What shall I write is the question that anyone who lives by the pen (or laptop these days, naturally) all too often asks themselves? Where shall I wander on the page, what shall I dredge from the deep river of memory — which beer, which brewery, which brewer, which city has attracted my attention, has made me want to live there forever, or at least until my liver gives out?
Today I feel like writing about how travel is crucial in understanding a beer culture, how leaving your safe suburban (or Rus in urbe) home and reaching out to a beer city (or town) is an essential act when it comes to immersing yourself in the world of beer. Anyone can sit at home and drink a lemon and lime gose and tell their social media feed that they comprehend everything about the style, or that the coconut-flavoured Tripel from a cuckoo brewer in the badlands of Boston (Lincs rather than that big city in the US) is just how a monk really intended it to be.
However, in my view to really understand where a beer comes from and what it really tastes like and how it is drunk and where it is drunk, you need to gulp this beer style in the city or the region where it is made. In Leipzig you can drink Leipziger Gose, perhaps at the Bayerischer Bahnhof, where the beer is brewed on a platform above the bar, or hunker down in the Gosenschenke ohne Bedenken, an old-style wood-panelled tavern where Putin was reputed to sup when he worked for the KGB here. The latter is a traditional Gose pub, which has recently started brewing its own on the premises, but it also still sells Ritterguts’ tongue-curlingly sour version (an ideal snack accompaniment is a piece of black bread smeared with pork fat).
Over the last few years some of the places I have immersed myself in have seen me drink Gose in Leipzig, West Coast IPAs with the Pacific swell just over there and sit in the dark confines of Braueri Heller’s tap room in Bamburg, where Schlernkerla Rauchbier is the everyday drink of those who come in to read a paper or hang out with their mates.
There is that feeling that for a brief snatch of time, however short or transient, you are part of something; that the beer style that you rarely see in the UK or has been disembowelled by all kinds of adjuncts, is just the daily beer of the locals who come and go. For those of us who love beer culture these sort of trips are a kind of pilgrimage
However, I recently realised that there is a downside to this dependency on travel: after co-organising the Exeter Beer Weekend I decided that all this travel was all well and good, but that I was in danger or ignoring the beer culture that was going on in my own city, Exeter and throughout the whole southwest.
There are breweries cropping up all over the place, while those like Verdant, Deya, Moor and Lost and Grounded are quenching the thirsts of beer lovers all over the country. Here in Exeter, Topsham Brewery mix music and their own beers at a lively tap down on the historic quay, while just outside the market town of Crediton the lagers of the newly commissioned Utopian are rapidly taking all of us by storm; add to that Powderkeg and others in the surrounding countryside and I’m beginning to temporarily lose that itch to travel (it’ll come back). Someone in the pub the other night said something that chimed within as we discussed our growing beer scene: local is the new global. She might well be right.