Tuesday 22 December 2015


2015, you were as a fleeting dash of silver in the dark sky, a scar, a rip in the fabric of my on-going (I hope) life, but there were moments that clashed and flashed in the gloom and made me keep believing that beer has a place in the way I spend my time. Such as the sound of sea-lions honking as if they were tiny motor cars stuck in some upside-down boulevard of Top Geared dreams, whilst inside the Buoy brew-house I was bearing down on a glass of a sardonically savoury hoppy cop-off of an IPA that delivered a few words in my mind, ‘so this is a West Coast IPA’ (which helped me no end when it came to salivate over BrewDog’s Born to Die), and so did I enjoy it, before thinking back, as the sea-lions kept honking and the broad murky Columbia river rolled on by, on how once again, on my third visit to the USA, how the beer that I found, the beer that I bound myself to hand and foot, was some of the best beer in the world that I’d searched every noun in the world to pick out a word, and another word, to write down what it meant. And then I think, if we think of words and their ambiguity, I think of the barmaid in a side-street bar, around the corner from my hotel on the Viale della Repubblica in Bologna, who on the second night on which I walked in, shouted out ‘ReAle!’ and then high-fived me as I sat at the bar. A confirmation and an affirmation and a consecration of the beauty of some of Italy’s great artisanal beers — unlike Spectre, they are not everywhere, but if you know where to look then these are beers that deserve their time in the sun. Of which this sun has signally to shine, but out in La Rioja, the city, of Logroño was where I found the brewery Mateo & Bernabé, who had an IPA whose maturity spent in PX sherry barrels came up with a ferociously fulsome beer that made me think of the Great Bear and Pleiades aria from Britten’s Peter Grimes, such was its mystery and complexity and simplicity. Talking of time, I also made time to visit Rodenbach where the beers that I have always enjoyed slept as if their lives depended on it, cosseted from a world of change and speed and a world that would heed nothing if it really wanted to. On a more ambulatory tone, my travels about the UK have convinced me that ordering cask beer has become somewhat of a lottery (though, just to give some examples, not in the Wellington in Birmingham, the Mawson Arms in Chiswick, the Kings Arms in Oxford, the Coopers Arms in Burton and the Bridge Inn and Woods in my home town of Dulverton); meanwhile keg has not always delivered the best beer on the planet but sometimes it has, and I still salivate at the memory of Beavertown’s Bloody ‘ell, served in a handled glass at the Fat Cat Tap in Norwich, before I drank it up with the thirst of a man long overdue on his travels in the Sahara. Lots of beers, lots of people, lots of bars and pubs, lots of surprises as well as old favourites (Harvey’s, Fuller’s, Adnams, Hook Norton, St Austell), lots of rolls of the dice and a head-lice of wondering which way beer is going, and of course a wish that the micro-management of thoughts about beer would just wash away; it is part of life in the same way as literature, music, wine, food and architecture, but it’s also just as flimsy and here-today-gone-tomorrow-and-bought-out-by-AB-InBev-next-week. It’s important but not important and bringing those two strands together is what matters.