I've heard it said that the life of a writer is a pretty good one. You're (often) your own boss. Your daily commute involves nothing more than walking to your study, or whichever part of your home you use for writing (Roald Dahl had a shed at the bottom of the garden). And best of all, when you're sitting down, idly twirling a pen in your fingers and staring out of the window (something you'd get reprimanded for if you did it at school or in most office jobs), you're working, because what you're doing is waiting for inspiration to hit you, or perhaps it already did and you're fine-tuning your thoughts ready for putting pen to paper, or possibly fingers to keyboard. But, to paraphrase Ebby Calvin LaLoosh, "Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes you can't think of a damn thing to write."
I'm not a professional writer by any stretch of the imagination and I only have to produce one or two of these a week, so you'd think with everything that's going on in the world of beer right now it can't be that hard, right? Oh, it's pretty easy to get started, but sometimes you just get bogged down and can't find a way out. Sometime soon I might find the inspiration to finish those two or three pieces I have in the drafts folder but it's not going to be today, so I thought I'd just pick a few things, throw them at the virtual wall and see what sticks.
One, or rather, two news stories that have caught my eye in the past few months both involve one of the biggest beer brands on the planet - Heineken. Firstly it was announced that an enormous sum of money ($45m, reportedly) had been paid by the company for product placement in the latest James Bond film. While the purists may throw themselves into a pit of despair with a wailing and a gnashing of teeth at the idea that suave, sophisticated Bond will be drinking a beer rather than a cocktail (which isn't entirely true - there will be cocktails), and not even a particularly good beer in many people's opinion, and while former (one-time) James Bond George Lazenby has expressed a less than favourable sentiment regarding the deal, current 007 incumbent Daniel Craig has taken a more pragmatic stance about it. I suppose there's a case to be made that "Well, he would say that, wouldn't he," but it's a fair point that making and promoting blockbuster films these days is an expensive business, far more so than when Lazenby starred in On Her Majesty's Secret Service back in 1969 (which was the first Bond film I ever saw at the flicks, and I didn't clock the cameo from Joanna Lumley until many years later).
You'd think, though, that the studio would hardly need to squeeze that kind of wedge out of a manufacturer to feature their products in a James Bond film, bearing in mind that the likelihood of it failing to recoup its cost is zero, but whether we like it or not, product placement isn't going any time soon, and I honestly couldn't see James Bond strolling into the Rose and Crown, walking up to the bar and ordering a pint of Old Peculier, even if Theakstons could afford the fee.
The other place you're going to see Heineken prominently displayed this year, assuming you're lucky enough to have a ticket, is at the Olympic Games. They've shelled out £10m (about $16m) for sole pouring rights at the 2012 Olympiad in London, a deal which allows them to have one named product (Heineken Lager) and two generics, which will be Strongbow (called simply 'Cider' at Olympic venues) and John Smith's Smoothflow ('English Bitter'). This riles me a whole lot more than the idea of Commander Bond tossing back a bottle of the famous Dutch lager. The Olympics could have been a fantastic showcase for one of the world's most unique beverages - cask-conditioned beer, but if you're at the Games and you want to sample some of it you're going to have to step outside the perimeter and find a local boozer. I should point out here that the area they've built the Olympic complex in isn't the most salubrious part of the metropolis (I can say that - I was born not far away), and there are pubs in the vicinity I really wouldn't recommend to any tourists unless you want a taste of that scene from Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.
(this has swear words in it)
Okay, it's not that bad. Maybe I was exaggerating a little. Gentrification is sure to follow, if it hasn't already started.
Since I'm in a curmudgeonly mood now I might as well continue in the same vein.
While researching one of the stalled pieces I was writing a few days ago I was asked to confirm my date of birth by a brewery's website. I was carded online. That gets me seriously pissed off and I refuse to enter any website which does that to me, no matter how much I need to grab some information from them. Some of them even state boldly "You must be of legal drinking age to enter this website." Says who? As far as I'm aware there's no law that says they have to do this. If there was there wouldn't be any similar websites that only require you to click on a button that says "Yes, I'm over 21" (or whatever happens to be the legal drinking age where you are), or those which you can breeze into as easily as walking into a bakery or a supermarket.
I think the reason it gets under my skin so much is that I feel the breweries in question are tugging a subservient forelock in the direction of the moral majority/minority/neo-prohibitionists, call them what you will, and in doing so (at least, in my opinion), showing a lack of backbone. Let's face it, there's no way for them to prove that you are under 21 if you press the button to say you are. There's no way to verify the date of birth you just entered. It does no good whatsoever that I can think of. It's a sop to the moralistic bullies.
I should probably add a disclaimer here that the vitriol and bellyaching I'm expressing today may or may not be shared by the people who deposit money into my bank account every two weeks, who operate this website and who give me free reign over what they call the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar bar but what I call the best damn toy I've ever had to play with.
Let's conclude on a less caustic and more agreeable note.
Following all the stories of breweries being forced to pull out of certain states because they can't keep up with demand, it's been very uplifting in the past three or four months to read about the breweries who have announced plans to either increase their capacity, in some cases by several hundred percent, or which have decided to simply open a second brewery in a whole nother part of the country. Asheville, North Carolina seems to be the big winner with both New Belgium and Sierra Nevada building new facilities here, and Oskar Blues doing the same in nearby Brevard. Further north Lagunitas is opening a brewery in the Windy City.
One or two pessimists have mentioned the word 'bubble' in conjunction with 'craft beer'. Personally, I don't think we're anywhere near that yet. Craft is still a very, very small part of a beer market with a plentiful supply of potential converts, not all of whom, admittedly, will ever tear themselves away from what they like, but as breweries continue to grow and more breweries open, craft beer will become easier to find and more tempting to try for the first time.
However, here's something that uses the words 'bubble' and 'craft beer' in a good way, with a nod to Austin's own Jester King.