Novembeerd: matching beers to beards

beer-beard-novembeerdNovembeerd: like so many good–bad/bad–good/bad–bad ideas, this began in a pub. Look at the beard, guess what beer its wearer drinks, suggest what beer its wearer should drink. Think of it as a tribute of sorts to the long relationship between beer and beards, from CAMRA to the craft movement.

Beer writer Andy Hamilton (author of Brewing Britain) and I have both published a blog full of analysed beards; mine is below, Andy’s is here. To our beard donors: thank you.

Beard 1 (TE)

Best viewed from behind a helmet and visor.

It’s hard to ignore the ensemble to look closely at this beard. The rig, the hair, the pose suggest a Cinzano Bianco, or perhaps a large Chivas Regal sloshing around a lot of ice, tumbler held like a fistful of dollars. At a pinch, this gentleman might drink a bottle of Holsten Pils. He would only ever drink beer from a bottle.

Narrowing our eyes, though, we see a neatly cropped business beard, a power-beard. Ignore the disco and this is a BMW, confident, affluent, slightly abrasive. During the week he drinks bottled Becks lager, while at the weekend he relaxes with a bottle of Sol sporting a wedge of lime.

The beard deserves better. It calls for a small, neat bottle of dark beer to match itself. Anchor Steam Porter looks almost black at first, but is not as dark, unctuous or bitter as it seems, and when poured it has a light crema on top, like hair faded by time; it’s beautifully balanced. This is affluence come of age, gaudiness set aside, rough edges knocked off. It is the beer that this beard should aspire to.

Beard 2 (MS)

Transcends petty definition.

Technically, this is a moustache–muttonchop sideboard combination, not a beard, but it’s magnificent and transcends petty definition. Again, the ensemble is distracting. The steam punk, neo-chap, neoclassicism of the rig suggests this gentleman drinks hop-heavy craft pale ale from microbreweries, and that he does it with well-informed and occasionally tiresome relish. The paleness of his facial hair matches this well, but too well; like the over-hopped beer, there’s no contrast or balance.

An even-tempered traditional pale ale is called for and I’m going to serve him a pint of hand-pulled Timothy Taylor Landlord. This will add a satisfying amber note to offset the blonde hair and green tweed, while it will bring out his tie nicely. The balance, understatement and northern forthrightness is just what this flamboyant spread of hair and cloth is aching for.

Beard 3 (RP)

The Silver Hedonist.

I call this one the Silver Hedonist. It’s a finely spun and sculpted spider’s web of a beard. Note the easeful, voluptuary wearer, a little quizzical at the table, as if someone had moved the olive oil or taken his pickled artichokes. Or is he expounding a difficult point in Kierkegaard to his photo-snapper?

Spanish vinegar, bleached white walls and Mediterranean light give him away as a Briton on holiday, or so we immediately think when considering the incongruously northern European blue eyes and apparel. I suspect it would be dangerous to assume from the lager on his table that this one habitually drinks Estrella, he looks capable of drinking anything.

Let’s give him a bottle of Früli Strawberry Beer. The cloudy red brew will offset the silver clarity of the beard in a classic combination redolent of Christmas in winter and strawberries and cream in summer. Flavour-wise, the astringent Belgianness of the ale working on the rich smooth berry bulk mimics this contrast nicely. Then look at the mottled strawberry and white shirt; we may have stumbled upon a deeper, more pervasive truth.

Beard 4 (JS)

Like a master butcher’s sirloin steak.

This beard is as electric as the eel its wearer is holding. Look — it’s as evenly marbled and neatly cut as a master butcher’s sirloin steak. You suspect the gentleman wears sunglasses so he can look down at his chin from time to time with surreptitious admiration; the hat is to shade and protect the beard from sun, rain and wind. You also suspect his fishing gear includes a few bottles of Mackeson Stout to ease the cold and the waiting.

What’s called for is something elegant to match the beard and yet rich to match the  rustic–autumnal look. Coniston Old Man Ale is the beer, I think; warm and coppery with a fine edge of bitter hops and fruit.

Beard 5 (CN)

Processed with VSCOcam with se1 preset
Das ist kapital.

The flame-haired haute couture Marx; here the drab old sage is lifted from sepia to scarlet. For him, dialectical materialism is as much a fashion as a philosophical statement.

I can see the froth from Brew Dog’s Brixton Porter being wiped from this majestic brute. The ‘bastard lovechild of the industrial revolution’ says the brewer. Perfect already, you’d think, but is the rich coffee and chocolate too much and too dark for this red thinker–drinker?

For me, the understated reddish brown of Thornbridge Peanut Butter Brown Ale softens and complements the beard in a lovely match, drawing the colour out rather than stamping on it like a boot to the face, while its long nutty finish is not unlike the legacy of the German philosopher.

Beard 6 (JC)

It may have been a yellow submarine.

This has the careful fullness of a U-boat captain’s beard, but it’s snappier than that; the precision grooming suggests the controlled bohemianism of Madmen-era New York. Perhaps the captain retired from the sea and took a job in advertising. Let’s call it the Cosmopolitan Submariner.

Hoegaarden is robust, elegant and satisfyingly expensive, while it’s served in a stylish glass. It has the wheatiness of a traditional German weissbier, but comes from over the border and is a classic fruited and spiced Belgian witbier; it’s Germanic-seeming but not German. Like his favourite wall, the orange-yellow colour and exotic savour hints at the drinker’s dapper eclecticism and contrasts nicely with the understated dark notes of the beard and its wearer. Surely this is his customary glass of beer.

Despite the excellence of the match, this beard calls for a beer of greater contemporaneity and unusualness, something more craft-like, more thoroughly modern and international. Hawkshead Brewery’s Great White, a fine white (wheat) beer brewed in the English Lake District in something like the Belgian style using New Zealand hops, British barley, coriander seeds and Seville orange peel, has everything. This gentleman may well favour the bottles over cask and keg.

Beard 7 (AH)

The milk stouts are on me!

This arrangement — hard to characterise — is what happens when someone cruelly adds barber’s sweepings and glue to a labrador puppy’s dinner. The friendly features, eager and slightly uncertain, demand sympathy and comfort. A half-pint of Bristol Beer Factory’s Milk Stout is in order. That should reassure the little feller.

You can read AH’s  critique of my beard here, while my Nudge interview with him is here.

Paul Fishman (Bristol, November 2014)

4 thoughts on “Novembeerd: matching beers to beards

  1. Now that I come to think of it, Chivas Regal was the very drink that caused me to break my arm in a break-dancing competition in Ibiza.

    By Jove!


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