The beer blogosphere has had a long-running project called "The Session," in which a bunch of people post on the same topic. Bastard that I am, I've only one other time participated. But this month's question is too alluring to pass up. It comes from Stan, who asks:
If you could invite four people dead or alive to a beer dinner who would they be? What four beers would you serve?It's not obvious to me whether the intention here is to do four beer people, or any four people. And though I do love beer people, I have to say this distinction matters--my top four beer folk wouldn't make my top hundred regular people. So let's deal with them separately.
This actually turns out to be harder than it seems because there are so many important figures whose contributions we cannot peer into history and see. I'd love to know more about the development of lagering in Bavaria, but we're not even sure about the century, never mind a key figure. So how about these:
- Josef Groll. Perhaps the most famous brewer ever, Groll brewed the first batch of pilsner back in 1842. I'd love to have him walk me through the decisions he made to come up with that beer. But he's also a fascinating figure whom basically everyone on record--including his father!--said was a major bastard. He was run out of Plzen not very long after he got there. I'd love to see that famous charisma in action. Obviously we'd drink Natty Light so he could see how debased his invention has become.
- Georges Lacambre. I'm actually not entirely sure his first name is Georges, for in all but one case I've discovered he was listed as "G." This is the man who wrote the 19th century survey of world (but especially Belgian) beer at the time. I would pump him for all the info he had, and so I'd arrange for a 43-course meal to keep him pinned down for seven hours. We'd drink American IPAs to blow his mind.
- Anyone who made Danziger Jopenbier between the 17th and 19th centuries. Jopenbier was made to cosmic original gravities, with wild yeast, but was nevertheless barely fermented. Every description I've ever read makes it sound undrinkable. I would have one question: why? I'd make him drink jopenbier while he answered the question.
- Rudi Ghequire. Rudi is the master brewer at Rodenbach, the one living brewer. I got to spend a couple hours with him, but owing to scheduling confusion, it was still a rush job. He is an exceptionally smart guy, but even more, one of the nicest men I've ever met. He is the anti-Groll. We would of course be drinking Rodenbach from the foeders at the brewery. Because, hey, it's a fantasy and why wouldn't we be there?
This is even harder, though made somewhat easier by the stipulation that we drink beer. The Buddha I'd love to meet, but maybe not in that environment. So:
- Samuel Beckett. I doubt he spent a lot of time drinking beer in Paris, but I bet the liquid passed his lips, copiously, earlier in life. I'd choose old Beckett, perhaps circa 1986--88, because he was by that time pulling toward the mortality that was always at the center of his fiction. He's the most talented writer I've read, but he's also one of the most fascinating figures. Had he never written a word, he'd be fun to spend a dinner with. Beer? I would not foist stout on a man who fled his home country. My guess is he'd prefer lager, cheap and commercial.
- Joe Strummer. As we trot through the professions I wish I'd had, we come now to musician. Why Strummer? Come on--Joe Strummer. I'd love to meet him in a pub and chat over cask bitter. Many, many of them.
- George Orwell. Oh, wait, are we back to writers again? My excuse: part of this game is not just reciting the most famous people (Einstein! Joan of Arc!) but coming up with people you could actually imagine carrying on a conversation with. Orwell was a giant in literature, but he was also deeply interested in politics, as am I. In the age of Donald Trump . . . well. Am I right in remembering that he liked mild ale? The era is right. Let's say it's so: we drink milds.
- Barack Obama. This would be a bit of a gamble, because he's a pretty famously reticent guy. I'd be depending on the beer and our shared affection for basketball to get him to open up. (I bet we could get a good ten minutes on Steph Curry.) I suspect that people never recognize the historical significance of most figures during their lifetimes--it's only after the myth-making of decades that their statures grow outsized. Obama will almost certainly be one of those figures. Meeting him now, at an unexpectedly ambiguous historical moment long before those decades have passed--this would be the moment for the perfect chat. We'd drink a selection of Oregon beers, and I would subtly try to improve his palate. He's beer-curious, but he's got a ways to go.