest “in thing.” The younger generation will find this out for themselves, and my message to them is this doesn’t mean the end of trying to push the boundaries of beer. Instead you will find yourself appreciating beer all the more, and even beers you might consider as dull and boring, can have their place, given the right context or occasion.
To finish on a high note, Matt Curtis made the point, in his post, about the inherent value in a beer's “sense of place.” This is something I whole-heartedly agree with, as there is nothing quite like enjoying a world classic beer on its home patch. To use just a handful of examples, a nicely chilled glass of fresh, unpasteurised Pilsner Urquell, served up in the cavernous beer hall-cum-restaurant attached to the brewery in the city of Plzen takes some beating; even though I can enjoy the virtually the same beer in bottled form from my local supermarket.
Similarly, whilst I have a couple of bottles downstairs of the excellent Aecht Schlenkerla Märzen; Bamberg’s finest "smoke beer", I doubt they will taste anywhere near as good as the two Seidla’s (half litre glasses) I enjoyed, of the same beer, in the city’s wondrously unspoilt Schlenkerla Tavern, back in June 2015.
Finally, a mug of Harvey’s perfectly balanced Sussex Best Bitter, freshly drawn straight from a cask, and served with its characteristic loose head, in the public bar of the Cricketers at Berwick, nestling in the shadow of the South Downs, is another of life’s pleasures, but this time much closer to home. The same beer, served up in one of Tonbridge’s pubs, somehow isn’t quite the same. All these examples surely represent the very pinnacle of beer enjoyment, and are for me what makes travelling and beer hunting such a joy.