Scottie’s Soapbox 3: Soap Hard with a Vengeance

5 Treasures Beer

or

The 5 Great Delights of Beer:

                My good friend, Frankie Framing-Device asked me the other day why I like beer. What is it actually about beer that I enjoy? The obvious answer might be the taste, but I remember a young boy sitting with his mate chatting about beer and asking why the adults drink the horrid stuff, and solemnly vowing to only drink Big M’s when they grew up. So where was that appreciation learned? The next obvious answer might be because getting boozed is fun, but then, why do I take such joy from drinking a 2.9% peach sour? Or a single tinnie, maybe two at the end of a day? So I actually sat to think about it and came up with the main reasons why, I think, I like beer.

                1) Deliciousness – If you’re familiar with my Soapbox, you know that I believe there is a beer for anyone and everyone. Whether you have a snobbish and esoteric approach to beer or you just like to head to the pub to eat a few glass sangas, you probably love the way that flavour rolls across your lips, your tongue, your palate, your gullet. The scouring effect of the carbonation that seems to burn away the stale saliva of thirst, the slight coating of resiny hops or sticky malt, the bitterness or the sweetness of fruit or coffee or chocolate or anything else you may find in there is delightful. That moment when that beer passes through your face, drawing the involuntary ‘mm-mm!’– it’s just delicious.

                2) Interestingness – This is one of those things that may not be for everyone. I’ll try anything twice, and it very much aligns with my interests to sample anything and everything, and maybe learn what I can about it along the way. Some will look with a sceptical eye at the newest things, the innovations and trends, and turn contentedly to Ol’ Faithful; if that’s where you find your joy, then that’s fine. Me, I like to try it all. And when you are blessed with a configuration you’ve never encountered before (it’s got what in it? A what kinda beer?) then there is a great deal of enjoyment to be taken from pulling it apart, and dissecting it – beer is not like a joke, or a frog, in that sense. When you pick up the newest release from that brewery you like, and perhaps you think to yourself “I liked their last couple of IPA’s, lets see what this one is about’, it can be immensely satisfying to sit with a glass and think ‘ok, this one is a little fruitier up front, but ends more bitter, I wonder what hops they used…’ etc. To sit with a glass of dark beer and think you’re about to have a gulp of something familiar, only to blindsided by something bizarre and new, well, that’s just incredibly interesting.

                3) Getting loose – Let it be known, this list was made in the order the points came to me, not in any particular ranking of importance. I think on some level, getting loose must be the ‘point’ of drinking. I don’t wish to advocate for this to be so, and I have not done the requisite reading to state this with any science behind it. But you see it when you look at apes and elephants stashing their fruit to let it ferment in order to get a little tipsy, or even outright rampagey. Or the tourist-robbing monkeys that get their thrills stealing cocktails right out of the hands of the beachgoers or scavenging the dregs from abandoned cups. Or when you go into the CBD, or literally any part of the UK on a Saturday night.

                Now, please don’t misunderstand me. Again, I’m not saying that this should be the case. I’m not saying it is good, or even right. I merely think it is. I have a long experience with booze, both professionally and before that as an enthusiastic amateur. But when I was a teenager making stupid decisions, I didn’t start drinking to see if I could detect the delicate botanical notes present in the brews. I didn’t begin drinking to give me a hobby that would give me untold hours of constructive pleasure in its dissection and comprehension. I didn’t even like the taste – I did it to get loaded. To be honest, to a greater or lesser extent, I did it simply because, in our society, it was what was done. To have fun. To unlock the parts of me that were tightly closed off. To open doors to rooms inside me that I never knew were there. To make the world sway gently. To loosen the collar, lighten the mood, and to ease the body. To give me the confidence to talk to girls. To give me some kind of cache to forge relationships with other men. Well, boys, really, at that point. To find my place in a society that for whatever reason placed drinking on some vaulted pedestal. And a lot of this still remains true, though perhaps to a lesser extent. My appreciation for the craft and skill in the nuance of it only came about when I passed through the other end of that.

                I think in some future, utopian society, this reasoning will look bizarre; sad, pitiable even. I think if people felt properly understood, and integrated, and appropriately tolerated or approved of, this might seem like some foolish pact with the devil – one of the odd, dark corners of some unknowable past. But until every boy and girl feels happy and confident, unjudged and accepted just as they are, they will always cast an eye towards the easy, elevating merits of the path of vice. Until a lot of psychic damage is undone in the collective unconscious, you’ll probably find adults still turning to it for solace. Again – not an advocation for it, merely an observance thereof.

