Sunday, July 1, 2007


A belated, short reply to Ninja by way of a beer essay

The first time this blog came out, I was deluged with email and messages from friends and people I didn't know from inside the country and outside. It was a delight.

Those who have visited the Kamuning Republic have seen the collection, which continues to grow, and there have even been a few lucky ones whose visit coincided with an opening of an odd or grand brew. But to the folks who have not had the chance to drop by the KR along with people who periodically inquire about past and recent happenings in my pilsen-paved sojourns, I've set up this (still inadequately maintained) online log of a beeraholic's adventures. As I've often told the good vice-happy folks out there, the beer bottle collection is first and foremost an alcoholic journal, written for my two kids. Each bottle in the collection has tasting notes and morsels of memory -- matters that have to do with flavor and finish, what I had with the beer, where it came from, the brew's origin, who I had the beer with and where I consumed it, and so on.

The accounts have intrigued quite a few beer advocates, many of whom have sent comradely (and envious) tidings. A world class procrastinator who wears too many hats, I've neglected to answer some of the questions thrown my way, one of the first of which was from Ninja, whose question actually served as ballast to this post. She asked, "What is the essence of beer?"

To the true beer fan, this is a fundamental inquiry, and I think it's the right thing to ask. I mean, we're dealing with essential truths here, and while I'd probably get the vital stuff from Stevie Nicks, I think today it's best to answer Ninja's ask while chewing on holy bread from Dave Barry:

"Without question, the greatest invention in the history of mankind is beer. Oh, I grant you that the wheel was also a fine invention, but the wheel does not go nearly as well with pizza."

Amen to that. Or almost amen. The gospel of pints is perpetual and the frothy faith has many interpretations.

Take the Germans, for instance. Some of them actually believe only German beer can be considered real beer, and to justify the chauvinism, they'd probably quote the Reinheitsgebot, a Purity Law which "insists that beer be made only from malted barley (and water and hops)." Which is quite understandable -- yeast wasn't in use yet when the legislation was introduced in 1516. And according to experts, the Germans do have a point, because the assertion is supported by etymology, the word 'barley' being a derivative of "beer-like".

That gives the Germans a claim on almost everything. Or almost nothing. "Beer is as old as civilization," Roger Protz tells us, and its an essential point -- one that should make you reevaluate civilization itself and revisit Ninja's question. What is the essence of beer? The answer may actually be more essential than you think.

A decade ago, wise folks from Cambridge University made the startling assertion that stood history on its head. Based on the work of Dr. Delwen Samuel, "who specializes in analysing ancient forms of food and drink," it was "alcohol that had convinced the ancients to stop wandering the fertile valleys of the Nile and the Euphrates, and settle down to grow grain."

Beer came first, not bread.

Poor Marie Antoinette. Maybe she was right.

Everyone else can eat their cake -- but please serve us our daily brew. (Some beers should actually be classified as liquid cake, but that's another story) #

NOTES: He writes thrillingly about our favorite subject -- if you see one of his books in National Bookstore or Powerbooks, get 'em -- but he has no relation to the Honorable Thriller. Regarding the Purity Law, see: Michael Jackson, "Why the Germans should win...", 7 June 2006. There are plenty of great online beer sites and Jackson's is one of them (among my favorites is See also Roger Protz, The Taste of Beer: A Guide to Appreciating the Great Beers of the World (Weidenfeld and Nicolson: London, 1998)


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