Are you in the mood for a beer? Of course you are. But what kind of mood are you in and what kind of mood is the beer that you fancy drinking in? Will there be a row when the two of you meet (and I’m not talking about the kind of tension that comes with badly made cask beer or under ripe keg), or will you get on famously and stay together for the next three glasses or so?
When I think about the mood of a beer, I like to try and guess what the beer in the glass is saying to me. Then I try and think about the kind of discourse I am having with the beer in my hand. What is this beer saying to me, what am I saying back to it? Or is this all a bit too fanciful, a conceit conjured after a few too many?
After all, many might sneer about the idea that a beer can have a soul, a mood, a way of influencing your life, an outlook even. After all, it is just a beer, an intoxicating liquid, coming along in different colours, aromatics and tastes, but it’s still a beer, to be drank and quickly forgotten.
On the other hand, I’ve always wondered about beer, always thought it could be something more than just an intoxicating liquid, a rhyme and a reason for talking to the person on the next table in the pub that you visit on a Sunday afternoon, or a clanking assemblage of carriages ready to take us through the journey we call life. I have always wanted it to be more; I have always wanted it to have its own life, its own personality — which takes me back to the mood of a beer.
So how do we define the mood of a beer, especially when this bottle or glass that you are admiring and trying to understand is just one of many from a single brew (and then there’s the next day’s brew of the same beer). I’m not interested in being pedantic, it’s a leap of faith, a imposition of the imagination, in the same way as you can believe a great meal has a soul or that a poem speaks directly to you. I’m suspending belief and believing in the mood of my beer.
Brief philosophical debate over, let’s move on to see how the beer can chime with our mood and act in harmony. If we are feeling contemplative, thoughtful, quiet almost, in need of some time spent alone, let’s look at the mood of a beer that might be best for this. There’s no need to pick a Czech-style Pilsner for instance, a blond, Saaz-ravished creature of light, chattering away in the glass, lively and loquacious, a great beer in its own right not in the right mood. This is a social beer.
Let’s not go for a saison either, angular and jazz-like in its free form on the palate, brisk and bustling in its mouth feel and sashaying across the tongue with its spice and fruit. That’s a beer for a different mood. Bucolic perhaps; this is a beer to make you think of a lonely Wallonian farmhouse with a history of brewing spanning generations and where the brewing kettle is still direct-fired (I’m looking at you Dupont!).
Instead, when we think about contemplation, maybe we think about stillness, about being in the eye of the storm, of being calm and collected and expecting a beer to possess those same virtues. It could be what Michael Jackson called a ‘book at bedtime’ beer, a slow-drinking barley wine to be enjoyed in a comfortable armchair while the weather does its worse outside. For that sort of contemplative beer I recall a glass of Duits & Lauret Winterstout on a wet night in a canalside bar in Amsterdam several years ago.
However, from my own personal experience, one of the more memorable contemplative beers in the past couple of years has been Alesmith’s Speedway Stout, a glass of which I enjoyed in the Pine Box in Seattle. Yes, the venue was lively and there was music playing, but I personally was thoughtful and contemplative and Speedway Stout was the very beer to mirror that mood. It was sombre in its darkness and its chocolate, coffee, roast grains and bitterness, alongside the heft and weight of its 12% alcohol, were calm and custom-made to be this beacon of tranquillity and contemplation within the noise of the bar (which incidentally used to be a funeral parlour and was where Bruce Lee was laid out — maybe this information helped with the mood).
The beer spoke to me, encouraged me to think about it, to think about its tastes, to enjoy and plug into every facet of its taste and aromatics. I was one with this beer, there was no other beer in the world that I’d rather have at that moment and I contemplated with it, communed with it, as deeply as if I was meditating or doing a session of yoga. This was the true meaning of the mood of a beer, a way of getting close to it, of enjoying without making a fetish of it.
I don’t always want contemplative beers. Sometimes I want social ones, like the Pilsner I mentioned; beers that ring like the finest lines of poetry or beers that are as adventurous as Errol Flynn playing Robin Hood. Beer has a mood, which if you allow yourself time and imagination can match your mood and add lustre and luminosity to your drinking life.
First published in Original Gravity
Adrian Tierney-Jones' The Seven Moods of Craft Beer is published by 8 Books and available at all good book shops.