The Bar Man, November 14, 2014

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It is three years this November since I wrote my first column, so I was feeling a bit smug and self-satisfied by my efforts.

Then I happened to come across a column written by Roger Angell in the New Yorker about the recently completed Baseball World Series.

Roger is not well known over here, which is a pity because he is one of the all-time great sports writers.

He has also been on the go for a bit more than three years, filing his first copy for the New Yorker in 1944, before becoming their fiction editor in 1956, so I have a way to go before I match his run.

What struck me about the piece that I read was his assessment of Giants’ pitcher, Madison Bumgarner, as the best who ever played the game, at least since Christy Mathewson whose career was ended when he was gassed in the First World War.

The questions I am most often asked when people discover I write a column about beer is “What are your favourite pubs and beers?”

It is very easy to retreat to a mythical past and pick out some examples from my formative years – Holts bitter, Nellies in Beverly or the Zoological in Hull. Pretty soon this harmless nostalgia can develop into what I think of as Fred Trueman syndrome, where nothing can ever be as good as it was in the past.

It might not be true for pubs, but there is no doubt that with beer we are living in a golden age.

There are more breweries around now than ever before in my lifetime and unlike 25 years ago, it is rare to find them producing a bad beer.

So, all credit to a 94-year-old writer daring to compare today’s heroes with legends of the past and declaring that the old timers have been eclipsed. Let’s do the same and celebrate the great ales available in ever increasing numbers.

And how many of you had a little snigger when you read the name Madison Bumgarner?

He was joined on the winning team by Joe Panik, Buster Posey and Hunter Pence among others. Just remember these guys are amongst the best in the world at what they do.

Someone was telling me about an experiment where exam papers with the same content were graded under a variety of names, and guess what? The Williams, Jacks and Davids scored better than those called names such as Trynatee, Yeti and Rexella. Maybe this is an urban myth, but if so it is a plausible one. People rarely have the chance to choose their own name, but that is not the case for beer.

I sometimes wonder how sensible it is to call a beer ‘My Wife’s Bitter’, ‘Kilt Lifter’ or one of the many plays on words which link rude body parts to various species of animals.

They are probably good for a one-off novelty purchase or to have a laugh with your mates, but I think it makes it a whole lot harder for a beer to be taken seriously as a quality product.

Revisiting my baseball book collection has given me an idea for a title if I ever write a book of my own.

You could call it a tribute or as they do in the music business, sampling, but I reckon I could plagiarise the title of Thomas Boswells ‘Why Time Begins on Opening Day’ and call my effort ‘Why Days Begin at Opening Time’, speaking of which ….