The only reason I started drinking was because of peer pressure from my mate Nick. I stayed at university for an extra year to do a masters and he had another year of his engineering degree to go and. Early on, the full horror dawned on him: “I can’t believe I’m stuck in this miserable city with only a teetotaller for company.”
I started drinking to keep him company and soon learned that Nick had a set of rules about pubs and beer:
1. Pubs should be dark brown up to waist height and nicotine brown above.
2. Red Stripe is the go-to beer for most situations, but especially nightclubs and picnics.
3. Beck’s tastes of blood.
4. Stella gives you headaches because it is “dirty”.
5. No-one likes Guinness, but you have to drink it on Sunday lunchtime — “It’s a rule.”
Having only been drinking for about two months, I remember vividly being bullied into getting a pint of Guinness and taking two hours to drink it. It only got worse as, sitting next to a roaring fire, it got warmer and warmer. I’d never tasted anything so bitter or so vile.
I was not reassured by Nick’s Sixth Law:
6. Guinness makes you shit treacle.
These days, of course, Nick is himself teetotal, and I’ve got way more rules about beer and pubs than he ever did.
It’s 2002 and I’m in a central London chain pub celebrating my birthday with a mixture of work colleagues and friends from the real world. At this time, you’ll normally catch me drinking Foster’s or bloody marys but it’s my round (hey, thanks, so-called friends!) and one of my colleagues asks for a Deuchars IPA. I am so intrigued by the name that I order one as well.
It’s quite nice – every bit as refreshing as the lager but with some interesting flavours that I find I want more of.
Over the course of the next year, I drink more, and start looking out for it in other pubs. My conversion to real ale has begun.
We’ve posted about how disappointing Deuchars usually is. Either it’s got worse or I grew out of it.
During World War II, my grandfather was taken prisoner at Dunkirk, and spent most of the next few years at Stalag VIIIb in what is now Lambinowice in Poland, but was then called Lamsdorf.
I decided to visit the site of the camp and badgered Boak into using her Polish to make arrangements. As a result, I was greeted on site by an English speaking student from the University of Opole, who showed us what little remained of the camp and escorted us around an exhibition building.
There were three camps, she explained, and the “Britische Lager” was by far the most civilised. The Russian camp was hellish; the Polish one not much better; but the British soldiers benefited from lip-service to the Geneva Convention.
She pointed to a photograph: “They even had one bottle of beer a week from packages sent by the Red Cross.” There it was, the familiar shape of an English ale bottle, with what I thought was the Big Red Triangle on the label.
It must have tasted great after a day labouring on the construction of an Autobahn; the fact that it was a little piece of home must have made it all the sweeter.
London, 8 July 2005 – the Day After.
It felt really important to get into work that day, to show that our lives were not going to be disrupted by terrorism. Many of my colleagues clearly felt the same, as despite the ongoing public transport chaos, and the fact that we could all have worked from home if we wanted to, the office was perhaps even busier than usual for a Friday in summer.
But our minds were on things than accounts and spreadsheets and, eventually, a number of us sloped off early to a nearby pub. We needed to be with each other, doing something normal, not being afraid.
As the tipsiness kicked in, the British stiff upper lip started to falter just a little, and we began to express how we really felt about the previous day’s events.
I don’t think I’ve ever spent a more sombre night in the pub, or a more therapeutic one.
The first beer we made that we were proud to give to other people was only ever intended as a test subject.
We were trying out our new all-grain brewing kit and were also trying to start from scratch designing recipes, and so brewed with only pale malt (Maris Otter) and Fuggles, fermenting with dried Nottingham yeast. (We think. This was years ago, and we weren’t keeping notes.)
We were staggered when the finished product was bright and aromatic and flavoursome. Our flatmate/landlord/friend, Ed, described it as “immense” and refused to believe we’d made it. Perhaps he was being polite, or perhaps he meant “compared to that shite you forced me to drink from the first kit”, but we didn’t care.
Of course, the next two brews failed, but the memory of this early success kept us going through the hard times, and convinced us it was possible — that the idea of drinkable homebrew wasn’t just a cruel lie promoted by the vast and sinister plastic bucket industry.
I was lucky enough to spend two weeks at the World Cup in Germany in 2006 with various friends. We had tickets for five games but also made a point of watching every other match we could in pubs, restaurants and beer gardens. As you might expect, there were many memorable beer occasions, but the one that sticks with me most is spending a few days in Rothenburg ob der Tauber between matches. Even in those pre-blogging days, I was sufficiently interested in beer to want to try as many as possible, whereas my main travelling companion was a fan of “normal lager, like normal people drink”.
