The odd bit of beer tasting I do now and again, in front of an audience; it’s fun I find having once been the frontman in a band (rubbish voice which you can hear here). A conversation is what I want, a back and forth of opinions, a chance to shake preconceptions and — once every couple of years or so — sell books. June: the Cheltenham Food Festival, on the Sunday, I’m on after Sir Pete Brown, which is why I have started thinking about some of the things that have been so rum at previous tastings.
One at a sadly gone brewery, where I did several for an events company a few years back. A woman makes it clear from the start she’s there under duress, my boss sent me, I don’t like beer, I like white wine, I don’t like beer. Disliked it so much she said it twice. Gamely she struggled. The bitter and the fruit beer, dispatched with a distinct lack of gusto. Onto chocolate stout. I think and say aloud, you’ll like this. She half nods, I like chocolate she says. There are 12 in the group, the rest, blokes, all agree that milk chocolate hangs on the nose of the beer. Non-beer lady disagrees. She does not get the chocolate on the nose. There is no chocolate, there never has been any chocolate, I don’t like beer. I’m here because my boss can’t make it.
Then at another one of these tastings, a chap comes up to me at the end after two 500ml bottles of barley wine to tell me the tale of how his ex-girlfriend had bought the ticket for the event 12 months ago and that he had only plucked up the courage to come now, such was his melancholic nature. That was good that was, he says, only to come up to me five minutes later to tell me the same thing. But I think the one where I didn’t know where to look or what to say was a couple of chaps, mates then, not so sure afterwards. We were going to come about six months ago one said, but he couldn’t make it, points at his mate, who starts to go bright red. He was inside, he continues, wasn’t anything violent or sexual, bleets mate. Never heard a tasting go so quiet so quickly.
And finally there was a tasting where the final beer was badly conditioned and smelt like TCP, medicinal. It was horrible. Someone shouted out, this beer is off. I looked at him, it’s always a him. I glad you’ve mentioned it I said, I totally agree with you, does anyone get the medicinal note? And then explained how said beer was a bit of a test for everyone to demonstrate how beer can sometimes go wrong. Phew, that got me out of a hole. I’m was just glad that the brewer wasn’t there.