Monday, 30 June 2014

Imbibe Lager

Lager. I cannot believe that anyone who thinks and drinks beer and clinks their glass in the pursuit of a higher kind of lifestyle can believe that lager is just — to paraphrase a legion of people, a battalion of self-knowing buzzards, who perhaps also believe that Germans are not very nice and that the sun is a colony of lizards — yellow fizz; the idiocy of this position, the simplicity and the laughable lack of knowledge about lager is something that has always bugged me, something that has almost, you could say, haunted me from the time when I started writing about beer. I can hear the words rattle like Marley’s chains, ‘I don’t like lager, it’s yellow fizz, full of chemicals, foreign rubbish, and anyway doesn’t following the bear lead to cancer (or at least the annexation of the Crimea)?’

I still hear these sorts of sentiments from various people, some of them who purport to know about beer, but all I am hearing is a continent-closed-by-fog-in-the-channel attitude that suspects lager is the spawn of a lederhosen-wearing devil with a dirndl for a pelmet. For these people lager is a misanthropic liquid that crushed all before it like Genghis Khan and is now content to squat on the roof of the world like a malevolent toad. So who am I to deny them?

On the other hand, what kind of lager do they believe is yellow fizz? Perhaps it’s a Helles with its soft bready aroma and gentle carbonation (hey it’s the colour of the sun), or a Pilsener, a lemony, crisply bitter beer that arrays itself down the palate like a horde of horsemen crossing the Steppes; or maybe it’s a roasty, toasty, boasty East German Schwarz (though smaller German breweries’ versions I have tried recently seem to have become creamier and smoother in their mouth feel); how about a chestnut brown Dunkel with its mocha and chocolate notes or even a Bock or Doppelbock with lots of alcohol, hazelnuts, chocolate and mocha (midnight dark or cellophane blonde, take your pick)? Then there’s Keller, Zoigl, Rauch, Dortmund, Světlý Ležák, yeast lager, Spezial, dry-hopped, imperial. And then some are hopped more generously than others, while some might be darker or lighter or stronger or weaker.

So with all that in mind I can ask what’s not to like about lager – after all it’s a beer that should be a noble expression of its raw materials, a clear and clean acoustic chamber of barley and hops, the ocean breeze in a glass.

Which brings me in a roundabout way to this week’s Imbibe Live where I, along with Paddy Johnson from Windsor & Eton (makers of the exemplary Republika) will be talking about British craft lager at the Beer Academy stand on Tuesday and Wednesday. We will be tasting several examples, telling tall tales, rhapsodising, encouraging and enlivening the world (or those who are passing) on the glory of lager. If you’re around do pop over.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Connections

Two beer styles, poles apart, one is a saison blended with a gueuze, the other a double IPA — I drink one after the other, not fast, not slow, just drink, no notes, few thoughts, just pleasure. But, when I finish the double IPA I wonder about a connection between the two beers and I think about how that for many beer drinkers these two beer styles are not pleasing, not pleasure, prodding the palate a bit too much, not beer even. Gueuze, for instance, took me some time to get used to; back in the 1990s, when I first met the beer, I used to add a sugar lump or two to a glass, sweetened it, befriended it, spoilt it you might say. This practice, this sweet-toothed, tub-thumping destruction of a beer, this perceived failure of mine, came to an end as I persevered and the beer became a friend minus the sugar lump. No such doubts came along with the double IPA, though I’m not too sure when I first had one, was it Moor’s JJJ, or was it Sierra Nevada’s Torpedo or was it someone else? My palate was already poised to resinous noise through the bright bustle of IPA, but does that mean to enjoy a double IPA you have to have gone through the world of IPA first? And still I’m trying to make a connection between these two beer styles, which on first and second glance (and probably third) is a hopeless quest, but I’m still trying. Maybe it’s the beers’ expressions on the palate, the complexities I picked up without really trying (because don’t forget I was drinking not thinking), the contrapuntal motion between various flavour notes and moods in the mouth feel, the sprightly chime of light grapefruit brightness against an appetising tartness in the saison/gueuze blend, the buzzsaw of hop character, resin, deep, deep ripe orange skin against a bracing, bittersweet malt-influenced backbone of the double IPA, maybe that is the connection. To me (now) they are not difficult beers, but to others they could be, which then leads me onto another thought, what on earth is a difficult beer, is there such a thing? That is a thought for another day.

