There it is, your pride and joy, a well-oiled, two-wheeled monstrosity of a motor-bike. It is a Moto Guzzi perhaps, a Harley if that is your preference, or maybe a Triumph if you’re lucky. You get on it, both feet on the ground, push it off its stand, feel the light bounce of the suspension and then start the engine, a stutter-free start, followed by the genial ticking over of a magnificent piece of engineering. Into gear you go, the throttle is opened and the road is ahead.
You might be in Croydon or Dagenham, but in your mind you are on the West Coast of America, overlooking the Pacific. On the road, is that a man in overalls inspecting a dead coyote before lifting it into the back of his truck? Later on you will stop and stand in a viewing place overlooking the Ocean (the Thames or the Severn really) and a deep throaty roar will announce the passing of a Harley, its lone rider decked out in Sons of Anarchy-style colours.
This is how I imagine the physical presence of a West Coast IPA, a beer style that much to my joy I am discovering more and more on my stop-start travels. It is the kind of beer that roars into life on my tongue, takes me to places where I once went, time-travels back through the years when I rode motor-bikes and slaps a purchasing order on the palate. It is a beer style made for travel.
For instance, last weekend I was in my hometown of Llandudno in North Wales, seeing the family. I spent several hours in Tapps, a micro-pub or bar, which even though it is part of a Victorian terrace of low-browed, bay-windowed buildings, does not have a long and venerable history. Until 2017, a cake shop traded where it now sells beer, presumably doling out baking tools to aspiring Mary Berrys. Your granddad didn’t drink there, but my paternal great-grandfather might have if Tapps had been there in 1901, as he and his family are recorded as living two doors down in the 1901 census (it’s now a restaurant).
The beer I ordered was Chapter Brewery’s Keystone, a ravening orange-amber West Coast IPA that, miracle of miracles, was only slightly hazy (I’m getting tired with beers that look like SunnyD). I stared at it for a moment, thinking of what a West Coast IPA meant to me, images of a 2015 trip down the coast from Seattle to Portland flitting through my mind.
The sound of an ancient engine broke up my thoughts, an old British bike being parked on the other side of the street, so I lifted the glass. There were pulsations of tropical fruit and pine on the nose, the pine reminding me of the smell of a forest of conifers after rainfall, and again I travelled back to the West Coast of America, thinking of the sight of pine forests stretching up hills with the dexterity of an acrobat.
I took a swig and there was more of the tropical fruit (freshly cut ripe mango perhaps, a bite into the soft, juicy flesh of a guava), as well as the pine; there was the weight of alcohol on the tongue, a mid-palate bitter-sweetness before a finish that managed to be both dry and bitter. This was a beer that made its presence known on the palate, a beer that made me think of the freedom of the road, even though I sat outside a small bar in a seaside town, as the holidaymakers came and went with the metronomic regularity of the waves on the town’s two beaches.
Some beer styles have an ability to let you travel, various members of the family of lager perhaps; every Märzen I drink brings me closer to the blessed countryside of Franconia, its peaceful villages often with a side-helping of a brewery; the deep golden hue of a pale lager made in a Bohemian brewery in a forest conjures up images of a boat trip I once made down the River Vltava, slow and steady, accompanied by cool draughts of Budvar.
I don’t get that sense of travel with a bitter, as much as I like to drink deeply of the style, neither does a mild or a porter get me out of my armchair, but this West Coast IPA from a small brewery in Cheshire was a potent reminder of how some beers can help us slip the bonds and boundaries of those quotas of days that we call life.