I’m writing this late on Saturday night, so late in fact it is Sunday morning. I’m home alone. I’m two fingers through a second three finger glass of Auchentoshan Three Wood and I’m listening to Tom Waits ‘Rain Dogs’. It is fair to say I’m feeling pretty metaphysical.
I was trying to pin down what it is that makes me love Tom Waits so very much. Was it the voice that sounds like ‘it was soaked in a vat of bourbon, left hanging in the smokehouse for a few months, and then taken outside and run over with a car’ or is it the jazzy, folky, late night smoky sounds of his first few albums or the semi-industrial and vaudeville sounds of his later albums? What I realised is the common thread that runs through all his music is that he tells stories well. I know he isn’t perhaps the gin soaked gutter rat he tells the stories of that he was in the 70’s anymore but Bruce Springsteen isn’t the blue collared boy he was either. He isn’t the apprentice working on the shop floor, he is The Boss now, but I forgive him that too. Close your eyes and listen to ‘Gun Street Girl’ you can see ‘John’ falling in love with the girl from the wrong side of the tracks, going on a crime spree, holing up, hidden from the police, drinking bad booze, losing the girl to a rich guy and ending up in the Birmingham jail. You are the drunk panhandler sitting in the gutter, sharing a bottle of Thunderbird wine, reminiscing about your old pal John who is in jail.
Same goes for beers. A lot of the great ones tell great stories. There are the obvious ones, Cantillion’s Zwanze Day for instance a single barrel of spontaneously fermented beer that changes every year, kegged then sent round the globe to a handful of locations to be drunk in a universal, worldwide toast to celebrate. There is Dark Lord Day in the US- Three Floyds brewery in Indiana brew a monster (but slightly sticky, sickly, cloying in my opinion) imperial stout once a year. They sell tickets in advance so that you can stand in a long line and buy just two bottles of it. In the US it has near mythical status as a beer and as event. I haven’t been myself, but friends have and said it was hectic, hot and pretty unpleasant. Not my idea of fun. Great mythology though. Russian River in San Francisco have a small run triple IPA called Pliny The Younger people go nuts for. It only gets released for two weeks a year at a small number of bars.
The story of a beer can go so much further than what the brewery tells though. Much like the beer itself, once it leaves the brewery and into someone’s glass it becomes someone else’s property to do with as they see fit. They attach their own stories. One of my favourite beers is Jendrain Jendranouille IV Saison, I first drank it with four mates in the newer Moeder Lambic bar in Brussels. We’d all gone over for the Weekend of Spontaneous Fermentation about four years ago. We’d been staying four up in a cheap hotel in the centre of Brussels on the noisiest street in the universe. The room had the damp, heavy air of a small space occupied by four blokes who have been drinking too much sour beer and eating junk food for three days. Fusty doesn’t even begin to cover it. The glasses of beer we shared were rays of sunlight jinking through the dusty, moth eaten curtains that enshrouded us.
We still get drunk and talk about that beer. The figurative panhandlers in the gutter, sharing story about an old friend who is unreachable now.