Monday, November 17, 2014

Getting Old & Beer

I suppose, as a writer, occasionally one must sacrifice the subject at hand for whatever preys upon the mind.  So it is today.

I am not much like a man of 50.  I am not that disturbed by what's on the screen at the theatre or that the country is going to hell in a handcart.  I do not bitch and moan about taxes or the cost of gas or all the ways that average individuals refuse to obey the traffic laws or how in my day people were a lot more polite.  I will admit that the service in restaurants was better some decades ago, but at the same time I must also confess I give a lot less of a shit about things like good service.  I'm perfectly happy to get my food, however surly the server happens to be this afternoon.  I did work as a cook once. Now matter how unhappy the server may be when at your table, this is nothing compared to how the server is in speaking to the cooks.

Nor have I somehow become disturbed by technology nor the way the young are supposedly more promiscuous today than they once were.  They're not, by the way - it only seems that way because it is possible to post, replay or discuss such moments repeatedly and endlessly.  I'm very sure that Loni Anderson or Farrah Fawcett were fucking everything that moved in 1978 (yes, I know those names are unknown to many of you), but the 'proof' of such things came in a few soiled magazines that could easily be ignored.  Whatever the case, I don't find myself particularly moved that the Miley-naked-on-a-wrecking-ball won best MTV video . . . well sure, why not, it has to have been the most talked about music video of the year.  Hate means as much as Love in this culture - they're both passionate sides of the same coin.  "Best" means "Loudest" - and from all this noise it managed to emerge into even the cloistered walls of tired marketing business meetings this year.

At 50 I'm entirely comfortable with the proliferation of sex.  I think of my parents at this age, when I was 22, hearing their tireless drone about the death of decent culture in . . . well, let's see, that would have been 1986.  Yes, the pornographic horror show represented by television like Dallas and L.A. Law.  Sigh.  Yeah, I'm good with internet porn.  It's fine.  It has a place.

Mostly, I find myself annoyed with things I can no longer get.  Like decent beer.

I was invited out to a sort-of-hipster bar in town that caters mostly to wannabe artistic posers who have, in their thirties, barely reconciled with the reality that grunge is over and everything they ever dreamed of being in high school is now impossible.  Just about the time they were in high school, however, and aching about for cheap beer to assuage their Teen Spirit, a group of entrepreneurs realized that the ability of people to recognize the difference between bitter and sour was seriously for shit.  Some of these entrepreneurs that were geographically local took it upon themselves to create what is now hipsterishly called a 'micro-brewery.'

Through a strange process we call technology and development, over the course of thousands of years it was discovered that the larger the container in which one brewed beer, the greater the separation between the clear, desirable liquid at the top of the mash tun and copper and the crap that gathers at the bottom.  By creating really large vessels, in the neighborhood of 25,000 gallons or more, a satisfying, bitter beer could be drained off, a beer that was not also sour and weak.

Microbreweries generally cook beer in containers that are between 3,000 and 10,000 gallons, where the wort and the sparge water are collected at the same time, producing a completely shit-tasting beer that - through a process that I shall describe soon - has now become considered "the way beer should taste" in the minds of ignorant hipsters.  To this crowd of people, beer without that back-room floor mop taint tastes 'weak' or 'flavorless.'

How has this happened.

Well, it is all a brain thing.  The micro-brewery industry in the mid-90s (and probably earlier in other parts of the world - I live in the dog's armpit, culturally) was able to get itself off the ground by selling beer as much as 25% cheaper.  This meant that virtually everyone between the age of 16 and 19 was disposed to spend less money on more beer that - however shit the alcohol content - at least kept the average teenager's mouth full.  During that crucial four-year period, however, beer goes from something you drink so you don't look like a loser to something you drink because you've actually adjusted and adapted to the flavour.

Only the flavour they began adapting to in the 90s was the sour flavour of micro-brewed beer.  Or as I think of it, badly brewed beer.  Fuck.  They might as well make their beer in a bathtub.

For twenty years, however, I haven't had to care.  I mean, fuck it, so they drink their swill and that's their problem.  Philistines.

Except, of late - and I mean in the last year or so - I've come across two conditions that have begun to annoy me.

The first is that this is now becoming the only kind of beer available.  At least, in this country.  I have to go more and more out of my way to find a decent German beer or even a pint of Guinness, which is inconceivable to me.