We camped out in the back room of a café that specialised in Flammkuchen to watch all three of the day’s matches, while the staff brought us pint after pint of Ochsenfurter Kauzenbrau, which I found remarkably delicious. Unfortunately, as my friend did the ordering, I have no idea which one of their range it was (“I just ordered normal beer”). I drank at least six pints, way more than usual — it was just impossible to stop. Serious nectar-of-the-Gods territory, with a deep malt flavour that I sometimes think I can still taste. They were three very memorable matches, too, particularly the Czech Republic vs USA, made even more enjoyable by the banter with three Americans on the table in front of us.
The disappointing postscript to this is that, on a subsequent trip to Franconia, I dragged Bailey round every pub we could in and around Rothenburg until we found the legendary brew that I’d been banging on about. It turned out to be…OK. Possibly my biggest ever beer let down, and more evidence, perhaps, of “the time, the place”.
Other beery highlights from the world cup include watching a Germany match in the Englischer Garten in Munich, where the efficient German machine managed to serve more than 3000 litres during half time.
Sixth-form history trip to Prague, some time in the nineties; I’m all Doc Martens and shapeless homemade jumpers, as are my friends. Staying in a cheap hotel on the outskirts of town, in the middle of a huge housing estate, we decide to hit the bar and buy lots of bottles to drink in our dormitory.
I have no idea what beer it was but, at the time, two things struck me: first, that it was absurdly cheap – around 20 pence a bottle – and, secondly, that it was 10%. Ten! Three times as strong as Foster’s! We were all amazed by this but also pleasantly surprised to wake up the next day without enormous hangovers. We put this down to the amazing quality of the beer, coz, like, it’s all the additives in beer that gives you the hangovers, innit?
I maintained the daft belief for the next decade that you could drink vast quantities of strong Czech and German beer without feeling the pain the next day because it was ‘cleaner’.
With my subsequently acquired beer geek hat on, it seems obvious today that the ‘10% beer’ was no such thing but rather a ‘desitka’ (10 degrees Balling) and so much more likely to have been around 3-4% ABV.
How many British students have imagined themselves into a drunken stupor on three bottles of weak lager because they’ve made the same mistake?
When we host a party, we’re always delighted to open the door and have a plastic bag thrust at us: “We know you like beer so we brought a few interesting things we picked up.”
We have a very vivid memory of the end of a party some time in around 2005. Everyone had gone and music was playing into an empty front room strewn with empty beer cans and paper plates. We slumped onto the sofa, slightly exhausted and a little tipsy, and decided to split one more beer before tidying up. We reached for a bag of beers a friend had brought, harvested from the corner shops of Walthamstow.
The bottle that came to hand was Dublin-brewed Guinness Foreign Extra Stout. Being snotty about Guinness, we didn’t expect much except a nastier, boozier version of the stout we occasionally drank in an emergency in the pub.
The aroma, like smelling salts, snapped us out of our post-party drowsing: jaded as were our palates, it poked its way through. It tasted, we both agreed, like a delicious pudding. (We were enjoying, not taking notes, so that’s where the insight ended.)
Why do we remember this particular moment so vividly? Perhaps because of the shock of having our prejudices overturned.
We’d underestimated both the temperature and the distance when we set out to walk the banks of the Ilz from Passau in the summer of
2012 2010. After several hours, we reached our destination, only to find the beer garden closed
We nearly gave up but, consulting our maps, decided to push on.
We got redder in the face, sweatier and wobblier on our legs, until we were almost delirious. Eventually, even the sheltering trees disappeared and we found ourselves on a plain in the midday sun. The only thing that kept us going were worn-looking signs every few hundred metres: “Biergarten.”
What we found at the end of the trail was a village with chickens in the road and no sign of life. The signs directed us to what looked like the back of a residential property where there were two patio tables under the washing line. Sure enough, though, an old lady in a pinny appeared and we gasped our order: “Zwei Pils, bitte!”
Can you imagine how good the beer in the picture above tasted?
You might start to notice a theme emerging here: that the most memorable beers are often not, in themselves, especially distinguished. Time and place and all that…
We’d walked past the rough-looking pub in New Cross hundreds of times, heading back and forth to the tube, to the shops, to the Taste of Raj, but it had never even crossed our mind to go in. We’d never seen anyone go in.
It had nicotine-yellow net curtains, fly-blown windows, peeling paintwork and, late at night, what looked like the light from two 40 watt bulbs was the only sign of occupation.
For some reason or other, though, Bailey’s parents liked the look of it. They’d driven a long way from Somerset , arriving late in the evening, and wanted more than one pint, despite the approach of last orders. Having run a pub, they looked at this place and smelled a lock in.
Sure enough, Bailey’s Dad sent the signals: two pints and two whiskies down in double quick time to indicate serious intent. The curtains were drawn, the landlady winked, and we were away. The beer was… actually, the beer wasn’t memorable at all. If it tasted of anything, it was late night, transgression, cigarettes and hushed conversation.