Mug Shots: Bear the better beer torch

Feb 3, 2010 at 6:00 am

How do you get to better beer? Education, education, education.

Last weekend, the Mug Shot family watched Steven Soderbergh’s “Che,” the 2008 cinematic ode to Che Guevara, and while I know this will incite the usual round of anguished finger-pointing about my Communist leanings (how unspeakably droll, yet they persist), Cuba never was much of a beer-drinking country, anyway.

Rather, at one juncture in Part One of “Che,” the revolutionary leader realizes many prospective recruits to the cause can neither read nor write, and he institutes literacy classes as a core component of the 26th of July Movement.

To paraphrase Guevara: Absent literacy, the individual is much more easily misled by the powers that be.

Given the movement toward better beer is advancing toward a flavor revolution, beer literacy is a vital antidote to the swillocracy’s waning, yet still leaden, anti-competitive grip on the marketplace.

As noted previously, consider a certain domestic beer’s “triple-hop brewing” campaign. To know nothing about how beer is brewed is to be vulnerable to such assertions, but to be familiar with the brewing process is to know that the practice of adding hops three times in the kettle during the boil is hardly unique.

Beer education is vital to the expansion of beer literacy and to widening the better-beer perimeter. Granted, one may discover better beer without knowledge about brewing methods, beers styles, geography, history and culture, but the greater the absorption of these matters, the greater the possibilities. Enjoying a flavor in the purest of hedonistic senses is only the starting point. Beer education places the flavor in context and provides the back-story, helping to grow the love and to expand the consumer’s savvy. Beer education transforms casual adherents into torchbearers.

I’m determined not to neglect what I view as a personal mandate to educate about beer — all beer, and not just the ones my company makes. My goal always has been to act as a fair broker for information about the whole world of better beer, hence these twice-monthly Mug Shots, quarterly contributions to Food & Dining, daily blogging and a presence on Facebook and Twitter.

Questions? I’ll answer them if I’m able, and if not, I’ll try to point you in the right direction. The more you know about beer, the better chance you’ll gravitate to better beer and take your place in the ranks of the grassroots revolution. Once in our midst, you won’t be going back to the mundane.

As an update of periodic opportunities for beginning-beer education, tonight (Feb. 3) is the first meeting of my February session of “Here’s to Beer,” sponsored by the Division of Continuing Education at Indiana University Southeast. The current section is full, but there’s good news: Another offering arrives in April, with classes taking place from 6:30-8:30 p.m. on Wednesdays. The non-credit course costs $65. The classes take place at NABC’s Pizzeria & Public House, and the objective is simple: “Once upon a time, beer was just beer. No longer. Beginning with an overview of the brewing process and the history of beer, we’ll learn how to distinguish Pale Ale from Imperial Stout through words and samples.”

For further details, call IUS at (812) 941-2206.

 Questions, Answers, Tastes

On a more advanced level, I’ll soon be conducting weekly beer seminars at the Public House, beginning Monday, Feb. 8. Each “Office Hour with the Publican” will start at 6:30 p.m. and have the format of a participatory skull session with samples. I project it as freewheeling, with each week’s hour self-contained, as opposed to the more structured and cumulative approach embodied by “Here’s to Beer.” There’ll be a modest sampling charge for participants and the opportunity to eat and drink before, during and after the session.

Some topics will be announced, while at other times, the theme of the night will be determined on the fly. Examples: Scandinavian Craft Brewing; Pilsners That Don’t Suck; Let’s Sample Some Vintage Stone Brewing Co. Beers!; Style In Depth: Porter.

Expect occasional guest speakers and impromptu entertainment. We’ll learn, have fun, and then see where the concept goes after a couple of months in action.

Roger Baylor is co-owner of the New Albanian Brewing Co. in New Albany. Visit for more beer.