When confronted with a beer skeptic I have one stock line I always trot out – “if you don’t like beer then you just haven’t had the right one”.
I’ve said it so many times it’s kind of lost its meaning a little bit, but I stand by the sentiment. Everybody’s palate is different – we’re sensitive to different things and practically blind to others so it’s natural we all have a different entry point into beer. “The right one” could be a delicious fresh IPA at Treehouse, a marzen at Oktoberfest in Munich, a kriek at Cantillon or a perfectly kept cask bitter “oop” North. Once we’re “into craft beer” we tend to think that we slowly broaden our palates and horizons. But the more I think about it, the more I realise I didn’t travel a long, straight road to beer elysian or look down a widening beam of enlightenment. Actually I went full circle.
My eureka beer was a pint of Red Hook Longhammer – a citrusy but fairly middle-of-the-road IPA. But my new-found love of bitterness and tropical aromas led me to get try every beer stamped with those three iconic letters. In turn that led me to try a black IPA, which opened my eyes to the subtleties and brashness of dark malts. Porters, then stouts, became my beer of choice until I tried Darkstar’s imperial stout… then imperial stouts became my thing.
Then at the London Craft Beer Festival two years ago, after three thirds of absurdly strong stout I had a thirst for something different. It was then I had my revelatory sour beer, a Beavertown Lemon Phantom. Everything changed again, and my love of sour beers caused my less excitable friends no end of disappointment when looking to raid my beer fridge.
This obsession lasted until May the following year, when I went on the Toer De Gueze. If you are in the dark on this biannual festival, essentially it is an epic crawl of the Belgian lambic brewers. The beers you taste like Drie Fontainen’s straight lambic or Beersel’s walnut gueze will blow your mind. But by the end you don’t half fancy a pint of Helles.
And so, on my return, stood in my favourite local I found myself downing pint after pint of Hacker-Pschorr Gold. I was staring into my pint and wondering what had happened. Had I reached the end of my craft beer journey? I had spent the last 2 years thinking lager = bad. Where are the hops? Where’s the brett, the lactic, the dry hop addition of doughnuts? And if all that ingenuity is missing, why I am loving this beer so much?
It’s because that journey had taught me to appreciate good beer. And good beer does not exclude lager. It excludes a lot of lager, but not Hacker and Paulaner, or Sly Fox Helles, or Kout Pivo, or Firestone & Walker Pivo. All that had happened as I sat and gulped at my German premium lager was I had completed the first circle of craft. I had been the whole way round and was back where I started. But this time I was doing it better. Instead of Foster’s it was Hacker. Next, instead of Longhammer it was Treehouse Julius, instead of Darkstar it was Bourbon County Stout, next it will be my four-year-old Cantillon Lou Pepe Kriek.
Loving lager is no sin, and nor is being obsessed with IPA or any other beer for that matter. We are all on a journey, looking across the space in between at people enjoying another trajectory but ultimately heading where we are, drunkenly singing the same thing: let’s go round again.