l - is for literature

In an earlier blog I misquoted (deliberately, to prove a point, because we brewers are canny like that) an old adage. Writing about music is like dancing about architecture, for all the effect it has. This is most definitely not the case when writing about alcohol, or more specifically, beer. It’s a subset of literature with much to say for itself. There is so much out there, so much imagery, so much beauty and power in writing about alcohol and - alas - what it makes (or doesn’t make) you do. We can only agree with the timeless wag (their name now lost to the ages) who said that drinking has a literature problem. I bet when they said that they were in an old timey country pub next to the end of the bar by the fire, with a half finished pint of mild and they were so proud of themselves they repeated it six times to anyone who would listen. 

 

Here are some of my favourite quotes about the good stuff. Let’s start with Shakespeare, as it should do if you think about it. Cans open and let’s get sophisticated. 

 

‘Come, gentlemen, I hope we shall drink down all unkindness’

  • The Merry Wives of Windsor: Act 1, Scene 1. 

 

This is I think my favourite quote about booze. I love the idea of furthering kindness by drinking. I love the idea that something can be drunk down and that something is unkindness. I love that it is slightly noble in its address; adding a sophistication to that most natural of links between gentlefolk-  a friendly drink. 

 

We could also point to one of the most famous lines from that most patriotic of Shakespeare’s plays, Henry V.

 

‘Would I were in an alehouse in London! I would give 

all my fame for a pot of ale and safety’

  • Henry V, Act 3, Scene 2

 

On the eve of battle, you can almost hear the plaintive cry: “Take me away from the unexpected horror of the battlefield and whisk me away to my cosy local, far away from the dreadfulness.” Is Shakespeare saying that having a beer is better than dying in a war? Well, yes. I get that this is hardly a groundbreaking emotional insight. But is he doing it via a mastery of the English language that in 400 years has never been bettered? Also yes. 

 

Consider here James Joyce’s “Ulysses,” undoubtedly a masterpiece by any yardstick. Here we find possibly the most florid description of beer making (and the theory goes that he is talking about the man who made Guinness, btw):

 

‘...for they garner the succulent berries of the hop and mass and sift and bruise and brew them and they mix therewith sour juices and bring the must to the sacred fire and cease not night or day from their toil, those cunning brothers, lords of the vat.”

  • James Joyce, Ulysses 

 

Martyn Cornell blogs on this very subject and describes another literary giant much better than I ever could. He describes Charles Dickens as ‘..the novelist of inns, taverns and pubs’, which is hard to argue with really. Pubs and inns and taverns and ale houses occur as frequently in his writing as Citra does in any modern double dry hopped single hop IPA (an excellent brewing joke there). Dickens was writing about an age defined by social drinking. The pub illustrated so many different echelons within a neat cross section of society. Indeed, some of the pubs are almost characters in his book. Look to David Copperfield, in which Mrs Micawber says 

 

“I have long felt the Brewing business to be particularly adapted to Mr. Micawber. Look at Barclay and Perkins! Look at Truman, Hanbury, and Buxton! It is on that extensive footing that Mr. Micawber, I know from my own knowledge of him, is calculated to shine; and the profits, I am told, are e-NOR-MOUS! But if Mr. Micawber cannot get into those firms – which decline to answer his letters, when he offers his services even in an inferior capacity – what is the use of dwelling upon that idea? None.”

  • David Copperfield, Charles Dickens

 

Literature is not just about writing about beer, or drinking a beer and writing about it. I refer you to Tobias Carrol, in his excellent blog Electric Literature. 

 

‘Beer has more connections to the literary world than you might imagine. There’s the obvious thing, where being a writer makes you want to drink. There’s the obsessive nerd factor. And there are also similarities between creative writing and making beer: some people revisit traditional forms, others want to experiment, and in recent decades, there’s been an increase in the number of upstarts — both indie presses and craft breweries — creating something for a small but dedicated audience.’

 

Perhaps the most Friendship Adventure related quote is from something more modern and, frankly, more bonkers than the above. When we founded FA we didn’t have this in mind - we came across it afterwards - but when one of us read it a bell chimed somewhere and it’s become part of the company ethos somehow; an accidentally apt description of something after the fact. 

 

“There is an ancient Celtic axiom that says ‘Good people drink good beer.’ Which is true, then as now. Just look around you in any public barroom and you will quickly see: Bad people drink bad beer. Think about it. “

 — Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

 

I’ll leave you with two things. Three of my favourite books that contain / are about / are influenced by brewing, and one final - indulge me - quote from Shakespeare. After all, it is sound advice. 

 

  • The Old Devils by Kingsley Amis. Old pub friends reunite in later life and go on one hell of a welsh bar crawl that starts eye wateringly close to breakfast. Personalities clash and everyone is fallible but everyone tolerates each other in an endearingly sweet way. 

  • Carry On Jeeves by P G Wodehouse. The first time Bertie meets Jeeves he has one hell of a hangover and Jeeves comes to his aid with a closely guarded rescue remedy drink that makes all beer lovers think; what if?  

  • Billie Holiday’s memoir, Lady Sings the Blues, is a searing account of her life as a brilliant artist, a heroin addict, simultaneously worshipped as a siren of sorrow and persecuted by a legal system structured by systemic racism (says the Guardian in its review). Booze runs like a glimmering ribbon through these pages – she even makes moonshine from potato peelings while incarcerated – but Holiday emerges as a figure far more nuanced and human than her mythic image. In one memorable scene, she cooks red beans and hamburger meat – out of cans, heated with steno fuel – for the entire staff of her London hotel

 

‘The best beer is where priests go to drink. For a quart of Ale is a dish for a king’

 

  • The Winters Tale, Act IV Scene 2

Written by friendship-adv Admin