The two beers were Partizan’s Cuvee, which brewer Andy gave me the other week, and Bristol Beer Factory’s Double IPA, which they sent me last week (both exemplary beers).

Monday, 23 June 2014

Pub grub

Pub grub. 

A spiced and spiked and unctuous and rich and lubricious Moroccan mutton stew or a juicy, Jambalaya-ed Cajun chicken burger or a handsome, pig-sweet pork and apple parcel accompanied by homemade brown bbq sauce or a creamy, pleasingly pungent butter bean, goat’s cheese and asparagus salad. 

Pub grub. 

I took World Beer Awards judges to the White Lion in Norwich last week for food after a weary day’s work, the place a low-ceilinged and old-school looking pub that stands just over the river from the city centre. It’s run by Milton Brewery, which is based north of Cambridge, near to the village where a drummer in the band I was in lived until he was replaced by this chap.

Pub grub.

I’ll be honest, I’ve never been sure about Milton beers and it seemed to split opinions on the night, but I have always enjoyed Marcus Aurelius and I dived straight into a glass of the ringing, chiming fruitiness of Colossus. However, it was the food that raised the flag on the night we were there — all the dishes, according to the company I kept that night, were robustly flavoured and happy to claim kinship to the sort of food you would find in a roadside French or Italian bar. The stew was lush in the way it lolled about on the tongue, while the chicken was pliant and plush as it lay in the bun. Those indifferent pubs that push pub grub could learn something from going to this pub.

Friday, 20 June 2014

The beer of the future

It’s the eighth Brewers, Maltsters, Distillers, Mineral Water Manufacturers, Licensed Victuallers, Caterers and Allied Trades National Exhibition and Market held at Agricultural Hall, Islington, in the autumn of 1886. As well as the usual stalls with brewery bits and bobs (along with the promise of a beer or two), there’s also a museum of bottles and the curiosities of bottle manufacture organised by a Mr F Foster. According to the Brewers’ Guardian of the time, only a few visit it, perhaps because, as the magazine suggests, the cost of 6d is a bit of a deterrence (visitors have already had to pay to enter the Exhibition). However, far more interesting is the report on a fringe event, the Brewers’ Congress, where a paper called The Beer of the Future is read. At the end of the talk, an agent for a particular beer insists in loud tones that ‘lager is the beer of the future’. Did he then vanish in a police box that no one saw or was he drunk or was he prescient in the way he foresaw the future of British beer? We shall never know. 

Thursday, 19 June 2014

So how do you like your beer?

So how do you like your beer? And how do you write about the beer that you like? And what do you write about the beer or think about the beer that you just happen to like? Is it delicious, perhaps deciduous in its leafiness, deconstructive in its opt-out from the common good by wearing a cloud or does it enjoy flaunting its haunting beauty like a crystal in the sun or is it down in the dumps with the trolls down the road, festive yet fetid, a cold cup of coffee grit with a grip on the pith like a clamp-like cramp. Is it gold and bold, its flavour folded and rolled, or is it coal, smoked, poked about, talked about, brought up from the ground, a glass plunged into the night? Or is it this? Primeval in its fall from grace, a lazy lump of doing nothing, a hefty, heaving groan of gluttony…



Or is it this, where the night gloats in its ability to hold back light, where the noise emerges from the glass, the chatter of bright hops, the natter and the matter and the rutting of a city on heat…

Or is it this, as peculiar as the unknown but as secure as the unknown…


There are many ways to write about beer and I’m not sure I’ll ever come to the end of finding them but I’ll keep searching (written after a day of judging beer and wondering where the words sometimes come from and if that’s enough).

