Countdown to darkness. The frivolity is coming to an end as I move the Opening Sentence to ever gloomier subject matter. But there are still a few waifs and strays to publish before we hit the long dark night. Today, I talk about beer. Peculiar beer.
Around the world, at any one moment in time, people are drinking beer. Most of it is horrible. American beer is basically chilled water that’s had a loaf of bread waved over it to add taste. The beer in continental Europe is better, but still tends towards a gaseous fizzy pop.
No. Real beer can only be found in one part of the world. Britain. And in Britain, the best beers are not made by multinational corporations producing billions of gallons of tasteless froth, but in the sheds and microbreweries of forgotten corners of the country by men with beards and a terrible attraction to puns.
As I write this I’m sitting in a pub drinking a pint of Tunnel Vision. In the past I’ve drunk Hobgoblin, Waggle Dance, Pendle Witch and Old Speckled Hen.
One afternoon walking in Great Langdale I challenged myself to come up with beer names for my own brewery of the imagination. Old Crone and Needs Must would have been my two premium brands.
Not all of it, I have to say, is nectar to the tongue. At the Drunken Duck in Cumbria I had a pint of K9 brewed on site, that was so appallingly bad it actually made the day memorable. But K9 was the exception that proved the rule. Independent breweries produce the best beer in the world.
In an age of consolidation, smaller breweries grow before being gobbled up by the major chains. But in my neck of the woods you can still find small businesses like the Bowland Brewery, Hawkshead and Jennings. And a browse of the shelves in Booths supermarkets will provide an array of beers, some brewed in Scotland in Spanish sherry barrels, and old porters brewed in Kent sold in Victorian-style flattened bottles.
The usual criticism thrown at British beer is that it’s warm. Well, so is tea and coffee. Temperature is part of the culture. You wouldn’t expect whisky to be served in pints; the measure is part of the experience. With beer temperature is essential. It isn’t drunk to quench a thirst, real beer is an experience. One is a connoisseur when one appreciates the skill of the master brewer.
You might think anyone can do it: brew beer. But anyone who has ever bought a home brew kit and spent months to produce a plastic barrel full of flat liquid that tasted like weak tea will tell you it takes skill.
We tried it years ago. After hearing tales of people being driven insane drinking their own terrible concoctions, we gave it a try. We ignored the story of a man who took off the front door of his house and put it back on the wrong way round so that it opened out into the street. Accounts of home brew insanity were no deterent.
After two weeks I lifted the lid off the barrel and had a sniff. The fumes almost took the top of my head off. But eventually it was ready, bottled and poured. To call it a disappointment was an understatement. It tasted like old urine and would have contravened the trades description act had we tried to sell it. We didn’t brew any more. We didn’t have the knack.
The people who brewed K9 at the Drunken Duck weren’t much better, but Jennings Cocker Hoop is amazing. Sat outside the pub near Grasmere, gazing at the surrounding fells with a pint and a packet of cheese and onion crisps is better than any gourmet meal.
It’s beer, real beer. Real life. I’ve just thought of another name. Curmudgeon: a dark bitter with a crusty edge and strong aftertaste. Best drunk when it’s pouring with rain.