                Boy, that got… dark. The simple truth is that it’s fun. Sometimes it’s just pleasant to hand off the reins to someone else, like letting someone else drive for a while on a roadtrip. Except the other person is booze, and the car is your brain. When it’s not troublesome self-medication, it’s fun and it feels nice.

                 4) Satisfaction – a well-placed beer at the right time can feel like a refreshing cool change on a hot day. It’s magic, that first, big, gulp after a hard day’s labour, the welcome shock of cold beer sluicing down your gullet on a long hot afternoon. Or even in the shower – that sensation of hot water cascading down over your head and shoulders even as frigid, fizzy freshness pours down your neck is unparalleled. After a rich, full session at the beach, or in the pool, or on the field, or the court, or at the gym, when you get a beer in your hands… man, that feeling is wonderful. A properly positioned beer at the tail-end of a long, hard day of niggling, finicky and persnicketty work; of dealing with the most unreasonable clients or colleagues, can simply wash the stress away. A long sip, an audible ‘aaah!’ and the tension just melts and fades. The shoulders drop, the muscles relax, the back eases and all is set right with the world again.

                 Traditionally this may be done at the pub, or perhaps once you got home from work, and the distinction is immediate and obvious as you pass out of one threshold and through another. But now, in a world where there is increasingly less delineation between personal time and work time, where emails and phonecalls and messages are always technically with us, and where for many of us there is simply no literal divide between work and home because we are working from the front room/spare bedroom/garage, there’s something mental that clicks over when you raise that beer to your lips, more than any other delicious refreshing beverage. A demarcation of what was (work) – and what now is (rest).

                I remember one fateful afternoon at the end of a particularly brutal run on the bottling line – the Meheen was at its most spiteful that sticky, humid day, struggling to package up a RIPA. The work was hard, the loads were heavy, it was hot, it was frustrating, and what could go wrong, did. It was a battle: that day was looooong. But I think I will remember, even to my dying day the pure, unadulterated satisfaction we all felt sitting around on a couple of spare pallets, drinking hour-old, fresh-as-it-gets, boozy, spicy, rye IPAs. Never was a thirst more hard-earned, and the best cold beer, was that RIPA. Sessionable? Hardly. You ask me after that day and I would tell you that was a big, complex, chewy 7% RIPA, best lingered over, and savoured. But that afternoon, it was nectar, and it watered some grateful honeybees like nothing else could.

                5) Facilitation – This is one of the more nebulous, and frankly, one of the most easily replaceable or substitutable ways to derive pleasure from beer. But nevertheless, it is a big one. Beer is a good excuse. A good excuse to catch up. A good excuse to get to know you. A good reason to stop, slow down and smell the roses. A good reason to reach out. A good way to bond. A good excuse for a chat. A good excuse to get close, or to reconnect. There is nothing – nothing – that feels the same as sitting at a busy pub table with your closest friends, a forest of pints and a flurry of chat between you. There is nothing like a couple of bottles of beer or cider on the beach, maybe some fish and chips and a few of your most beloved. There is very little like picking up on subtle signals as you relax and get to know a pretty little someone over a few cold ones. It’s so easy to chat for hours at a weathered wooden table in the beer garden of your local, or around that frosted-glass outdoor-setting in your friend’s backyard.

                Beer is a great facilitator of human interactions and relationships – some of the best moments of life take place over a few. Of course, it isn’t the only way – such joys can be taken from a shared meal, a hot cuppa. Sitting at a table with a wobbly leg out front of your favourite cafe. You can have equally magical conversations sitting, stone-cold sober, around a roaring fire under a dusty blanket of stars. Maybe over a game of something, or as lockdowns 1-6 have taught us, during a long meandering walk through a part of your city that you never realised was quite so green and lovely. But at the end of the day, a beer is a wonderful, relatively cheap and easy excuse that requires very little in the way of lead-time or prep to simply get together. It’s just a great excuse to take a moment with people who mean something to you – even if you enjoy it alone to just take a quiet moment with yourself.

                There are probably other reasons to like beer. It gives me inspiration – for example, I’ve put a few tens of thousands of words about it into this blog alone. Perhaps it, as Aldous Huxley might have it, helps to open the doors of perception and get the ol’ creative juices flowing. Also, it injects randomness into a life that can all too easily fall into predictable ruts, starting conversations between people with whom you might not usually talk, or causing you to find yourself in situations in which you might not usually find yourself. These may not always be brilliant moments of scintillating social repartee, but you learn as much and more from your boneheadedness as you do from your triumphs, neh? Beer is great. Looking back, it’s been present in a lot of my fond memories, and I’ll be happy to see it at a lot of my future ones too.

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