So there I am thinking about the beers and the corresponding moments that have been the staging posts on my journey that has brought me to now. I am thinking of the beers that transformed me, that changed me from believing that beer was something to get drunk on, the beers that made me stop, think and realise that I could fall in love with beer and find a whole universe of joy, contemplation, necessity and fun within one glass.
The beers I recall are not those to drink before you die, though some of them could be; they are not even beers that I drink much of these days, but they are beers and moments that still linger around in my thoughts, an echo of something just on the edge of auditory sensibility. I could do 20, probably more, but in the interests of brevity and keeping readers awake here are four.
Pilsner Urquell in green bottles in the early 1980s from the Oddbins in Cambridge, near Parkers Piece which is the only place I have ever played a proper cricket match (on a friend’s birthday and I was out for a duck, second ball). At the time, for some reason, I had a fondness for what was then Czechoslovakia (and I still love the Czech Republic). I found the country fascinating and cool, even though it was in the iron grip of communism. Somehow I found myself drinking the beer on Parker’s Piece, enjoying the taste, though there were no tasting notes and I can’t remember what I tasted, except that it was wonderful. This was one of those moments that turned me from a devourer of any old lager to a picky younger lager git.
In February 1987 (I know the date because I found the diary), I was walking up a road in Finsbury Park and noticed a new pub, which up until then had been a carpet showroom (not that I had even been in). [It is the White Lion of Mortimer – Ed].
My then girlfriend and I went in and I saw a pump clip for Tolly Cobbold Bitter, which I vaguely recalled enjoying when I lived in Cambridge. I was just starting to get into cask beer and this beer hit the spot that night. It was an affirmation that cask could be good. I drank six or was it eight pints and never saw it again. Oh and that was the first time I ever went into a Wetherspoons.
It’s March 1989 and a mate and I have gone to the London Drinker Festival near Kings Cross. I would like to say that this was my first CAMRA beer festival, but I’d briefly gone to one in Cambridge a few years earlier and thoroughly hated it. Things had changed and me and Keith spent the afternoon at the festival, mainly drinking Woodforde’s Wherry, six pints if I recall. ‘Deliciously malty’ I wrote, Alan Partridge-Style, in my diary. I had it again later in the year when in Norfolk. Again this was a cementing in of my relationship with cask.
Cask beer wasn’t the only fruit that I enjoyed. I was reading Michael Jackson in the Independent every Saturday and his columns opened the curtains onto a world of beer beyond what I still considered the stuff of CAMRA bores (I resisted joining for years because I thought it would be like student politics or the knee-jerk stuff I’d experience in housing coop meetings during my early days in London). So this is where Duvel in Eindhoven in 1987 came in. Again it involved my mate Keith, who was working there and when I went to see him, he rhapsodised about a strong Belgian beer served in a weird-looking glass. According to my diary entry from that night I had six Duvels and six glasses of draft lager. Next day, the-worst-hangover-ever. Never again, I wrote. That resolution didn’t last long.
So what was your journey and what were your stopping points?