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.
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.
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.
A brewery does something annoying or offensive — what do you do?
If you don’t challenge, you’re letting them off the hook.
But if you write or Tweet about it, you shine a light on their stunt — just what they want — and your reaction, however negative, ends up being counted as an ‘engagement’ in a marketing executive’s ‘return on investment’ report.
It will probably also gain them even more attention when it’s reported as ‘BEER GEEKS OUTRAGED’ in the trade press two days later.
We tend to ignore, because, frankly, stunts are boring, and ignoring is easier… but should we?
We’ve been asked several times in the last couple of years: “What would you say is the best beer in the world?”
It’s a daft question, but we’ve tried to answer, with Bailey saying something weasely like “My current favourite is…” and Boak consistently naming the cask version of Fuller’s London Porter.
But we’ve had a think and made a final decision with which we can both agree: the best beer in the world is Westmalle Tripel.
If we could drink nothing else for all eternity, we’d be quite happy.
So there you go. Good to have that settled.
Photograph adapted from Westmalle by Georgio, from Flickr under Creative Commons.
Discussing the relaunch of Let There Be Beer today reminded us of just how often we hear the statement above uttered by people who dislike beer.
We ought to bear in mind every time we catch ourselves complaining that mainstream beers are bland or that, say, Sharp’s Doom Bar is too sickly sweet, that, for some, those beers are probably still too bitter.
We’re quite cured of the desire to ‘convert people’ these days, but if a beer sceptic asked us for a suggestion, we might point them to a gentle-but-quirky, barely-bitter-at-all German or Belgian wheat beer.