It’s Saturday afternoon and I’m sitting by the river outside a local pub, which happens to be owned by Greene King. Inside the bar, dark wood, antlers, the usual stuff, there’s a choice of Old Speckled Hen, Waddies 6X and IPA. I plump for the latter and note that it’s got the stainless steel gizmo that can dispense the beer in either a southern or northern style. The barman pulls a face when I ask him about the system. ‘I think it’s a bit of a gimmick,’ he grumbles. I tell him that I had tried the beer in a pub, first the northern one and then the southern one, and didn’t really notice much of a difference.
Outside, drinking the beer, it’s a pleasant enough drop: citrus buzz, a flurry of spicy hop notes and a dry bittersweet finish. Having just done a bit of a cycle, it did the job but I would go mad and sign the pledge if I had to drink this all the time — it’s ok. But this makes me think. Am I biased about the brewery that produces this beer? When it won a silver medal at GBBF several years ago, the announcement was booed by the crowd there on the trade day. Was this because it was not a correct IPA? Was it because people were opposed to the way they operate their business? Was it because they are a very big brewery? Or was it because it the crowd in the hall listening to Protz pronounce from on high didn’t like the beer? Did it matter? If a beer has been adjudged to be good by a panel of pros does it matter that it is Greene King?
I then started musing on the days when I used to write music reviews for leftie London listings mag City Limits and how I would invariably groan whenever someone would come up with a breathlessly written declaration that said radical record would shake the foundations of society or, er, something like that (it wouldn’t and it didn’t, and I felt the Fall and Scraping Foetus Off The Wheel more radical than any Red Wedger with a tambourine).
In the here and now that translates into asking if the politics of beer matter? I don’t like Budweiser, Miller Lite and John Smith Bitter for a start — is that because of some collective mass psychological party line that is seared into my soul (dislike of their business matters, cheering on the little guys) or because I find the beers insipid and tasteless and besides there are some much better beers being produced by other breweries (large and small). I would like to think it’s the latter (though there’s probably a little bit of the former), and then where does that leave Greene King? Is it a case of if I look deep enough into my soul then maybe I am one with that jeering crowd from London (though happy enough to drink one after a cycle ride)? Or is it a bit simpler: I like Abbot Reserve, Crafty Hen and Strong Suffolk (I applaud Greene King for maintaining the tradition of blending and ageing beer) and don’t like the others?