For a second year running, we were invited to speak at the Eden Project’s harvest food festival.
Quite apart from the fact that it makes us feel all professional and ‘beer writery’, it is an interesting opportunity to get to talk to people who are interested in beer, without necessarily being obsessed.
We tasted St Austell 1913 Stout while discussing the history of porter; and Orval and St Austell Proper Job while talking about India Pale Ale. We chose the two St Austell beers because we know them well and like them, and to avoid any trouble getting sufficient supply; with Orval to add a bit of variety, and to illustrate roughly what an early nineteenth-century IPA might have been like after maturation.
The audiences, were, generally, indifferent to the stout, either because they were Guinness drinkers and found it too different; or because they were Guinness haters who found it too similar. Either way, Guinness’s dominance of what ‘stout’ means to people was underlined.
We expected Orval, which took us a long time to ‘get’, to provoke some disgust and amusement. To our surprise, it was generally very popular, with people noting a gingery flavour we hadn’t previously picked up. (‘Spicy’ yeast?) A Belgian couple in the audience helped us out by explaining that, back home, Orval is regarded as a Tripel, despite it’s scant resemblance to, say, Westmalle’s.
Proper Job divided the audience. Younger members and a couple of veteran CAMRA members loved it, and especially appreciated its big, flowery aroma. Many others found it too boozy (at 5.5%), and rather over-the-top in its aroma: air-freshener was mentioned.
A useful reality check all round.
1. Why don’t people drink more mild?
With suitable disclaimers (we hadn’t researched this in advance) we answered that we thought it was down to (a) the age and background of beer enthusiasts at the height of the ‘real ale revolution’ in the nineteen-seventies and eighties; (b) a vicious circle of quality and demand, i.e. it was used as a repository for ‘slops’, or was simply bland bitter with caramel colouring; and (c) a vicious circle of availability and demand — no one drinks it, so no one sells it, so no one drinks it.
(How did we do?)
2. If I held a gun to your head, what would you say would be your favourite beer in the world?
First, we asked the gentleman in question to calm down and put his gun away: ‘There’s no need for anybody to get hurt — we can just talk and work this thing out.’
Beer writers must be used to getting asked this but we weren’t ready for it. Fortunately, we were able to refer to our ‘beer of the year’ for last year, but also reflected that, after two weeks in Germany, we came back desperate for a pint of Potion 9 at the Star Inn, so maybe that.
As last year, this was a paying gig, and Eden provided the beers as per our shopping list. Books, hops and malt model’s own.