You know the magazine question where someone gets asked to name four people – living or dead – they’d like to have as dinner guests and everyone says Nelson Mandela, John Lennon, Gandhi, JFK, Mother Theresa etcetera.
Well how about four people* you’d like to have a beer with? I thought about this in the wake of Anthony Bourdain’s death in June. To be honest, he wouldn’t have made my guest-list but I figured I’d needed to have had a pint with him – if only to have put him right about his beer choices.
A food writer and TV presenter with a sense of humour as sharp as paring knife, Bourdain was quick to call out gimmicks, fads and pretense. After he died, his withering take-down of craft beer from 2016 was
In an interview to promote his CNN show Parts Unknown, he said his angriest critics were beer folk who slammed him for drinking whatever cold beer was available. People expected him to care about beer as much as he cared about food. “They see that I’m passionate about food, why am I not passionate about beer? I just ain’t. I’m just not … You know, I haven’t made the effort to walk down the street 10 blocks to the microbrewery where they’re making some f…ing Mumford And Sons IPA. People get all bent about it. But look, I like cold beer.”
And originally that’s why I wanted to have a beer with Bourdain – I was one of those people getting all “bent about it”. I wanted to tell him ice-cold is the beer equivalent of well-done steak, which he hated, passionately. I wanted to ask him why, when he would go out of his way to eat street food from independently owned and operated vendors, he preferred green-bottled beer made by conglomerates.
The thing is, Bourdain was true to himself – he loved mass-produced, fast food as long as it was made with care and tasted good. He also begged restaurants to give up making their own ketchup for hamburgers because they could never match the plain old supermarket variety. And he’s right – the flavour profile of Wattie’s tomato sauce, for example, is so ingrained my sensory system that any other tomato sauce is but a sad imitation.
And in that light I get where he’s coming from with his ice-cold beer love – it’s a flavour profile that drills deep because for a while it defined beer, especially in America. If Tony Bourdain likes mass-produced, ice cold beer the way I like Watties tomato sauce … who am I to argue?
If it’s my round I’ll get Tony his freezing cold whatever … But me? Just as Bourdain was passionate about independently owned and operated food vendors, my preference – every time – is for independently owned and operated breweries.
I’ll have that Mumford And Sons IPA, thanks Tony.
*The four people I’d really like to have a beer with? Actually, it’s my late parents and my two brothers. After all, it’s who you’re with that matters, not what you’re drinking.