Beer Hunter Whisky Chaser

Beer Hunter, Whisky Chaser (Classic Expressions: ISBN 978-1-906000-04-2)

“Before British beer can be enjoyed, experience is required, but the same could be said for sex. In both cases, mistakes are invariably made, but the triumphs make the disasters worthwhile”

Michael Jackson, being quoted by Gavin D. Smith at the start of the thirteenth chapter of this book. A quote that says a lot about beer, people, this book in particular, and Michael Jackson in specific. Also a quote which I was fairly sure would make you lot read on, which is also why I picked it.

I’ve put off reviewing this book for a while, not because of its dedications to the late great Yorkshireman Michael Jackson, though he is greatly missed for his knowledge and writings. No, I took a long time to review this as it is the book that has, for a long time, resulted in me writing less articles than I previously intended. Obviously, a book about one of the great beer and whisky writers was not intended to deter someone from writing about the self same items. So why did it?

Because this book is a selection of articles from some of the greats in the business, and covers so many areas I love – the cultural and food influences of beer, the memories and tales, and they do it far better than I had imagined. So to prevent myself from inadvertently plagiarising I have delayed those articles until I feel I have something new to offer. So, as you can imagine, I am impressed with the writing in this book.

We have the memories and tales of Michael Jackson, a small part of a book that otherwise sets itself the task of looking forwards rather than backwards, with only the introduction and the entry of Carolyn Smagalski concentrating on his life. These moments are short but poignant, setting the scene for the rest of the articles.

My most beloved of the articles can be summed up thematically as to do with the items outside of beer that influence beer, be it Stephen Beaumont’s article which digs into the time and place for different beers, questioning with it the idea of an objective experience of beer outside of that context. The simple test performed of drinking a hoppy ale at different times of the day to show how it differs is a great example of this article’s explorations. From the other side Ian Buxton dissects some of the traditional imagery called to in the Whisky world, and of the rallying call of authenticity, in a way that reminds me of a similar critique of music and authenticity in the pages of Warren Ellis’ Doctor Sleepless. Finally Lucy Saunder’s article on food and beer mixes well painted visions of the quirks of beer cooking past and its place in present time – using these images to educate, amuse, providing plentiful evidence to lead up to the concluding quote from Randy Mosher

“How is it that wine, the beverage that claims primacy at the table, can completely write off soup and salad courses, spicy cuisine and most vegetables, is weak-kneed in the presence of cheese, and can only feebly whisper ‘port’ when the subject of chocolate comes up”

The next set of articles in my mind are those of the tales and histories, life stories that bring the personal to the abstract. From the thematically twinned tales of entrance to the journalism scene tales from John Hansell and F Paul Pacult which reveal some of the fire and passion in the lives behind their words, to the two odd outliers of Dave Broom and Hans Offringa. Dave Broom’s tale is , while only tangentially about the drinking of whisky, a wonderful insight into the oft overlooked area of packing and shipping whisky and the slice of life within it. Even today the tales explains a lot, predominantly the amount of broken bottles found in delivered packages. Hans Offringa on the other hand delivers a wonderful history of a very special cask of whisky, and bringing a feel of mythology into the simple consumption of a dram.

Finally are, to my mind, the weakest articles, not for their content, which are as high quality as any, but because they seem to lack some of the speak of the personal that the others envelop. Julie Johnston, Conrad Seidl, Gavin D Smith and Charles MacLean bring the history of American Beer, German Beer, British Beer and Malt Whisky respectively to life. Of them the two the most familiar, that of British Beer and Malt Whisky, seemed the least of interest to me, most likely due to their familiarity already. The dive into the past of German beer, and hints to the small upsurgence in variety however grabs the attention with promise of little known beers to be found with but a trip, and a journey away from the tourist route, and is the stand out amongst this section. Also within this we have Roger Protz on lagering, another fine article that only suffers for a professional clarity that results in the lack of the immense humane warmness that fills most of the rest of the book, but that is no insult to its quality or accuracy.

So, you may have noticed I have done little critiquing comparatively here. Well, it is because it is hard to, this is a book by some of the best writers in the business, bringing their knowledge, memories, and love to the fore and these elements shine through. I cannot think of a better honour to Michael Jackson’s memory and it is a testament to his influence that this has come to be made with such a feeling of energy and intimacy.

A fine tome, ignore those “X beers to try before you die” and get your hands on this instead, it is infinitely more rewarding for any of us who enjoy to imbibe.