Building international coalitions through beer, American indie rock, college football and other delights
A little over a month ago England drew with the United States at the World Cup, and I lost a bet with Zac from the fine blog Building International Coalitions Through Beer And Pavement.1 Luckily, losing the bet just involved writing a blog post, rather than parting with huge wedges of cash or undertaking embarrassing forfeits. However, being the terrible, lazy, busy man that I am, it is only now I have got around to the task at hand…Yep, as pretty much agreed I just need to get some craft beer in, watch some college football on YouTube, while listening to some Pavement or similiar, and see where it takes me.
And tonight, dear reader, is the night.
A night of sport, ale and good music seems a straightforward proposition, but I did want to actually do this properly.2 Sure, I have plenty of Pavement in my household, so, that was straightforward.
Beer? Well, I figured it made sense to try and get in some proper US craft beer, for the sake of truly getting in the spirit of things. One or two beers kind of fitting that description are now available in some UK supermarkets, which is grand, but not good enough for the purpose of this post. Reading into craft beer, it seems the fun is in the obscurity.3 Which isn’t a world away from the world of Pavement and American indie rock, eh? It’s either a limited edition brew in cool packaging, or a limited edition seven-inch in cool packaging. Both are desirable, collectable, and likely to make bearded men very happy.
So, what of these obscure beers, then? Well, I headed to London’s Borough Market where on Thursdays and Fridays there is a stall selling all manner of imported booze goodness. In fact, I made a couple of trips. It is not the biggest stall, but it does have an incredible array of beers, which even to the semi-initiated like me, can be overwhelming. Still, I think I got a reasonable selection, with enough left over for future blogging adventures.4
There was another clear link to be made with indie rock too. This was the kind of intimidating atmosphere that you can get in a record shop. Going up to the counter has the potential to be a pretty scary experience, as you await to see if your choices are met with approval. Also, never ever baulk at the price. You are an expert. Or you want them to think that. Successfully negotiating this experience can be fun. This is why I went back a second time, and why I have spent a disproportionate time in record shops over the years.
How about college football, then? Especially as I have failed monumentally to build any links with that yet. Hmm. How about a beer first?
BEER ONE: St Lupulin Extra Pale Ale from the Odell Brewing Co.
I’d read about Odell’s on Zac’s blog, so this seemed like a sensible choice. As I write this, I’m trying to take photos of the snazzy label, but am failing miserably. So, take it from me, this is a nicely presented beer. Which is important, don’t you think? Call me shallow, but I don’t want to be drinking a crappy looking beer. Just like I want my indie rock bands to have a good look that I approve of 5 and college football teams should have great uniforms. Hah! I’ve got college football in, finally!
But how does it taste? Ah, this is where I’m going to struggle. Was it Elvis Costello who said writing about music is like dancing about architecture? Well writing about beer is like drinking about poetry.6 Or something.
It is kind of strong, as the 6.5% ABV implies. This isn’t a beer for quaffing. And I love a good quaff, hence my love of milds and session ales. Maybe I need to find some weaker craft beers? Saying that, it is far from a bad beer. It has the directness and deepness of flavour I’ve experienced from the likes of Brooklyn and Sierra Nevada.6 It’s kind of hoppy, without letting any crazy gimmicky stuff thrown in to get in the way, which is obviously a good thing. It doesn’t particularly linger either, which is not the worst thing for the first beer of the evening.
Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, college football. Zac was kind enough to point me in the direction of the wealth of material on YouTube. This is probably the best introduction to college football, or any sport for that matter, as you get all the good bits, and none of the rubbish.8 I’m not going to pretend that I have any real knowledge or understanding of college football beyond watching the film Friday Night Lights and catching some coverage of a game or two back in 2005.9 But I’ve never let ignorance get in the way of me spouting off, so here goes.
I think the first thing that struck me was the sheer size of college football. It is massive. I’m still getting my head around how 90,000 people will go to watch amateurs, students, play sport. From a British perspective, this is plain weird.
Then there is the fact that here are a bunch of guys in their late teens/early twenties, and this will be the pinnacle of their entire life. This is strange, and just a little depressing. I guess in most sports many players will drop out or not make it professionally, but they won’t have had that taste of playing in front of huge, adoring crowds. They won’t be a hero.
And maybe this is what is leading me to find out more. Much like American craft beer and American indie rock, there is a whole history and culture to understand. The appeal of American indie rock to me has always been entwined in that as much as in the tunes. It is a kind of safe and accessible ‘exotic’. There aren’t any language barriers, and it isn’t so far removed from British culture. Let us not forget that American culture has permeated Britain since at least the Second World War, to the point that it is completely mainstream and integrated. Exploring its lesser-known margins is appealing. Everything is the Wild West to us.10
The NFL is popular here in the UK. A game held each year at Wembley Stadium sells over 80,000 expensive tickets incredibly quickly. NFL has been on UK television since the eighties. But college football is unknown. As an indie rock inverted snob, this can’t help but appeal.
There also seems to be a greater attachment and sense of community in college football. I may have this wrong, but people seem to genuinely care more than in any other American sport. I love that sort of passion.