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

In praise of early doors

Years ago, living in Cambridge, passing the Free Press on a sunny Saturday morning, my mate and I, noting the open door, 10.30am, popped in, with the promise of an early pint, just one, or maybe two, but as all good pub plans used to go in those long ago days, it all unravelled and we emerged, eyes blinking at the strength of the afternoon sun, at 3pm. Despite this, from then on, there emerged a love of early doors, not an obsession, but an occasional treat on a par with greeting the sunrise in June and walking through empty streets and spotting the closed curtains, the world in its temporary grave. Breakfast beer this is not, though I have come face to face with this particular phenonamena, the first time at the Six Bells brewpub in Bishops’ Castle, a visit with 11 other beer writers at 9am, a talk on mashing and fermentation expected, but heads nodding in unison as the brewer/owner Nev bellowed, ‘who’s for a breakfast beer?’.

And so, this morning, another early doors treat, en route to somewhere, and time to spare in between trains. My palate is fresh, the sun is shining and there’s an earthy, carpet-like sourness in the air of the pub into which I walk. Not unpleasant. There’s also a strain of cleaning fluid wafting through the air; a familiar aroma, of which I have a few years experience. Outside on the concourse, where the smokers often huddle conspiratorially in groups, émigrés from both the pub and the offices that tower over, imperious and insect-like in their indifference, there’s a brisk breeze and several tall banners wave and shiver in a way familiar to fans of Kurosawa’s Ran (I’m thinking the battle scenes).

‘I’m just having a second Stella, while Nan’s having a tea,’ giggles a woman draped in luridly coloured scarves, while her bare wrists shine with several bracelets. There’s a chap at the bar — a mop of hair, Ringo circa 63 just out of bed perhaps, hipster jeans, half-mast at the ankle, canvas shoes that my son and his mates wear off duty. ‘A cappuccino mate, large one, extra shot.’ The pub was quiet when I came in. It’s now beginning to fill up, voices collection and rising upwards like bees beavering away in a bush. My glass is nearly empty, a can of Sixpoint’s Bengali Tiger providing an elemental and elegant shot of hops, and the train will be ready to go in a mo. Time to leave but not before remembering that early door on a sunny morning in Cambridge.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Style

I’ve written a couple of times about London breweries, here and here, over there and over the hills, but since the time of these two articles things have raced on, taken various bends, crossed continents, frosted up arguments and then warmed and warned them up again; things have accelerated and accentuated the positive, grown up and thrown up all manner of conundrums and now there are god knows how many existent in the capital; countless amounts are capping bottles and kegging kegs, but that’s not what I want to write about.

I’m in the Dean Swift, a few moments from where Barclay Perkins used to send out beers to perk up Londoners; the Institute of Brewing and Distilling is a corner away, my happiness being a final trawl through a variety of brewing publications from the late 1950s onwards: finally I have all the results of every brewing competition for what is now the InternationalBrewing Awards since its inception in 1888 (I’m writing a book). Four cask beers and — I don’t know — six or eight craft keg beers (it’s ridiculous that I feel the need to identify the dispense system of the beers I want to choose from) face me and my throat desires the first drink of the day, the drink that I want to percolate down through my palate and whose character I want to stay around and get me to remember it in 100 years. So I chose the pub’s own branded London Lager. I ask questions. Is London Pilsner a Czech style then? No it’s a London style. I try a tasting, there’s a billowing diacetyl note that I’ve always associated with Pilsner; there’s a bite of bitterness. It’s Czech I mutter to myself, very happy that there are breweries bold enough to take on this style (it’s Portobello btw). However, what it also makes me think. So what is a London style, how can a city influence a beer style?

The next day, I’m drinking Kernel’s London Sour with founder Evin; mindful of the previous day’s thoughts about London, I’m thinking about the beer: it’s sour but not too sour, not too assertive in its sourness, but still sour enough for someone not attuned to sour beer to make a face a contorted as jazz and ask what on earth are they drinking. It’s a refreshing beer, a beer Evin tells me has Berliner Weisse, the idea of Berliner Weisse as its idea, but I then think about London Pilsner and wonder if there is such a thing as a London style.

Could there be a London style and what would be the influence? I know about the water of London and the availability of the hops and the malt, but there’s got to be more to a style than this? What about the people, what do they eat and what do they like to drink with their food? What about the climate, the temperature, the summers and the winters, the happiness and the sadness, the carefree index or the lack of care, the influence of wine, the silence of temperance, the ghosts that haunt people’s palates, the food that they eat and dream about and then there‘s the feats of strength they like to boast about and toast. All these must surely contribute to a contemporary London style? Or any style?

