Here, slightly late, is my contribution to this month’s Session: beer collectibles.
But what do we mean by ‘collectibles’? It’s a bit of an ambiguous word – does it mean “stuff that can be collected” or “stuff that is worth collecting”? I’ve got little or no interest in the latter – boasting about your rare and interesting bottle-top is next door to boasting about the fact that you’ve drunk a rare and interesting beer, and that’s the kind of thing that encourages tulipomaniac tendencies. But if “collectibles” are things you can collect – bottles, beermats, fortune cookie mottoes, bus tickets – I’m right there. Sometimes it just seems like a good idea not to chuck stuff out.
Stuff I haven’t chucked out includes a couple of Felinfoel beermats (self-explanatory) and a couple for Caraca, a Brazilian ‘cane beer’ that was unsuccessfully launched here in the 1990s. (As far as I remember the beer was pretty revolting, but they distributed some unusually solid beermats – coasters, really – two of which I’m still using.) I used to have a double-sided Orval beermat, that I’d made myself by gluing two single-sided ones together, but I had to throw it out after my son chewed the edges off in idle moments. My bottle collection used to be more extensive than it is; I kept a Hobec bottle (with the weird screw-in stopper) for several years, not because Hobec was particularly special (it was an Allied Breweries brand) but because it reminded me of going to a pub after work and putting “The Only One I Know” on the juke box. I have kept one empty bottle (Marble Decadence, the original bottling; 330 ml with painted-on label) and two cans (D&G Crucial Brew and Newton and Ridley bitter, a real beer from a fictional brewery).
And then there are the bottle-tops. Although I’ve been a CAMRA fellow-traveller since before I could drink legally, I’ve only got seriously into tasting and comparing real ales in the last decade (roughly as long as I’ve been drinking at the Marble Beer House, not at all coincidentally). I drank a fair few posey imports in the decade before that (the likes of Red Stripe and Sol, not to mention Caraca and Hobec) and even when I was drinking proper beer I was mostly into European stuff – where by ‘European’ I mean ‘mostly Belgian’. (Again not very coincidentally, this was also roughly the decade before the euro took all the fun out of buying European beer.) And if, thanks to Carrington’s or the Belgian Belly, you’ve got your hands on a Sloeber or a Rochefort 6, you’re not just going to chuck the cap in the bin afterwards. Well, I’m not. So I started keeping interesting and unusual bottletops in a bowl, along with old badges and other small metallic odds and ends. Over time they migrated to a larger bowl, then to a bowl with a lid (not my idea) and finally to an old coffee jar, where they’re reasonably visible but don’t collect dust (this is what’s known as a compromise solution). When the jar started filling up I dug out another one and split the collection into British and foreign; the British collection is still pretty paltry by comparison with the ROTW, but it’s gaining.
Jake Thackray used to introduce a religious song by saying “This is a song of which I’m not very… ashamed.” Well, I’m not very ashamed to have a bottle-top collection – they’re not things of any value, but they’re mildly interesting, they don’t take up much space, and why not? Or perhaps I should say, I’m not very ashamed…