Session #93: Why Travel?

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 replies on “Session #93: Why Travel?”

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.

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.

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…

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.

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.

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