Yet again, I have been rumpled. Quoting me in an article about the serving temperatures of ales, the Wall Street Journal described me as being “rumpled.” It is true that I have a remorseless inability to be tidy in dress (or desk), but what had this to do with my qualifications to pronounce upon cold beer?
Nothing, but journalists don’t like introducing people to their readers without putting a little flesh on the person. Or some clothes. This can be difficult when you interview your source on the phone or by email, or meet them for only half an hour. “What was he like?” asks the editor. “Oh, just a regular guy,” the reporter responds. The editor persists: “Well, what does he look like?” The reporter wants to get the story written and go for a pint. “Well, I guess he was a bit rumpled.”
A surprising number of journalists have independently concluded that I am rumpled. Others may have read it in the clippings. Here’s how it works. The editor of the Succotash Sentinel tells the reporter that there is some guy in town promoting a new book about beer. He is allegedly a world expert on the subject. “See if you can find anything.” They look in what B-movies used to call the morgue, or on microfiche, or on the net. Up comes a five-year-old article from the High Krausen, MN, Herald-Courier. It mentions than I am rumpled, and that useful fact lodges in the mind of the Succotash Sentinel’s star reporter. He then recycles it.
On my busiest tours, I seem forever to be changing planes in Chicago and occasionally have an overnight there. A local friend comes to meet me. “You’ve been on the road a long time. Need anything? Can I perhaps send out some clothes to be rumpled?” I thank him. “Only if they have an overnight rumpling service.”
Actually, I mainly do my own rumpling. In the unlikely event that I owned a $10,000 custom suit, I could make it look like a used J-Cloth within seconds. I would do this by the simple tactic of wearing it. My body emits some kind of toxin that turns perfectly decent garments into used J-Cloths on contact.
Not Ridiculous, Too?
My disarray does not bother the photographer from the Sentinel. His job is to make me look as ridiculous as possible. As I find this effortless, I rarely quibble, but occasionally the demands are excessive. In Belgium recently, a photographer wanted me to stand with my feet in a small barrel. I declined to look that ridiculous. On another occasion—again in Belgium, as it happens—a cameraman wanted me to sit cross-legged on a pile of beer cases. “Why?” I asked. “Because you are a guru,” he responded.
On television, they often want me to identify beers blindfolded. I usually refuse. It’s much harder than people think, and I have everything to lose. If I get them right, nobody is impressed. After all, I’m an expert. If I don’t get them right, I’m a fraud. The last time I was suckered into doing this, I was sure I had them all right but was told on the air, live, that I had messed up.
After the program, I discovered that I had, indeed, been right. The presenter had been given completely wrong information on which beer was in which glass. The person responsible, a chardonnay-drinking researcher, was perfunctorily apologetic. Had anybody been watching the program, my professional reputation could have been sabotaged.
Ink and Drink
Why, you ask, do I lay myself open to such abuse? It could be an egomaniac desire for publicity, I suppose. “This man is a terminally rumpled fraud who cannot tell a Berliner weisse from a Russian stout! Buy his books now!!” Sounds persuasive, I grant you.
The more likely explanation is the one I shall offer in my defense. I seek a judgment, unprecedented in international law, that I am a victim of involuntary conspiracy. I collude with journalists to bring about my own downfall. This is because I am one of them. At the age of 16, in search of kicks, I joined a cult known as “The Press.” The indoctrination involved the drinking of quantities of beer every day for the rest of my life. Ink and drink go together. Or did when I fell happily into both. The one pleasure led to the other.
One of my earliest jobs was on an afternoon daily in the small town where I grew up in Yorkshire, the biggest county in the North of England. Like most such newspapers, it was a mix of local items written by its own staff, with national and world news from the wire services. On Fridays, we had to produce the afternoon edition, then follow that with a weekly version. This was a compilation of only the local stories, for the further-out rural communities.
Two papers in one day was a thirst-making business. While producing the weekly, we were urged on by the chief sub-editor with dire warnings that, if we did not hurry, the paper would miss the milk train, which dropped off bundles at village stations in the early hours of the next morning.
When the weekly had finally gone to the press room, we wandered through the hall, now silent, where the pages had been composed in metal type. The air smelled of molten metal, ink and oil. By now, the building was shaking gently to the roll of the presses. A door led out of the composing room and into the The Prince Albert pub. The landlord, Patrick Moran, pulled brow-cooling pints of Hammond’s Bitter and set them before us.
This was a long time ago, though I am reminded of it from time to time when I see Hammond’s signs displayed as decorations in the Falling Rock, a fine multi-tap in Denver, and the unrelated Triple Rock brewpub in Berkeley.
In much the way that people call their newspaper “the local rag,” they used to deride the products of the town’s brewery. I thought its beer was wonderful. I had long left the town when the brewery was acquired by Bass and ceased production, but I could not believe that was possible when I heard.
Years later, having pursued my interest in beer to obsessive lengths, I began to wonder whether Hammond’s had been made by the Yorkshire Stone Square System. I learned that it had, and that it may have been the first brewery to employ such a system, though that is by no means certain. The beer had a rounded maltiness that seemed typical of that technique, though the characteristic was not as obvious as it is in Samuel Smiths.
Back at The Prince Albert, after the first two or three pints had been consumed, Patrick Moran would place on the bar a large, tray-like plate piled with roast beef sandwiches. Alongside it, he would arrange a huge dish made of fake cut glass containing pickled onions in a lake of dark malt vinegar. By the time we left, we would all be rumpled, never to be straightened again.