Sometimes, something will simply float through your defences. You’re ready to go, you’re forewarned and thus forearmed, and you know what you’re about to experience. But just occasionally, something you think you have a pretty good handle on will sneak through your defences and blindside you.
Take, for example, Watership Down. Ostensibly, it’s a book about rabbits. Talking bunnies! What could go wrong with that? And then you read it and, to quote Al Murphy, “fucking hell“. So you learn. You learn what nightmares are, from your book, or your special four-tape set, or your bunny cartoon video which introduces you to the concepts of death, genocide, precognitive visions of doom, murder, loss, and environmental destruction among other things. You learn about xenofiction, and you learn that bunnies ain’t necessarily just bunnies.
Or perhaps – and you may have to be a little older to have been broadsided by this one – but perhaps you experience anime for the first time in a society that hasn’t yet been saturated by it or its bizarre pornography. It’s just cartoons, right? Cartoons are for children. These will be fine. So someone brings some tapes to school to watch at lunchtime, tapes with weird names like Urotsukidoji, or Wicked City, or Ninja Scroll. And the opening sequences are new and interesting – is that, like, neo-noir?* Oh, sick, ninjas! And then… oh boy, and then… You may have left that classroom (lunchtime – no teachers around, obviously) with some questions. Where was that spider lady spinning her web from? What did that rock demon guy say he would do? And, jumping jiminy, so much nudity and just so much blood. And you learn. You learn new nightmares, maybe some budding paraphilias, and you learn that different cultures have learned that something like animation is simply a medium through which to tell stories and that it is not necessarily one restricted solely to kids.
*Call this one dramatic license – you may not have a nuanced understanding of genre at 10 years old
The same sentiment can be true of beers these days – you think you know beer but they can still be sneaky and blindsiding nonetheless. The old timers had their own shorthand when it came to beer. And I’m not here to educate you on old-timey beer slang, but one of the more common, still in use and one you’ve almost certainly heard, is the term ‘heavy’. ‘Pot of heavy, thanks love’.
For those uninitiated, this means a ‘full-strength’ beer, one with a ‘high’ alcohol content. Usually somewhere around 4 and a half, maybe 5 percent. And these would, like as not, be served perishingly cold in small glasses, just right to polish off at the end of a hard day. And this is all well and good. There is a certain amount of thought that goes into this. A pot of heavy is approximately one standard drink, which makes it easier to monitor your intake. But the thing is, the beers I’m drinking these days, more often than not, run well above that. The most interesting beers can flit all around those ABV windows, easily over 7-10% on a big IPA, and don’t even get started on the imperial stouts – they can easily clock in at the same booze concentration as a bottle of wine. Of course the sours I also favour can often run as low as 2.5-3.5%, so, y’know, these things run a gamut. I know this, you know this.
But the dilemma I face is that a four and a half percenter, even a cheeky five percenter feels almost like a light beer to me these days. Indeed, I’ve had a session IPA** that clocks in at 5% – and still classifies itself as a session IPA. I feel like this is probably due to the fact that the beersperson’s craft is advanced enough these days that everything just tastes so delicious. 8% stout? Perhaps a little rich, but nonetheless chocolatey and delightful. 7.5% IPA? Hoppy and fruity and fresh and moreish. Yes, I will take another please, landlord. Perhaps the hoppy bitterness applies just enough of a gentle tap on the brakes that the experience lengthens out, but often there is little of the acrid, oily residue so commonly found when I was wetting my beak in the world of fancy-lads beers, when hops where scattergunned randomly at a brew and ‘more is more’ was the catch-cry. The booze heat is no longer thrumming through most big brews like a hot wire, as if someone has poured heated brandy straight into your glass.
**Mosaic My Day Single Hop Hazy Session IPA from Dainton Brewing
Point I’m making is this; you sit at a bar*** and you have a pint, and it goes down at the same rate as it used to, back when you drank 4.7% lager. Except it’s nearly double that sometimes, and all you can taste is stonefruit and citrus. You’re chatting away nineteen to the dozen, and a few pint glasses build up, but you leave after only two hours because you have things to do and gosh darn it, you’re a responsible, adult, human being. But what is this? Why am I drunk? I only had three beers? Did I get roofied? No, I haven’t left my seat yet, surely not. And you realise that the sneaky culprit is actually prodigiously talented brewers who have learned to handle their yeast, and their hops, and their temperatures and can sling flavour and brews so clean that you’re drunk five times before you hit the ground. Or something.
***In a pub! A real pub! Pinch me! I know I keep going on about it but it is lovely to be back out in the world again, neh?
So what do we learn from this? This is a question as yet unanswered by me. Perhaps just to slow down and savour, and to appreciate the brew more. Be a little more wary, and look for all the nuance that is in that frosty glass. If you’re lucky, you shouldn’t develop any troubling new kinks or nightmares from the experience. If you’re lucky.