And there is another link! American indie rock fans genuinely care. They have to seek this stuff out. They’ll go to gigs nobody else cares about. They’ll get that limited edition single. Same with craft beer. You need to care about this stuff and have a passion for it. You’re not just going to pick it up from your local store, absent-mindedly.
Which brings me neatly to…
BEER TWO: Denver Pale Ale from the Great Divide Brewing Co.
This wasn’t the original plan. I’d planned on bringing you a variety of beer styles, showing that beer, just like Pavement and college football is not a one-trick pony. But reader, the Gonzo Imperial Porter scared the life out of me. I will save that for another day, when I’m feeling braver. I don’t want my Significant Other11 coming home to find me a quivering wreck.
This is a lovely beer. I could see me drinking this again. It is not a world away from the last one, but is a little lighter in the execution, so the flavour and taste kind of hangs around the mouth a little longer. Which may sound disgusting, but frankly isn’t. It is refreshing, yet has got enough about it for me to not just want to throw it down my throat and get it over and done with. I guess that is the funny thing with craft beer, as opposed to the mass-produced stuff. There is more to it than thirst-quenching or getting horribly drunk. Time pay dividends. It is like the difference between plain scotch and malt whisky.
Label fans: it is all sans serif boldness with a lovely blue and yellow colour scheme. It is a manly label, without being overbearing. I like it. There may be a photo of this above, depending on how I go shortly with beer photoshoot part two.
Well, I fear, dear reader, that now is the time to start wrapping things up. My Significant Other will be home soon, and I’m sure you all have better things to do too. If this post has been a little rambling then that is because I have been very much writing as I go, and like all bad writers I could really do with an editor to make sense of all of this.
There is clearly, for me, a clear thread between those great institutions of college football, American indie rock and craft beer. They are all built on passion, from those taking part, and those just watching, listening or drinking. They also appeal to the inverted snob and inner geek in me. They aren’t a world away from the norm, but are the considered, less obvious choice. And there is always plenty to devour.
They are also an interesting variant on British forms. College football reminds me of lower league football (soccer) in that it doesn’t quite get the same coverage, yet is still passionately followed, surprisingly popular and is often more entertaining that the top tier. Indie rock seems to be heading down a dead-end in the UK12, yet the American form continues to offer fun, weird and fascinating new takes on the genre. Craft beer is just the cooler cousin of real ale, really.
So those coalitions are forming very nicely, thank you. Now come on, what’s your take on all this? You must like one of sport/music/beer surely? If not, why not? Thank you for your patience and my debt is now paid. I very much enjoyed paying it. Now, where is my beer?
- You really ought to check it out. It is a great blog. And it is punctuated with endnotes, much like this one. I thought I would give endnotes a go, as something of homage, and also to see if it works for me. You might have noticed that at times I can be a slave to parentheses, so this is one way of combating that, I guess. Plus, I love the King of Endnotes, David Foster Wallace, who opened my eyes to their possibilities. They can not only add value, but they can also be fun. I’ll have to work on those two things. Anyway, back you go!
- I mean, it is bad enough that I took so long to get around to this, right?
- Much the same could be said for English Real Ale. There are a few great beer pubs cursed by strange men supping halves whilst ticking against the beer’s name in their notebook.
- Bear in mind, I’m writing this mid-session, so this could still all end up with me curled up in a ball at the end of the night surrounded by empty beer bottles. There are, however, three reasons for this to not be the case. One – this beer is strong, so two or three may be enough for a school night. Two – some of this beer isn’t cheap, so I’m going to savour the goodness, not throw it down my neck. Three – I’m trying to get trimmer for my upcoming wedding. I don’t think giving up drink is a practical or workable solution, so I’m currently uttering the mantra ‘Drink Smarter, Not Harder’. We’ll see how that goes.
- Slacker chic counts Pavement fans! But (kind of) seriously, the best bands have a distinct style and look, from their clothes to their album covers. If they’ve got that right, it is usually an indication that they are on the right track musically. Although maybe I need to think about what great albums have horrible covers. Or what bands I love that looked nasty. Then again, it’s not what you wear, but how you wear it. And this footnote is going nowhere fast. Carry on folks.
- There have been plenty of poets have been awful drunks, so this is obviously possible.
- I’d probably add Samuel Adams here, but are they dirty words for beer connoisseurs? Reader, I just don’t know. Tell me, if you can.
- Should that be ‘garbage’ considering how this blog post arose? I sometimes, genuinely, get caught up on what word to use, as I’m aware that my (admittedly tiny) audience is international. Well, British and American, mainly, as far as I can tell. If you’re from somewhere else, add a comment, and make me feel like some sort of international correspondent!
- I spent a few months in New Jersey working on a kids camp, followed by some travelling, where television was as much of a treat as having a proper bed and not having to deal with hormonal teenagers.
- Geographically, not in the sense of cowboys looking for gold and all that.
- Confession time. The use of ‘Significant Other’ is wholly and completely lifted from a David Foster Wallace essay. He was writing about someone elses, not his own, but still. I think that this confession comes in the form of a footnote is somewhat fitting. Its questionable grammar is not.
- Or maybe I’m just getting old.