‘Summer Is Icumen In’ by Jim Anderson

Sing, cuckoo, sing! Shake thy dripping wings and sing thee merrie of gales and rain, darkened skies and stoves a-blaze in the middle of July, for summer in Scotland is in full bloom! And if that’s not enough, these forbidding summer clouds bring with them winds of economic ruin, political indecision, ravenous beer duty, dwindling exports, erosion of the EU and — to top it all off — England’s beloved Olympics has a Dutch
brewery as its beer sponsor. Doom or gloom? Take your pick! Unfortunately, in the dreich summer of 2012, finding one’s winter coat may very take priority over slaking one’s thirst with a nice, cold beer. It’s no wonder the beer industry is having trouble enjoying what should be their most prosperous season. It’s as if things have come full-circle from the time before the Industrial Revolution. In the Old Days (here we go again!), summer was the off-season for nearly all breweries. Until yeast was identified as a separate, controllable ingredient in beer, beer would inexplicably go “wild” in the summer. It was as if there was Beer God who was telling everyone to get out into the fields and make hay while the sun shone. The Egyptians must have thought so, as they prayed to deities that turned their barley soup into beer. Norwegians stirred their mash with a “magic stick,” not realising that the warm sugars were simply waking up dormant yeast that lived in the nooks and crannies of the wooden staff. Only one style of beer has actually ever worked out better in the summer, a curious, sour wheat beer that depends on wild, airborne yeasts that are at their most productive during summer evenings. This beer, called Lambic, is exclusive to the Senne Valley outside of Brussels, and is still made today by traditional methods and only in the summer. Many examples of these beers are kept at the brewery for several years before release, and their age is measured not in years, but in summers. Oddly, Lambic was for hundreds of years
the tipple of the working bloke of Payottenland; today, it is considered something quite special, only sought out by the connoisseur of adventurous palate and deep pocket. Brewers everywhere else would spend the late winter
brewing enough beer to last through the hot summer, most famously in Germany and France, where the last stores of this “March beer” would be consumed with much ceremony at September harvest festivals. Such is the case with
Bavaria’s Maerzenbier, which has come to be known — along with its eponymous little garden party — as Oktoberfest. In today’s world of central air conditioning, year-round tomatoes and entitlement to a summer holiday, the old, agrarian-based brewing schedule is less of a dictator than the personal whims and habits of the Me Generation. Whilst our great-grandparents had to be content with whatever beer was hanging around, we have the luxury of choosing from any style of beer at any time.
Longer days and thinner clothes call for lighter beers: icecold lager and bitter shandy come to mind. British breweries who offer seasonal beers lean toward low-alcohol, refreshing recipes like wheat beer or ersatz IPAs. Real ale brewers can relax, warmer weather temporarily justifying their unimaginative efforts toward Blonde, Bland and Weak.
Summer seasonal beers, however, blithely assume Californialike conditions. But here in Scotland, what does summer really mean to the beer drinker? Is the tropical association of a bottle of Corona or Cobra really doing much to soothe the punter as he freezes his buns off in a leaky fag shelter?
It’s certainly not an image we’d want on a Scottish travel brochure.
For many of us in the Scottish licensed trade, summer means foreign visitors. We’ve seen plenty this season up here in the Black Isle, from all across Europe and North America, with a spattering of restless Aussies and Kiwis as well. How do we best sell them beer, both making a profit and giving them something memorable about their Scottish visit?
Maybe the best approach is to sell Scottish beers against other, more obvious beers. The market penetration of giant beer brands is literally global, something that leaves Scottish beers in the dubious position of invisibility to the traveler.
It’s our job to turn that invisibility into specialty or even cult appeal, beers you’ve got to travel to taste. How many times has one of your regular customers strolled in, still tan from
his holiday in, say, Turkey, and asked for a bottle of, say, Efes.
Punter, Day 1 after Turkish holiday: “Yeah, in Turkey they had this Efes beer. It was all over the place, it’s a really great beer, the best I’ve ever had. I could drink it all night. [Publican’s
eyeballs begin to recede back into his head] Why don’t you get some in? If you do, I swear I’ll drink it all.”
Punter, Day 2 after Turkish holiday: “Hey, did you get any Efes yet? [Publican inhales deeply and counts silently to 10] This Carlsberg isn’t anywhere near as good. I think I’m spoiled for life.”
Punter, Day 3 after Turkish holiday, tan beginning to fade slightly: “All right, you got some Efes! Pop one open! [Publican
does so, tentatively] Hmmm. It doesn’t taste like I remember it. I guess this stuff just doesn’t travel well. Pint of Carlsberg, please! [Publican bites tongue until a small trickle of blood
appears between his lips. He then reaches for his specials board to flog rest of beer for £1 a bottle] If this has ever happened to you, imagine how much satisfaction you’d get from completing the Kharmic circle by seducing a foreign visitor with some obscure Scottish beer?
Maybe suggest Belhaven Black instead of Guinness Stout? Or West St. Mungo instead of Kronenbourg? Or Cromarty
Happy Chappy instead of Timothy Taylor Landlord? Visitors who come to Scotland in the summer want a Scottish experience. Bad weather is guaranteed. The rest is up to you.

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