Monday, 16 June 2014

London, Saturday morning

London, Saturday morning. The sourness of a smile when the owner of the smile realises that life has taken a wrong turning and the profitable journey that this person, this owner of the smile, this moaner of every mile taken, thought that they were embarking on, is not the most appropriate way to describe Kernel’s London Sour. Instead, I would be thinking of an expansive smile, a hug perhaps, a friendly nudge in the ribs, a salad of avocado with mozzarella, rocket, basil upon which balsamic vinegar has been spotted, a cradle of civilised behaviour, a juicy, well-tempered kind of beer, a spike of sourness, a palate-changing game, a rounded, grounded kind of beer that tarts, rasps, fruits, Berliner Weisse’s it up like nobody’s business. Then there’s Partisan’s X-Ale, which seems to suggest the sort of beer that hopheads tremble alone at night in their garrets about. ‘It’s a Victorian mild,’ I’m told by Partisan Andy, who I originally met at the Jolly Butchers in the company of Pete Brown. He supplied the British Guild of Beer Writers with his deep and gastronomically able Quad last year, a robust cluster of dark flavours that soar out of a glass, the mast of an arc of flavours that park themselves on the palate with a mallet-hard persistence. I grew up despising mild, the skinflint’s beer as we used to say around the table in the King’s Head, northern old men’s muck, towels and hankies beer; but that gulping sound is me swallowing words, galloping backwards in time and bringing back favour: X-Ale is the kind of beer (if this mild be a beer) that lounges with a long-limbed languor, a beer full of fortitude and luxuriousness that — for once — puts mild into another, more enjoyable, bracket of sensuality. Over at Brew by Numbers the voices are throwing shapes, the voices are knowing and fateful. A man with a flat cap onto which a brace of roe deer’s antlers are embedded stands with his friends; I think I get the message. In my glass goes the Coffee Porter, which gives me a message — drink me; it’s brittle and bright, brisk and breakfast-like; a beer with which I would normally start the day perhaps? And finally I go into another railway arch, where Anspach & Hobday call themselves home and a double IPA plinys it for me, a great blast, a deep, deep well of orange, the kind of deepness in which you can imagine a Game of Thrones bad guy is thrown, alongside an ecstatic bitterness, an all encompassing bitterness perhaps, that lifts its arms to the air and thanks whatever deity it presumes to worship on this day that was a Saturday in Bermondsey.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Beer Trails: The Brewery in the Bohemian Forest: Evan Rail

The author with one of his mates
This compact e-book is a superlative piece of beer writing: I read it in one go, partly on a bike in the gym and then finished it when I got home in league with a coffee so strong that when I dropped my pen in it the damn thing floated. It’s the sort of joyful and under-the-radar beer writing full of words, phrases and sentences that bring the reader straight into the heart of the Bohemian Forest as well as create a monumental thirst for the beers of the brewery Rail writes about.

What a word Bohemian is. I used to joke that my wife and I were Bohemian, but the truth was I hadn’t cut the grass for a while or mended the skirting board I’d promised to do six months before. And then there is La Boheme, with whatshername and her tiny frozen hands (my mother’s favourite opera, I prefer Berlioz’s La Damnation de Faust); lot of Bohemians there then, going hungry, getting cold and generally mooning about the place. On the other hand there’s a deeper meaning to Rail’s evocation of the Bohemian Forest — the dark, trackless places that could swallow a legion, as happen in the Teutoburg Forest where Arminius destroyed Varus. All these connections: yes it’s that good a piece of writing (and he also gets to use the word spelka).

For anyone who doesn’t know of Rail, he’s a Californian journalist/author who’s been living in Prague for a few years now (he did tell me how many when we were judging beer in Rimini earlier this year but I forgot). He wrote the CAMRA guide to Prague and the Czech Republic and writes fantastic travel pieces for the NYT and various other journals (he’s got a piece on a hacker-turned-Berliner Weiss saviour in the current issue of All About Beer). He’s also written several of these e-books, including the fabulous Why Beer Matters, In Praise of Hangovers (a real comfort on a slow journey from the aftermath of Sun in the Glass fest at Pivovar Purkmistr to Oktoberfest in 2012) and Why We Fly.

