A busy pub in Sheffield on Saturday night, and a line of hand-pumps from here to the horizon.
We order a pint of this one, and a half of that one, then spot the other one which we’ve been wanting to try out of academic curiosity.
“Oh, actually, can you make it a half of [REDACTED].”
The person behind the bar hesitates, glances, and says quietly (yet somehow audible over the hubbub):
A slight wrinkle of the nose conveys everything we need to know.
“Ah, right, scratch that.”
A conspiratorial nod – good move, well done, smart choice.
We keep thinking about Belgian Tripels.
We’ve said that Westmalle Tripel is, without doubt or debate, so shut up, the best beer in the world.
But maybe Tripel is the best style.
A good Tripel demonstrates how a beer can be balanced without being bland or paltry. Sweetness reined in by bitterness, richness met by high carbonation, with spice and spicy yeast pulling it all together.
Complex without drama. Subtly luxurious. Affordable art.
Yes, very affordable: you can still buy some of the highest-regarded examples for less than three quid a bottle, and a suitable glass for not much more.
We’ll take murky beer but not muddy.
Murk is usually superficial, but sometimes softening, sometimes silky. It leaves room for other flavours. Light likes it.
Mud is taste and texture. It is dirt, the riverbed stirred up — chewable, unclean, silt between the teeth.
Mud is why you leave carp to swim in a clean bath before eating it — one degree away from… Well, you know.
Beers that look murky are more likely to taste muddy, but don’t have to. Clear beers can be muddy, we think, but it’s a clever trick.
Murky wasn’t meant as an insult. Muddy always is.
Ah, So Very British™ — saying things are Fine when you really mean they’re awful.
Except that’s not what we mean.
When we say Fine, we mean Fine — that is, adequate, the mildest form of Good.
And you know what? We drink a fair bit of beer that isn’t Fine. It’s not Awful or Dreadful — it’s just, like most stuff, floating around in the middle, stirring little beyond a shrug, an appreciative nod or a momentary frown.
We like to keep something back for the gold medal beers, and for the absolute stinkers.
The rest of the time, Fine is OK.
Let’s pop in here for a pint.
Oh, is it good?
Not, good, exactly. Interesting.
What does interesting mean?
There’s always something going on. Some sort of drama.
Oh dear. Is the beer good, though?
Well…. Not good. I mean, it doesn’t taste that nice, but there is something about it.
Sorry, but this sounds terrible.
Oh, yeah, it is, in a way. But we should go in anyway, just for one. It’s brilliant.
Oh, I see — ironic appreciation — ‘So bad it’s good!’.
No, we genuinely like it, we just can’t be sure anyone else will. It’s complicated.
Arriving in Somerset we’re greeted at the door with bottles of Butcombe bitter and their IPA.
Maybe it’s the exhausting journey, maybe the occasion, but both taste great — pure beeriness and sweet Christmas tangerines respectively.
There’s more bottled Butcombe with a barbecue, alongside local scrumpy. ‘Cider then beer, you feel queer,’ says Bailey’s Dad. ‘Beer then cider… Makes a good rider!’
Finally, lunch at the manorial inter-war Bath Arms in Cheddar with cool, perfectly styled pints of Butcombe Gold — a straightforward, satisfying amber-coloured ale but without the standard Bitter’s whiff of well-worn hand-knitted jumpers.
Soothing, dependable, decent. Good old Butcombe.
The citizens of Craftonia, from Singapore to Stockholm, stand together in uniform opposition to homogeneity.
It is a land where the light comes from filament bulbs.
Where beer taps are on the back wall, brick is bare and wood is stripped.
Craftonian cuisine is ‘dirty’, but not really, and it is usually a burger.
There are no plain walls there: every surface has a caricature of a barman, a beer list, or a brief manifesto.
All the beers are IPAs, except the ones that are sour.
There are many breweries in Craftonia but most of them are Stone, BrewDog and Mikkeller.
We wrote this last autumn but decided against posting it, though we did include a version of it in our email newsletter (sign up here). We were moved to revive it by this post from Tandleman.
The sacred texts told us Brettanomyces had a ‘horse blanket’ or ‘barnyard’ aroma. It is, they said, ‘sweaty’, ‘leathery’, ‘mousy’.
But none of that worked for us and we couldn’t spot Brett unless we’d been cued to expect it.
We know what the experts are getting at with the animal comparisons — earthy, musky, funky, right? — but it’s like trying to describe the colour red by saying ‘Purplish, but also orangey.’ Brett is Brett, and nothing else.
We eventually cracked it by drinking a lot of Orval, and ‘Orval-like’ is the most useful descriptor for Brett character we’ve yet discovered.
Any other suggestions?
Main image from the BBC website.
Last weekend, I visited a few pubs with a mate. Normally laid back, there is, it transpires, one thing that raises his blood pressure:
‘I can’t stand American hops — why does everything have to taste of bloody grapefruit!?’
So, in the next place, when I ordered Dark Star Hophead and he said, ‘Same,’ I held up a hand with a heroic flourish.
‘No! You probably want this one.’ That being a best bitter with English hops.
It seemed counter-intuitive — Hophead is a classic! — but he loved his caramel-sweet malt bomb, and I felt, smugly, that I’d done the noble thing.
Mr Turner is right: ‘The biggest influence in whether someone has a second pint is the quality of their first.’
Sometimes, you mean to have one beer and end up having four because you don’t know when you’ll next taste something so perfect.
More often, though, you have one and, though there’s nothing wrong with it, not that you could complain about, not that you can put your finger on, that awkward first date is as far as it ever goes.
Not ordering a second pint is just about the most passive protest a customer can make.