My local sells real ale. They have two pumps, one is perpetually Doom Bar and the other alternates between a number of Golden ales and IPAs from the Robinson’s brewery. At the moment they have on Hoppy Wan Kenobi which is packed with Cascade and Sovereign hops. Regular readers will know my feelings about American floral hops ie when I am Queen they will be launched into the sun, and even the good old British Sovereign (the hop, not Liz) doesn’t rescue this beer. For me every sip was like being hit in the face with a bunch of gladioli.
And so when I visit my local my current drink of choice is a Coors Light with a shot of lime cordial in the top. And it’s fantastic. I can neck four or five pints of that with glee whilst watching football. It’s refreshing, it’s got flavour, and I don’t have to log the damn thing on untappd or worry that it’s getting near to the bottom of the barrel, or do any other kind of thinking which is liable to distract me from more important matters like who they’re putting out at centre back for Iran.
I hesitate to jump on the Anthony Bourdain train but a quotation of his was floating around twitter last week when his death was announced. The gist was that in most brew pubs he visits no-one is really drinking, they are lining up flights going from dark to light, getting out their apps or making notes in a little book about flavour profiles. His drink of choice was ‘what’s coldest’. And there are plenty of great American bars that I’ve visited where your choices are restricted to Coors, Bud, and their ‘light’ counterparts. They are great bars because they have character, and atmosphere, and you feel at home there. Would they be improved by ‘better’ beers? Yes maybe, or maybe it’s nice to have an oasis of averageness in a world where everyone is competing to be the newest, the best, the coolest. Why go out for hamburgers when you’ve got steak at home, asked Paul Newman? Because hamburgers are just fucking good sometimes aren’t they? The cheaper and the greasier the better.
It’s become standard practice at beer festivals to always be searching out something new, never drinking the same beer twice at one session and not drinking any beer you’ve tried before, even if you like it. I remember some dismay when I stated last October that I drank Chapter Brewing’s Roadside Picnic at IMBC – because I’d had it before. I had it before and I liked it so I drank it again. “But there are so many other beers there that you hadn’t tried!” came the reply. Yes, we’re now living in a ‘beer culture’ where a celery sour can be considered achingly pedestrian within weeks.
I’ve found myself recently suffering from ‘choice fatigue’. In the Euston Tap a week or so ago I was presented with a list of over thirty beers to choose from, scrawled in tiny letters on blackboards a thousand feet up, as per. I saw someone with a tall, thin glass of something vaguely orange and just pointed at it – it was a 2.5% grapefruit radler by Schofferhofer and it was superb. But still someone commented that I had made an error by choosing something so readily available when there was a limited edition Russian Imperial Stout which I could have been enjoying in the 28 degree weather. Sometimes when you walk into a pub you just want a flipping drink, not the final exam on a sommelier course. And that grapefruit radler would have blown people’s minds had it shown up in virtually any ‘normal’ out of town pub in this country. In the minds of some though, it was barely above dishwater on the drinking scale.
Boak and Bailey recently posed a question on their twitter feed asking what was the biggest threat to beer and pub culture. My answer to this every time is classism. The idea that the only way to enjoy beer and pubs is by constantly aiming to make them palatable to the upper middle class and hipsters with large disposable incomes. Every recent discourse about inclusion and diversity in beer has gradually swung towards this end. There was very little room in the recent Dea Latis report for working class women who consume BOGOF cocktails and prosecco bottle deals, and how they might be invited into the beer market. At a recent conference the focus was on food pairing and Jane Peyton issued the missive “It’s not enough to have a pickled egg and pint of bitter”.
Now Jane and other sommeliers have that agenda, and that’s fine, all power to them. But it takes what is traditionally a working class drink, and a working class institution, and tries to wrestle them away and into the hands of those who are able to pump more money into the industry. There are good drinkers and bad drinkers in this Brave New World, the good will be feted with schooners and cheese pairings, whilst the bad will be battered with minimum pricing and the closure of more local pubs. Why can’t there be a place at the table for the old boy who drinks two pints of the same mild at the same spot in the pub every day and has done for fifty years? Why should he be traded in for someone who will abandon that same pub if they can’t afford to offer a brand new and exciting craft ale every time they deign to walk in?
If you spend all your time seeking out the best and the newest, you never actually appreciate it when you find it. Nobody, apart from Roy Wood, wants it to be Christmas every day. Let it be a Monday afternoon in October. Let it be Coors Light with a shot of lime. Let it be a pickled egg and a pint of bitter, if that’s what you want. If every beer has to be special, that’s the same as saying none of them are.
PS Food pairing for Coors Light with a shot of lime is cheese and onion Ringos.