Breaking the Cycle of Recommendation

In the comments on this post last week, a side debate broke out about whether people ought to research a town’s beer scene before visiting, rather than hoping to stumble upon a good pub or bar.

A similar conversation, with a more hysterical tone, followed Pete Brown’s post about Chesterfield earlier in the year.

It’s obviously a bit rich to dismiss a town or city as having nowhere good to drink if you haven’t done any research (although that certainly wasn’t Mr Brown’s point) but playing it by ear from time to time can be both fun and illuminating.

The risk to relying on the guidance of others is that the loop can end up closing: everyone goes to the same handful of famous places, drinks the same few ‘must try’ beers, ends up writing more-or-less the same articles and blog posts, and then makes the same recommendations when they’re asked. The same places end up appearing in listicles and guide books, often for years after they’ve lost their lustre.

By all means carry out research before your trip, but do also leave a little time to explore, and to follow your instincts — you might find a new place struggling for custom but destined to be the next big thing; or stumble upon a great pub that no-one recommends because the beer is terrible; or just get really under the skin of the town you’re visiting.

You might even strike-out completely and end up back in the hotel bar, but that’s fine, too: if every single drinking session is ‘world class’, none of them are.

The Global Aspect of Alterno-beer

Detail from a sign reading Praha, Prague, Praga, Prag.

Zak Avery’s latest blog post touches on the links between British and American brewing and how that has contributed to a ‘craft beer culture’. (The penultimate paragraph is particularly perceptive.)

Earlier this week, we set about trying to identify key turning points in the development of what we’re calling (for the moment) an ‘alterno-beer culture’ in the UK and, although we pondered the issue of cultural exchange, weren’t able to pinpoint many specifics.

Surely, though, the development of cheap trans-Atlantic flights from the seventies onwards; the opening up of Prague after the fall of Communism; and the birth of Brussels as a tourist destination with the coming of Eurostar, must all have contributed to a broadening of people’s beery horizons.

It’s certainly fascinating how many brewers, from all over the world, have official biographies which contain variations on this sentence: “Their interest in beer had originally been fired by a visit to Belgium in 1980.” (In this case, that’s beer writer Michael Jackson describing the founders of US brewery Ommegang.)

Of course, the only beer that tastes better than the free stuff is that which you drink on holiday, but isn’t it also natural to take for granted what you have around you? In our case, it took German and American beer to jolt us into really appreciating straightforward British ales, as per Zak’s Australian Chardonnay analogy.