Bohemian Forest is his latest and is about Pivovar Kout na Šumavě and his search for a sacred brewing book the people that brought the shut brewery were supposed to have. It’s more than that though, to my mind being a meditation on what it is that attracts people to beer, what makes them engulf themselves in the world of beer.

This is a story that could work as either fiction or non-fiction. There’s almost something within that teeters on the edge of magical realism; there were times when I wondered if the brewery existed (it does and I have probably drank its beers with Rail in Zly Casy in Prague). A beautiful lyricism flutters through the story in alliance with a musicality that demonstrates what beer writing can be about. There are a couple of moments when the text slightly slows down, is not as flowing, but then the Thames doesn’t always flow in a way we would like it to but that doesn’t detract from its beauty.

To my mind Rail is a writer who is producing some of the best words about beer at the moment, helping (along with other writers both in print and online) to move beer writing on from its antediluvian origins, beyond its lorries and overalls, its cup cakes and ‘look a woman has a glass in her hand’ obsessions (though they do have their place). I can’t recommend this enough.

Disclosure time: I was sent this by Rail and have known him and drank deeply with him for a few years. The Brewery in the Bohemian Forest (which can be bought here for the price of a third of the tiny tears of a craft brewery) is part of a series called Beer Trails, which Rail has told me that Joe Stange and Stan Hieronymous (two other great beer writers) will also be contributing to — I look forward to it.



Thursday, 12 June 2014

Labels

Those were the days my friends and we thought the laughs would never end etc etc and so on, but here is the real past: beer labels that St Austell faced the world with in the 1980s and 90s. Smugglers Ale with the barrels, sailing ship and a lonely cove, close to a kids’ visual ideal of Cornwall; Cornish Ale, presumably made for the Jamaica Inn on Bodmin, whose parrot was ever so moth-eaten I seem to remember when I stopped by there in 1989, and then, and then, he pauses for effect, we have the gloriously entitled Cripple Dick illustrated by a holly leaf and couple of cherries. I think we got the joke. Oh things were so much more innocent over 20 years ago or not (oh look there’s Brown Willy, which is actually a hill on Bodmin for those of you who might take offence at this, pass me my smelling salts). On the other hand here’s a Guinness label, as bottled by St Austell from a time when a lot of breweries did such a thing. Artefacts from the past, embracing in their embarrassment indeed but not to be forgotten. The more light we shine on the past the faster we go forward — there’s nothing to hide here but naff branding, which a lot of breweries are complicit in (be interested to see how some of today’s imagery stands up in a couple of decades time). Fashions and tastes change, the future isn’t an incline or a decline, whatever exponents of both will say; the future muddles on though Cripple Dick (and its spiky graphic) is thankfully a thing of the past (though it’s not for me to say that’s a huge social benefit or not). 

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

What pubs are for

Suddenly I was aware that I needed human companionship. A sudden feeling of the futility of existence evoked by these mighty flints, together with a mighty thirst for cool, bitter English beer, dragged me wearily back up the green slope in the little lane made muddy by spring water and whose green shade was an immense relief from the blazing sun. A little later I was in the cool bar of the nearest inn. Having quenched my thirst, I asked the landlord the name of his house. ‘The County Members,’ I was told. When it was written down he burst into a hearty laugh. ‘Well that’s the first time I’ve ever seen a man write down the name of a pub so that he’d remember where he had been the next day!’
From Forgotten Ports of England, George Goldsmith Carter, 1952

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Beer and food, books and food, beer and books

the glass in the background contains the superlative
Chilli Plum Porter from Waen Brewery
Beer and food, whether matching it, collar and cuff style, or using it in the process, ‘now please add a glass of imperial Gose’, is, we can all agree in very smug style, high fives all around, a fairly recent thing. Michael Jackson mentioned it, Belgo did mussels in London in the 1990s and Garrett Oliver wrote the Brewmaster’s Table and I bought it and got him to sign it in 2003 (or was it 2002?), and it is the bible of beer and food matching, a brilliant book in a lot of ways.