The second is that bar staff are becoming profoundly aggressive in selling their micro-brewed shit to me.  There are now about two hundred such breweries in Canada and the business has become very competitive, so much so that just to get their beer into a bar the breweries will underprice themselves in the hopes that someone will get a taste for what they're making.  This has allowed many bars - hipster bars - to specialize in not specializing their beer, because they can get it all cheap, cheap, cheap.

This has led to a certain thought process that says, "Hey, we have 62 kinds of beer, there must be one that you like!  Let me rattle off all their names to you right now!"

Except, of course, that every single one of them is shit.  Something that you cannot explain to the annoying, anxiously pitching server because the server doesn't know fuck all about how beer is made or even that there is such a thing as a science of making beer.

And people ask why I'd rather be living in Europe.

On three occasions in the last three months, I have had to get rude with a server just to get them to shut the fuck up and stop giving me brand names, so that I can tell them I'll have a Glenfiddich instead.

Somehow, this feels connected to my getting old.  Still, the porn is better now.


James said...

I don't know if this is a factor of age, as I am significantly younger than you and I face the same frustrations with bartenders trying to give me vodka when I want gin, or staring at me blankly when I order really basic cocktails.

I think my generation just sucks at drinking.

Unknown said...

It's interesting how much our tastes change for all sorts of comestibles. What passed for beer during the periods of time in which most D&D campaigns are set must have been really awful stuff. There's a number of videos on YouTube that demonstrate how to make ale the medieval way, which was certainly on a far smaller scale than what microbreweries are producing, and from the reactions there it doesn't seem to suit the modern palette at all. Even in those days it tended to go off quickly and seems to have been the cause of a great deal of vomiting. We all take what we can get, I suppose, but Guiness is a rare treat where I live, too.

By the way, Alexis, in one of your price lists some time back you had listed a sack of malt for what seemed to me an exorbitant price, and I wondered if you wouldn't mind going into how you arrived at the number. I have a character setting up a brewery in my campaign and by the calculations it should have been far less expensive, or simply something that characters should be able to make themselves by soaking grain in burlap sacks over the course of a few days. The brewery my player has set up is in an area that produces ample grain and barley, and I would think the owners of alehouses in the area would all be making their own malt quite cheaply.

--Tremain Xenos

Alexis Smolensk said...

The price for "malt" was based on world production for malted grains vs. the total amount of beer produced. Remember that cost for malt depends on where in the world you happen to be; there are only a few places that make malt that they don't intend to then use for beer, so naturally the price will be high.

My numbers for statistics show that world production in 1988 were not quite 10,000,000 tons; that's not actually very much. Divided by 500, as all my products are, that's only 200,000 tons - worldwide. That makes it rare enough that a large sack of it is bound to be expensive.

Mic B said...

No matter on what you write, it always gets me thinking. I live at the other end of the same country (for american readers, that would be the province of Quebec) and we do have a large amount of micro-brewerie.

The "beer-scene" here is much different it seems, most of our local breweries are not on the cheap side but marketed as upscale (sometimes massively so). You mentionned guiness as a good beer, would you care to give some more exemples?

Alexis Smolensk said...

No, I will definitely give no examples. That just becomes a pointless exercise. I did not mention the brand names of the beer I did not like, did I?

As far as the beer being cheap/expensive, I think you may have misunderstood me. It is cheap for the bars to buy from the manufacturer - they then mark it up crazily and charge far more than its worth to the customers, who are mystified by brand names and willing to pay the price.

Dave said...

Interesting! Stateside, I continue to seek out and try new flavors of malted beverages, and there's been a great proliferation of them here. I tend to prefer porters and stouts, but like to try all sorts.

My biggest complaint isn't about beers, it's about clueless bartenders when I order a good scotch. I drink it neat and I'm (a slow learner) continually surprised by the vacant stares when I say things like, "A MacAllan 18, neat." "Uh, you want that on ice?" AAARGH!

Alexis Smolensk said...

I so agree, Dave! Glenfiddich or Glenlivet on ice? Mon dieu!

I wonder how many readers will appreciate how appropriate it is to swear in French over Scottish liquor.

As an aside, I have a long history with vodka as well, Dave - where my issue is the insistence on bars keeping the vodka stored at room temperature.

Mine is buried deep in my freezer, where it belongs.