Monday, January 30, 2012

Why Beer Doesn't Matter, but Actually Does

I've just finished reading Evan Rail's new personal essay, Why Beer Matters. It's truly a phenomenal piece of writing. Rail explores not only his own relationship with beer—how it affects his career, his travel and his writing—but how beer affects everyone associated with it, from brewers to consumers. He takes you on a journey that spans the globe and ends up in his living room. It's a deeply personal and wonderfully beer-geeky experience, that he relates in a easy-to-come-by manner—It really is a fantastic work.

My only issue with it is, beer doesn't matter.

In a era of obese toddlers, car bombs, Somali pirates, multiple myloma, child pornography, global debt crises, oil spills, corrupt and violent political regimes, riotous dissidents, global warming, devastating nuclear disasters, Sarah MacLachlin's sad animals and tens of thousands of other, generally, shitty things—to bastardize a line from the film Casablanca—it doesn't take much to see that beer doesn't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. It really doesn't matter if Mikkeller makes a better product than Budweiser, nor is it any more important if Sierra Nevada moves to North Carolina or South Carolina or the moon (Well, maybe the moon bit might be a fairly unusual turn of events.) I doesn't make one bit of difference what I think, or Evan, or Stan Hieronymus, or Michael Jackson. CAMRA's stalwart position on real ale and the BA's "Passionate Voice of Craft Brewers" are truly unimportant to 99.9% of the world. Beer just doesn't matter.

Here's the thing, though—the amazing thing—beer does matter. I'm not going to analyze the way Evan expresses how beer  matters to him—you can read the essay yourself. To me, beer matters for one, simple, reason—it's a distraction. Whether it's being written about, being talked about or being drank, beer offers a break from the bad stuff. Arguing the finer points of cask versus keg beer is cathartic—even if the argument, gets heated. Where it's made, who's making it, how it's being made and who's drinking it is a non-issue debate that takes the mind off of murder or bad political policy, or even just an evening of the kids not sharing with each other. How many of us have taken a pint at the end of the day to wash away the worry and ware of the work day? It's been done for time immerorial—by our fathers who cracked open a cold one, and walked away from the television as it sputtered the news of a another closing plant or as it showed black, zipped bags being loaded onto green helicopters, lifting off from dense Vietnamese jungles. It was in the workhouses and factories of Victorian London, as men, women and children slaved away in squalorous conditions, for a pittance. Small beer being the only thing to lift their spirits—a half a pint at a time. Beer brings a wonderfully, distractive joy, as well. Cheering on the Mets with a hot dog and an ice cold, frothy, straw-colored lager in a plastic cup at Citi Field; two buddies having an intense discussion of the merits of Cascade versus Centennial hops in this weekend's upcoming brew session; a third or forth pint raised and paid for by the lads, down to pub, in congratulations on the birth of the first granddaughter; or in my own case, the simple joy of just writing about beer, is distraction enough. Whatever the circumstances—good, bad, or ugly—we're still talking about and drinking beer, and there are plenty of things far worse that could be occupying our time and discussions.

For as much as beer is unimportant, and for as many reasons to find why beer doesn't matter—it does matter, and from where I'm sitting, it always will.

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