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Extreme. Soul. Are we talking about wine or beer?

A) Wine Enthusiast writer and noted blogger Steve Heimoff asks if a wine can have soul.

Perhaps it’s our more jaded, cautious age that does not permit me to do so, in quite that fashion. I find certain wines “fabulous,” “fantastic,” “stellar” and the like. But anthropomorphising wine isn’t my style. On the other hand, “soul” is just a word. I’ve enjoyed many wines that gave me such “a sensorial onslaught as to capture [my] complete and undivided attention.” Whether or not they had “soul,” I will leave to others to determine.

I wouldn’t call soul just a word. Quite honestly, more than six years after I added the tagline “In search of the soul of beer” here I’m still looking and occasionally wondering just what that means. But there’s more to it than trying to find “stellar” beer.

B) If you’ll recall, I’m a fan of Wine Wars, in large part because the book takes the “sideways” view. Author Mike Veseth has announced his next book will be called Extreme Wine (Honest to goodness, I typed beer right after extreme; pure force of habit.)

Where Wine Wars probed the center of the world wine market, Extreme Wines focuses on edges based on the same theory that wine lovers use when they tilt their glasses “sideways” and analyze the liquid’s rim: the forces of change first make themselves visible at the outer limits.

This, of course, is good reason to consider the role of extreme beer. In fact, this table of contents is just waiting for somebody to replace the word wine with beer. And maybe throw in the words barrel-aged, Brettanomyces and hops.

1. X-Wines: In Vino Veritas?
2. Extreme Wine: Best and the Worst
3. The Fame Game: Most Famous, Most Forgotten and Most Infamous
4. Sold Out: Rarest, Most Unusual and Most Ubiquitous
5. Money Wine: Cheapest, Most Expensive and Most Overpriced
6. Extreme Wine Booms and Busts
7. Extreme Wine People
8. Fifteen Minutes: Celebrity Wine
9. [The Medium is the] Message in a Bottle: Television, Film and the Web
10. Around the World in 80 Wines: Extreme Wine Tourism
11. Extreme Wine by the Numbers
12. Tasting Notes from the Edge

16 Responses to Extreme. Soul. Are we talking about wine or beer?

  1. Mike Veseth May 30, 2012 at 9:09 am #

    I completely agree! In fact I’m thinking of organizing a series of books by different authors that would include a beer book. Great idea, don’t you think?

  2. Alan May 30, 2012 at 9:44 am #

    Beer has a soul as much as it has wingspan. It may touch the soul. It may even introduce the drinker to it. Maybe your tag line needs to be “in search of the soul of brewing” as you may be using beer to mean process rather than object.

  3. Stan Hieronymus May 30, 2012 at 10:10 am #

    A good observation, Alan, although it doesn’t have quite the same ring to it ;>)

    A discussion about whether a process “with soul” must result in a product “with soul” might be worth pursuing, but not today.

  4. olllllo May 30, 2012 at 2:18 pm #

    10. Around the World in 80 Wines: Extreme Wine Tourism

    Our Balloon in Napa plummeted into a vineyard. Does that count?

    A vineyard zip line will denote the jumping of the shark.

  5. Jeff Alworth May 30, 2012 at 7:33 pm #

    I’m actually going to begin using wingspan. It at least suggests sweep–soul means nothing. It’s the kind of thing PR hacks might use.

  6. Mike May 31, 2012 at 2:34 am #

    Historically, it seems to me, soul always had a religious context. In the last century, soul was used to describe a type of music, however, that type of music, at least originally, had a direct church connection (gospel music).

    Does soul have a new definition? Is it non-religious?

    If not, it makes as much sense as the other PR/marketing term: “craft beer.””

  7. Stan Hieronymus May 31, 2012 at 4:21 am #

    I’m counting on the Wine Bible to define what the soul of beer might be.

    But, even though I wrote a book in which monks make beer, I don’t think of it in religious terms.

  8. Mike May 31, 2012 at 9:08 am #

    Stan, if you wrote (six years ago) “In search of the soul of beer”, I assume you had some idea of what you were trying to say. Why then wait for the Wine Bible?

    As Jeff wrote, this rather smells like PR/marketing hype.

  9. Stan Hieronymus May 31, 2012 at 10:20 am #

    Mike – For me, it remains a search. I doubt Jeff plans to define it in the Wine Bible. From his viewpoint as a Buddhist I understand this, although I’m not viewing it that literally.

    My interest is substance, not PR.

  10. olllllo May 31, 2012 at 10:32 am #

    I am by no means a religious person, but I think I can start the argument, at least in a metaphorical way.

    I think the idea of a beer’s soul is tied to the reproductive properties of yeast. The fact that I can (for the most part) re-propagate yeast from a bottle of beer is a very powerful idea.

    That one can recreate a beer from any style of any era, that dormant yeast from tombs and ship-wrecks are now a seemingly annual event, that the yeast and the beer can have some approximation of immortality seems to be a starting point for discussion–the idea of immortality. Isn’t that what a soul is. Works of music, art, ideas living beyond their creators is that the essence of what we’re discussing?

    Soul music was mentioned, but we’re forgetting about the other obvious–soul food. Hungry?

  11. Mike May 31, 2012 at 12:36 pm #

    olllllo, the “reproductive properties of yeast” is chemistry – it’s no different than mixing butter and eggs to make an omlet (ok, not a great analogy, but you get the idea).

    And, no “works” don’t have soul – people do. Soul music (or soul food) is just a name. Personally, I call a lot of that music R&B. The point is that many of the early artists came from a church background where “soul” was a common expression. And some of the early groups used the term in their name – the Soul Stirrers, for example.

    I can understand the use of the term in a religious context (even outside the church), but, I would guess even the Trappists would laugh at the idea that beer has soul.

  12. olllllo May 31, 2012 at 2:53 pm #

    Ha!
    Mike, if you think your “science” can explain away religion then you haven’t been to “Real” America.

  13. Mike June 1, 2012 at 1:33 am #

    Well, I concede – you’ve won the point.

    “Real” America? Is that a new TV series? Anything like “Real Housewives of Orange County”?

  14. olllllo June 1, 2012 at 1:45 pm #

    Mike,

    Putting Real before America is a tactic that’s come into vogue by some to imply that others are less than American or not patriotic. There are of course tactic used by the other side to do the same.

    I probably shouldn’t have opened the political door since Stan is travelling and, thus far, our conversation here has been civil.

    As I stated before, I am not religious. I think that certainly the “magic” of fermentation is tied to religious ideas and beliefs of the past. For some today, those ideas don’t lose their power in the face of science.

  15. Mike June 3, 2012 at 6:01 am #

    Thanks for the explanation about “real”. I wasn’t aware of that.

    I am not religious either, but I do recognise that there are words and concepts of religious origin that have entered the language. Divinity would be one and soul another. Soul, however, as we probably both agree, has been adapted for commercial exploitation (soul music and food, eg).

    I’m not convinced that fermentation was seen as “magic” or, in some way, connected to religion. Fermentation, like pollination and agriculture, for example, were most probably seen as common, everyday procedures to produce life-sustaining materials.

    The connection between beer (or wine) and monks, for example, was not religious, but practical.

    Personally, I find the idea that an inanimate object has soul absurd.

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