Session #93: Why Travel?

Beer hall, Cologne.

For this edi­tion of the month­ly beer blog­ging Ses­sion, Maria and Bri­an at the Roam­ing Pint ask:

Why is it impor­tant for us to vis­it the place where our beers are made? Why does drink­ing from source always seem like a bet­ter and more valu­able expe­ri­ence? Is it sim­ply a mat­ter of get­ting the beer at it’s fresh­est or is it more akin to pil­grim­age to pay respect and under­stand the cir­cum­stances of the beer bet­ter?

As it happens, we do believe that drinking a particular beer at or near source often seems ‘better and more valuable’ and, yes, we suspect it is sometimes to do with freshness. But there are other factors at play, too.

In South­wold, Suf­folk, ear­ly last month, we had some of the best Adnams’ beer we’ve ever tast­ed, with­in sight of the brew­ery itself (of which more on 29 Novem­ber). It must make a dif­fer­ence, mustn’t it, to drink a beer where those who brew it con­vene for their post-work pints?

We once bumped into the brew­ing team from our local giant, St Austell, on a pub crawl in Pen­zance, or, as they put it, ‘under­tak­ing prod­uct qual­i­ty assur­ance test­ing in the field’, which per­haps helps to explain why a pint of Trib­ute can taste tran­scen­dent in Truro, but dis­mal in Der­by.

Some beers prac­ti­cal­ly cease to exist out­side their home town. Kölsch, for exam­ple, has an elu­sive char­ac­ter which seems to slip away as it cross­es the city bound­ary of Cologne, leav­ing a life­less corpse indis­tin­guish­able from any oth­er yel­low lager beer. Per­haps that’s because that char­ac­ter is, at least in part, sum­moned by the rit­u­al – the buzz in the wood-pan­elled beer halls, the 200ml Stan­gen, the Köbes, their Kränze, and the pen­cil marks terse­ly scratched on beer mats which keep count of con­sump­tion.

But we don’t want to sug­gest that if you don’t have the time, mon­ey or incli­na­tion to trav­el, you can’t join the fun of being a beer geek. For one thing, there’s prob­a­bly a beer from near you that won’t taste any­where near as good 20 miles up the road, and which peo­ple are, right now, plan­ning a road trip just to drink in your local.

6 thoughts on “Session #93: Why Travel?”

  1. I agree.
    I’ve nev­er tast­ed a pint of Murhpy’s stout quite as good as the one in the brew­ery tap in Cork.
    And the Hop Back Brewery’s range was sub­lime when it was in the Wyn­d­ham Arms in Sal­is­bury.
    Mind you,the pint in the Guin­ness Store­house in Dublin real­ly wasn’t that great.Not cold enough and the head was too big.

  2. My sen­ti­ments entire­ly. I’m quite often dis­ap­point­ed with some beers I drink local­ly, but have obvi­ous­ly trav­elled a fair bit. With the tor­tu­ous dis­tri­b­u­tion chains in use these days just to pro­vide the favoured beer at the bar it’s no won­der ‘best before end’ goes a bit flakey, and the action of fin­ings in cask beer wane as the beer moves through each loca­tion in the sup­ply chain. Yet, you can drink the same beer in an out­let with­in a few miles of the place it was brewed and it tastes great. I’ve found this with Jen­nings beers, par­tic­u­lar­ly Cum­ber­land Ale.

  3. I think there’s also a sense that beer has ter­roir – that Adnams beers are influ­enced by being made in a place with big skies and emp­ty spaces and cold, crisp win­ter morn­ings and wood­en beach huts, and so the beers will make more sense in that place will make more sense than they would in, say, Cen­tral Lon­don. Con­verse­ly, Theak­stons only real­ly make sense in a pub with an open fire and a wet sheep­dog after a day out on t’ moor. Or The Ker­nel in a tap­room sur­round­ed by beards and sleeve tat­toos.

    I’m guess­ing that this is almost entire­ly in my head, and is based on a mix of roman­ti­cism and brand man­age­ment rather than any­thing intrin­sic to the beer, but I still can’t help feel­ing it when I end up some­where like the Sole Bay Inn…

  4. Does mac­robeer con­verse­ly reflect and even part­ly cre­ate the anomie and dis­con­nec­tion of mod­ern liv­ing? Do mac­ro­brew­ers recog­nise this hence all the adver­tis­ing to per­suade you that every gulp of Guin­ness is drink­ing a bit of the Emer­ald Isle; every sip of Kro­nen­bourg fêtes the hop farm­ers of the Alsace? Might Lon­don Murky be an atavis­tic attempt to con­nect with a half-remem­bered, half-imag­ined authen­tic­i­ty with the dirty old Thames at its heart?

    Me, I would just be hap­py to drink some local beers local­ly but I’d have more chance of find­ing them twen­ty or thir­ty miles away. Though I’d rather be back in Bam­burg, or Prague.

  5. Thanks for par­tic­i­pat­ing in our Ses­sion! Even though it is prob­a­bly blas­phe­my one of my best drink from the source moments was drink­ing pint of Guin­ness in Dublin where it tast­ed as if it were picked off a mag­i­cal Guin­ness tree com­pared to what we get in the states.

    1. Not real­ly the source, though. The com­pa­ny which holds the cater­ing con­tract for The Store­house buys its Guin­ness from Dia­geo whole­sale just the same as every­one else.

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