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.