(This terse suggestion provided by @spudgfsh)


That’s merely a word. Exactly what about beer am I supposed to write about? How beer is made? What beer I like? Hilarious anecdotes about times when I have drunk beer? Funny beer names? Who knows.

I do drink beer. I don’t drink it as much as I used to, and my taste has changed over the years. Back at uni “beer” was “watered down £1 a pint Heineken”, so 15 pints of the stuff in a single night was probably only three units of alcohol. If you were feeling flush you’d buy a £1.40 pint (or several) of John Smiths. Ah, for the days when £5 was enough for the evening’s drinkathon.

Fun beer fact: I didn’t start drinking until I was 18 and at university. Before then, my only drinking experiences were that I’d had a taste of wine at some wedding or something, and one day when I was about 12 I was at my nan’s and she gave me a small tin, 150ml or something, of Guinness. She used to take Guinness “medicinally, for my diabetes” so often had these little tins about. I don’t know how it came about that I was given it but I went out to play and drank it while the other kids gasped at my manliness.

I’d sometimes try other beers, but choice at the uni bar was pretty limited. They had Guinness, but that was very expensive (£1.60!) and not conducive to getting drunk as it’s impossible to imbibe more than two pints largely because it’s like drinking peat. At other pubs I discovered Caffreys and (my favourite for a long time and now no longer readily available) Kilkenny. There’s a pub on the pier in Great Yarmouth that for a while was a Kilkenny Bar, served cheap Kilkenny, and was the best place ever. The pub is still there but the Kilkenny is long gone. Shame.

Sometimes, we’d go to a pub called The Hogshead, which was the only place I knew that did this magical brew called Hoegaarden. It was white. And £3 a pint, but for some reason they looked at you funny if you bought a pint. No, they’d say, you buy a this-sized-glassful for about £2. A big chunky tumbler style glass with Hoegaarden written on it. It was lovely. Later, I’d realise this was just a layman’s Belgian beer and behind it were a veritable cavalcade of cloudy, wheaty concoctions, but at the time it was an expensive revelation.

Around this time, given the opportunity and money, I’d drink pretty much any form of beer (or indeed, alcohol, but it was mainly beer) without much prejudice. Some I liked more than others, and once I’d left university I’d mostly cast “beginners lagers” like olde cheapy Heineken and Fosters and so on to the side. Belgian beers were to the fore, with Leffe and Brugs Witbier two affordable favourites. Hoegaarden was clearly a gateway beer. More recently, I’ve also become one of those bearded old men who likes a decent ale. Not a beer, but an ale.

Now, I’m not one of those folks who can reel off ingredients of ale just from the smell. Terms like “hoppy” and “malty” I understand from the description (they have lots of hops or malt in them, of course) but they’re foreign to me in terms of how beer tastes. Is it hoppy? I don’t know, and I don’t really care. I know which I like, and can generally tell from the smell, the ABV and the colour whether I’ll like a beer or not, rather than hop to malt ratio.

Every year, I visit the Norwich Beer Festival. I know different people go to these for different reasons, some to get drunk. Some because it’s a fun day out. Some people go because they have long beards, bald heads and large bellies. I like to go for the social reasons but also to try some beers. I don’t take a pen, and I don’t tick them off in the beer guide, and I rarely even remember which ones I’ve drunk when questioned the following day, but that doesn’t matter. Some people find the beer selection process a science or dark art. Carefully checking the blurb for mentions of fruity notes or chocolate hues, comparing several similar beers across a range of breweries. Picking beer from different parts of the country because the water there is hard or soft. They’re doing it wrong.

How to choose a beer at a beer festival

  1. Find the ones with funny names.

That’s it.

What do I drink now? Well, a bit of everything, but there are a few types I tend to go for. I prefer lighter (by which I mean colour or density, rather than alcohol content) ales, in general. IPA of most kinds usually go down well, and I still enjoy a good Belgian beer like Bruges Zot. Belgian beers can be stupidly high ABV, but for some reason it’s often hard to tell from the taste. A single Chimay or Delirium is often enough for mild tipsiness, for instance, so Belgian beers are usually in moderation. With a meal, a decent lager is still perfectly fine too. I’m not especially snobby.

Beer is Best
I think this sign I found in a museum in Poole once sums up beer quite well.

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