We’re at the launch of Unhuman Cannonball at Craft Beer Co in Islington and it’s good to catch up (I first met Stuart when he was at the Crown Brewery in Sheffield and we bonded over our love for Randy Mosher’s Radical Brewing, which is the only home-brewing book I have ever read with the intensity I usually accord to Hemingway).
He offers me a taste. It’s vinous, delicately sour and lightly salty, there’s a background hum of sweetness and I can just about taste something Tequila-like in the background.
Later on, next day, I’m thinking about the beer and how some drinkers would taste this and say that it wasn’t beer; then I start thinking about the variety of flavours and different directions brewers are now heading in, whether it’s about making their own interpretations of Gose, adding all manner of ingredients, letting this or that yeast in, or replicating their favourite hangover cure in a sour way (when I was interviewing Beavertown’s Logan Plant last year we were talking about Lemon Phantom Sour and he told me it was based on ‘that wonderful hangover cure, Lemon Fanta!’).
If you’re of a traditionalist persuasion, whether it’s keg or cask, then these might seem non-beery flavours, a strangeness in the way brewing is being done, a wayward exclamation of the arts and crafts of brewing, the cliffs of god that need to be climbed on your knees when a nice comfortable escalator will do. Go away, you might want to say.
On the other hand, such flavours and cravings are here to stay, but immersion in the sanctuary of beer can send one off on a crass course towards thinking that everyone, just everyone, thinks the same.
At tastings I have seen people who know their own minds about Pilsner Urquell, Doom Bar, London Pride or Peroni express surprise at their first experience of Saison Dupont or Westmalle Tripel and actually rather enjoy this experience, and with this in mind it’s easy to forget that when you chat and collaborate with those of a similar ilk, that not everyone has their palate calibrated into this brave new world of flavour, for that is what it is — a brave new (rediscovered, some might say) world of flavour, a grave bold cure away from what some might recognise as beer.
And after I taste the Salty Kiss, I return to my Unhuman Cannonball (lemon-gold in colour, juicy, bracingly bitter, forward facing in its grapefruitiness), another beer that traditionalists might care to dismiss — and then I think back to the tasting I had done earlier in the day when someone had asked me what constitutes beer? There and then, aloud, I had mused that beer is an alcoholic beverage made with malted barley, hops, yeast and water but that it might include other grains, and could have spices, fruit, vegetables or meat extract within, and might not have hops or might have more hops than was thought decent, or it might be aged in wooden barrels or even within clay (as I tasted a couple of years ago in Rimini from Birra del Borgo).
And that is what I like about what is going on in beer at the moment — brewers might not always get it right but the search for (or the rediscovery of) different flavours and aromas is a great thing. Musicians and writers and bakers and builders use traditional forms to express their soul but if they discover a new way then it’s right that they take that path. Brewers can do the same.