HAVE you ever tried writing after drinking? There’s allegedly been some research by some science-types at Albion College, Michigan which showed that being drunk actually helps the creative process – an idea both exciting and worrying in equal measure.
Another thing that apparently helps is being tired.
Of course, I presume there’s a limit to how far you can take this.
It must be subject to a law of diminishing returns when, downing your eighth bottle of 6% inspiration-juice, your fingers lurch on to a pen and begin a rambling diatribe against the world in a childish, unfathomable scrawl.
Drink has, however, been a source (should that be sauce?) of inspiration for many a writer down the years with alcohol and authorship closely linked.
But for Andy Mitchell, drink has been the muse for his creativity in a very different way: becoming the subject of his writing rather than the driving force behind it, reviewing a bottle of beer every single day for a year.
Now, before anyone pipes up to say they drink every day of the year too, this is 366 (leap year) different beers from across the world – and Stella and Corona weren’t among them.
“It was about trying different beer styles and breweries, and cover the full gamut of beer available, rather than just what’s available in the supermarkets,” says South Tyneside Homes worker Andy, 32, from Dunston. “It was about learning from recommendations on Twitter, and from brewers and publicans, which opened my eyes.”
Having taken an interest in the explosion of the North East beer scene over the last couple of years, he began last January (fittingly, with Newcastle Brown Ale) and proceeded to drink a bottle of beer every day come rain, shine or hangover.
He then wrote 500 words on his blog Oh Beery Me, discussing the history of the brewery concerned, the beer’s style and finally the taste and aroma. It’s a rare, palate-improving opportunity to be able to regularly drink and compare high quality artisan beer, taking time to consider flavours and the stories behind the beer.
And quality was every bit as important as quantity for the 366 beers.
“It’s easy to drink four cans of lager a night but you get nothing from it,” says Andy. “But this shows off that there are these wonderful boutique breweries. I had to find many online as you quickly exhaust locally bought beers, but that was half the fun. The idea was to cover all styles, from barley wines to stouts to porters to IPAs, so this was a real exploration.”
Inevitably, that exploration comes at a price. While drinking beer every evening might sound like a year of pleasure, anything – however enjoyable – can turn into a job if you have to do it even when you don’t want to and there were several times when Andy thought he might give up. Most notably, when faced with a friend’s stag do which included London, Cologne and Amsterdam, he dutifully bought beers from each city beforehand and wrote a fistful of reviews to cover the time he would be away. Dedication.
“Or stupidity,” he laughs.
And, while you might learn more about beer this way, the focus of pouring, eyeballing, sniffing, tasting and finally reviewing every beer that passes your lips can inevitably detract from the simple pleasure of just enjoying a glass with friends.
“I’ve improved my palate,” says Andy. “We’re all guilty of not thinking enough about what we’re drinking. Sometimes you just want to get it down you. But I’m really glad it’s over – it’s been beautiful to just sit and enjoy a beer, although I’ve only had one in the last nine days!”
Then there is the financial cost. Starting at £2-3 per bottle for the first, locally sourced beers, postage and rarity added to the expense of later brews and Andy was soon spending £300-400 per month on the project. The most expensive, De Struise Rio Reserva from Belgium, weighed in at £35.
But the investment has paid dividends. He has come across stunning beers, bottled joys such as Kernel’s Imperial Brown Stout (9.2%) and Magic Rock’s Bearded Lady (Imperial Brown Stout 10.5%) – even Timothy Taylor’s Landlord (4.3%), an unexpected pleasure which he’d previously overlooked.
And he hasn’t just come across flavours, but stories too. One beer, Short’s Bellaire Brown (6.6%) from Michigan, stood out not only for the flavour but for the tale behind it; a love of beer and the near-impossible struggle to bring it to the community via a cobbled-together brewery and converted-hardware-store pub. It’s a tale of dedication and passion that applies to many breweries.
“It’s eaten so much of their time and money. It’s their livelihood and there aren’t big profit margins in it; and it’s happening all over the world,” says Andy.
“It’s not like working in an office; these are people putting in 14 hours a day starting at 5am and that’s amazing.”
Along with brewing and beer knowledge, a sharp palate and sheer staying power to see it through, Andy’s year shows off the power of beer and its place in our humanity. What comes out most from the project is the stories, whether from breweries, beer style histories, or simply from enjoying a cherished bottle with friends.
It’s fitting that Andy finished Beer 366 back, in more ways than one, where it all started – with his dad on New Year’s Eve, sharing a Newcastle Brown Ale Otterburn Special 600 from 1988 (4.5%), which had stayed with the Mitchell family for 24 years.
As it happened, the beer turned out to be fantastic and a hark back to the better days of Broon, but it exemplified more than that.
“I said in the blog that beer’s a social lubricant but also a social glue – it loosens tongues but also brings people together,” says Andy.
“It’s about drawing people together through beer.”
It was about learning from recommendations on Twitter, and from brewers and publicans