However, perhaps because beer and food is a casualty of the breathless and audacious way in which beer is being discovered and uncovered at the moment, there is a sense in which beer’s long history with food is being forgotten. It didn’t all start recently believe it or not. I thought of this long history when I was sent a copy of Mark Dredge’s gorgeous book Beer and Food — it’s a pleasing book, pleasing to hold, pleasing to smell (that new book aroma), pleasingly designed and full of the kind of beers and food that I would write the world to drink and eat. 

So I went to my shelves and pulled out a brown beer coloured book from 1955, Beer and Vittels by Elizabeth Craig who was a noted food writer of the time. Her husband, war correspondent and journalist Arthur Mann, supplies a few paras in the introduction, part of which I always have enjoyed: ‘and I recall one cold and depressing night during the last war when I went to the cellar, fetched up my last pint of extra-strong ale, poured into a pewter mug, added a pinch of ground cinnamon, plunged a red-hot poker into the liquid and finished up with as fine a mulled drink as man could ask for. As preparation for sleeping through an air-raid I discovered nothing to equal it.’

That’s sounds exciting but the book’s corpus is more of a mish-mash of post war British cuisine’s emphasis on boiling stuff, roasting it as if it was Joan of Arc, adding gravy, pre-empting Abigail’s Party with cheese straws or offering up an ale and mint cup (which also features Chablis) — there is even the seductive siren call of stewed cabbage.

So we move into the aftermath of the swinging 60s with 1972 and Carole Fahy (pronounced ‘fay’ as we are helpfully told) sports a sort of flattened beehive hairstyle and dedicates Cooking With Beer to John, ‘who likes his pint’, I presume her husband, as the back of the book states that she is married (and lives in Weybridge). The accompanying photo shows her smiling at the camera, over a mixing dishing with perhaps cake material, spatula in one hand, a horizontal brown bottle of something in the other. ‘When I started this book I was amazed at the number of my friends who had never heard of cooking with beer,’ she writes in the introduction. I wonder what her friends thought about such dishes as beer ratatouille, chicken Flemish style (light ale is the beer constituent) and — a particular nightmare of mine — tripe in ale.

Let’s move on to more conducive climes and Sue Nowak’s The Beer Cook Book, which was published by Faber & Faber in 1999. I have known Sue for a few years and do remember the British Guild of Beer Writers’ dinners that she used to oversee — the one that struck in my mind was 1999 (I think), where she persuaded Dave Wickett of Kelham Island to produce a Saffron Beer. This is a book that I have (and still) use — she went out to talk to brewers, got their thoughts on beer matching and even though Sue was the editor of CAMRA’s Good Pub Food guides the beer list was eclectic. You could also say that this is a fantastic snapshot of a time when beer and food was starting to grow up. This was also the time when I came in and starting attending beer dinners at the White Horse, doing my own beer and food articles (I recall being enchanted by roast duck and Dent Brewery’s Kamikaze for instance).

And we come to now. A time when I am stopped in the street here on Exmoor by the bistro guy who wants to talk about a beer and food night or a late night pub conversation with one of the best chefs in the area (has won awards for his food while the pub is a wine champion), which elicits the information that he wants to look at beer and food. Things could be changing.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of beer at the moment is that beyond the geeky paroles and parades of nomenclature, there is a real interest in what beer can bring to the table, what the flavour profiles are, how it can co-exist or even subsist wine. It’s been a long march and it’s still continuing. Perhaps it always should be — after all, as Fellini said: ‘There is no end. There is no beginning. There is only the infinite passion of life.’

As long as there’s no tripe and ale.

Monday, 9 June 2014

Evangelise Jolly

Sacred duty: two words that don’t have much of a role in my life. If I want to be sacred then I will be but without being to told to be sacred (I’m an atheist after all but I do love old churches as well as the music and poetry that religion has brought forth but as for believing in some invisible divine’s show of son et lumière then forget it); the same goes for duty — I’ve a duty to my family, to my country, to the people I know, to the common good, but don’t tell me I have a duty to anything because I will suddenly lose interest in that duty.

So what does this have to do with beer?

