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.