There was a time when one could hardly hope to enter polite society without knowing one’s Cabernets from one’s Pinots and one’s Chardonnays from one’s Rieslings. That time has not quite gone, exactly, and indeed, a greater variety of pleasures await the oenophile today than ever before. But in the twenty-first century, and especially in twenty-first century urban America, one must command a certain knowledge of beer. Even those who partake only of the occasional glass will, after a decade or two, develop a sense that they prefer a lager, say, or a stout, or the perennially trendy IPA. Yet many will also be at a loss to explain what they like about their preferred beer’s flavor, let alone its origins.
Enter Master Cicerone Pat Fahey, whose title bespeaks his vast knowledge of beer: of its nature, of its making, of its history. He puts his mastery of the subject on full display in the hourlong Wired video above, in which he breaks down every style of beer. Not most styles: every style, beginning with lagers malty and hoppy, moving through an even wider variety of ales, and ending with an extended consideration of lesser-known beers and their variations. Most all of us have sampled American lager, English porter, and even German pilsner. But can you remember when last you threw back a Flanders red ale, a doppelbock, or a wee heavy?
Fahey knows his beers, but he also knows how to talk about them to the general public. His explanatory technique involves providing generous amounts of context, not just about the parts of the world in which these beers originate (a geography and language lesson in itself) but about the ways they’ve been consumed and produced throughout history. Of that last he has a fair amount to work with, since the oldest recipe for beer, previously featured here on Open Culture, dates to 1800 B.C. The nearly four millennia of beer evolution since then have produced the formidable tap rows with which the bars of Portland, Austin, and San Diego confront us today — and which, with Fahey’s guidance, we can more credibly navigate.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.