It’s your sacred duty to evangelise about beer, someone said to me recently, drunk of course, both of us drunk, so no offence taken, lots of drink taken but not offence. So all my sense of duty vanished and I thought of how easy it is to find your passion spent, lying there on a divan like Thomas Chatterton after he’d taken his life.

Evangelise? There I was walking up town after a couple of pints of Brooklyn Lager, in my local, coming up to the chip shop, noting the aromas, the sweet and sour aromas that seem to hang around chip shops with the same persistence of louts on a corner in a 1950s B-movie (bicycle chains, greasy quiffs, sallow faces, drainpipes), and then noting two young blokes coming towards me, white shirts, snazzy ties, black trousers, bags of fish and chips in their hands, staying at the caravan site perhaps, but something else surfed along in my thoughts, something familiar that tied in with a knock on the door and a beaming man or woman, plus a pamphlet to hand.

‘Excuse me sir,’ said one of the them, friendly enough, not overbearing, nothing like the irritating, mateyesque manner of a chugger, even verging on the obsequious, ‘excuse me sir, we are missionaries…’ I stopped him there, ‘I’m alright thanks,’ and moved on, having noted a badge that said Latter Day Saints (their chips would have got cold if I’d have stopped to talk, how would they have warmed them up? God? Does he warm up chips?). So my thoughts were correct, Mormons, a rare sight around here, in fact all evangelicals of whatever stamp are a rare sight around here.

I felt a little sorry for them as this would not be a good town for them to evangelise in — it’s a drinking town, there are four pubs (and one of them has a tap bar). People like drinking here (but on the other hand, those sots who spend sunrise to sundown on the booze might like that sort of smartly shirted sort of helping hand). But that’s not what I wanted to write about. It was about evangelisation. Because I write about beer, people assume around here that I always drink cask beer (or at least foreign beer, whatever that means). I write about beer.

This is why. One of my locals has recently been Serving Freedom 4 and a jolly drop it is, and to be honest that is all I have been drinking there. I like the spritzy mouth feel, the lemon-citrus undertone, the brisk carbonation and its friskiness on the palate. Yet, a couple of people I know still wrinkle their foreheads and say that they thought I was a real ale man and why was I drinking lager. At this point if I was an evangelist of beer I would round on them and get out the tambourine and ask everyone in the bar to join in with some tub-thumbing anthem about beer, but I don’t. For me, talking and writing and smiling about beer have gone beyond the evangelisation phrase — it’s there. Whatever you think about the designated phrase of craft beer, it’s there. Even my mother nods sagely when I mention craft beer, though that might be her advanced age.

All this has been bugging me for a while, hosting thoughts in my mind like an interior version of the Jeremy Kyle Show, veering across my consciousness like an ME262 powered purely alone on ethanol, pushing the drug of creativity with a sense of righteousness. It has been bugging me.

What’s bugging me?

This is the dull explanation: I collect editions of a food and drink compilation that ran from the 1950s to the late 1980s — it was called the Compleat Imbiber and featured the best writers on food and drink of the day. Beer was often mentioned but it was wine that took centre stage.

The editor was Cyril Ray (the GQ wine correspondent Jonathan Ray is his son) and it was in the 14th edition, which was published in 1989, that I found an essay entitled The Enthusiastic Amateur’s (originally published in Punch in 1984). In it Ray recalled memorable glasses of wine, but also made the point that they were a pleasure rather than a duty.

Which is how I feel about beer.

Sure it’s a ‘sacred duty’ when I have to write a book or an article or even take a beer tasting — my duty is to the readers and the editor who is paying me. On the other hand, one can get too wrapped up in the description of beer, of going for the new, all critical facilities suspended, of the necessity to get it tapped and earn a virtual badge (what on earth do you get out of Twitter telling the world that you have earned something or other through buying a beer?). Of holding a beer to the light and declaring it fined or unfined, of being an expect because you once read on the back of a matchbox that beer contains hops.

Beer is a deep-rooted pleasure, an often precocious, sometimes pedestrian, always pleasing bibulous bestiary of flavours and aromas; beer is a bridge that links people, a half full or half empty glass that is eternally on the table and sometimes, sometimes, it is a hedge behind which we sit observing the world, a savour, a palaver on the palate, the alpha and omega of the world of drink. But evangelist? Sorry, I think not.