Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Ales and Graces

In my last post I (wrongly) suggested that a fellow blogger thought 750ml beers would have appeal because the wine-style bottle lends an air of class. Where would I get such an idea? It is surely not the case that upstart beer looks to its old money counterparts of wine, scotch and so on, for stylistic guidance as it hammers on the highfalutin door of haute cuisine acceptance. Or is it?

It is a point to ponder as I sip my "Chatoe Rogue Single Malt Ale" and eye the bottle of "Phillips Centennial single hop IPA" on the shelf. It's not that brewers have suddenly started constructing beers around the charms of individual ingredients, but they are certainly much keener on letting you know about it. A good dose of beermakers' innovative energy seems to go into emulating the mores and methods of vintners and distillers.

I have even heard talk of terroir creeping into more interviews with brewers. And what are fresh hop IPAs becoming if not the Beaujolais Nouveau for the taproom terroir-istas?

Beer drinkers and writers are just as keen to associate themselves with the snobbier aspects of wine and spirits. Take the growing interest in cellaring, aging and pairing beer. For centuries the battle was to get ale drunk as quick as possible. Aging was an unfortunate necessity that was offset by the addition of preservative ingredients. And pairing? In my own lifetime, before pubs turned into casino-eateries, the closest you'd get to a pairing option in your everyday beer-drinking life would be a packet of KP roasted nuts or some flayed pig skin. 

Of course, the critical question is this: Is it that an appreciation for the contribution of single ingredients, the one-off styles permitted by seasonal quirks, the varied development of flavour through aging, the culinary counterpoints of grog-meets-grub, and all the other things we associate with wine and scotch culture, are in fact part of the natural enjoyment of any refined sustenance-stuff — beer being long overdue similar status?

Or is beer becoming the nouveau-riche, seeking gentrification through emulation, buying a new BMW instead of waxing the Beetle, slinging Christian Dior handbags round its neck, attempting to disguise its proletarian accent while shielding its bad teeth as it signs up for membership at the golf club?

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