On beer consumption

Guinness has been described — accurately I think — as “stout-flavoured water.” I had not drunk a tin of this liquid for many years, but in the course of a meeting of the secret society to which I happen to belong, I tried another last night. It was as I remembered.

A beer snob somewhere on the Internet made a list of the world’s most overrated beers. I was not surprised to find this Irish-multinational “dry stout” at the top of the list; or that Heineken, Yuengling, Blue Moon Belgian White, and “sour beers: every stinkin’ one of ’em,” made his top five. As a Canadian, let me add, without exception, every one of our mass-market national brands, starting with “Molson Canadian.”

Living in England in the 1970s, I recall what was dubbed a national campaign for “real ale,” which allowed some microbreweries to make inroads against things like Watney’s Red — a noxious chemical concoction from which life could never have evolved. The demands of low-class British tourists had carried this horror to the Canary Islands, and all over the world. But even the higher-caste pub chains served brews that could not withstand serious review by a cerevisaphile.

Indeed, I witnessed an unfortunate altercation in a Young’s pub once, in which an aficionado of “real ale,” whom I shall call Ian (for that was his name), lost his patience with a man extolling what was on tap, to a small group of smug upper-middle types elbowing the bar behind them. Ian tapped the enthusiast on the shoulder, who turned towards him with a big vacant smile.

“Excuse me, sir,” Ian inquired, in his best Oxbridge. “How long have you been a banana?”

The smiley gentleman then laid him out. The barkeep, acting as referee, leaned over Ian’s prone form, to administer the countdown. Ian was now permanently banned; I helped him hobble out. The enthusiast, a regular customer, could remain.

I am opposed, in principle, to starting fights in bars. I think my friend was actually in the wrong, though he protested that it was odd to be evicted from a pub for having been the object of violence.

Since, I have been trying to think of other ways to advance the cause of “real ale.” I have entertained such ideas as making the tax code friendlier to small enterprises, such as local breweries. But while I have come to oppose tax codes, tout court (much could be achieved by making all taxes voluntary), I do not think we can improve the quality of beer overmuch, by that means.

Ditto, while I should like to see the elimination of all mass-market “lifestyle” advertising, I have had to conclude that this should be done only as an end in itself. It would help make many international franchise operations extinct, but would not necessarily lead to the improvement of such beverages as they are currently supplying.

No; I have, with characteristic pessimism, had to conclude that the only way to improve standards in the production, distribution, and consumption of ales, pales, lagers, stouts, and what have you, would be for the individual drinkers to stop buying wretched, tasteless things. They must teach themselves to distinguish good from bad, if no one is available to teach them, and they must refuse to drink e.g. “stout-flavoured water” as a matter of acquired habit.

We must all become beer snobs. Our civilization depends on it.


SMALL BEER. — A reader, who is a home brewer, immediately asks if my objection to Guinness is to the “stout flavour” or to the “water.” Assuming it is to the water, he then asks if I would condemn all light-bodied beers? Ignoring the first question, I reply, that I do not object to small beers, designed and labelled as such, for consumption by children (before we send them to work in the fields). But the idea of a “light stout” is a perverse contradiction of terms and an outrage.