I’ve liked a pint for almost as long as I can remember, but I can’t remember in enough detail to record the early stages of my journey accurately.
I do remember trying a can from the family fridge while my parents were out – it was some sort of lager and I ended up pouring most of it down the sink. I also remember ordering a half of Theakstons from the bar at the York Theatre Royal, almost certainly while attending a Mike Harding gig there, which means I was probably under-age at the time. But nothing beyond that springs readily to mind. Until…
I guess my regular drinking started at The Tiger Inn in Haxby. My first girlfriend (later fiancée, wife and ex-wife) lived opposite the pub and I used to cycle over from Acomb to see her. It’s a Sam Smiths pub and therefore serves arguably the most Marmite of beers, but I like it and it has the added advantage that it was, and still is, cheap. Eventually I moved to Haxby and The Tiger became my local, the only destination for post-squash Friday evenings, Saturday “a quick waiting for the takeaway to be ready” drink and Sunday quiz nights, as well as a couple of charity events. Sadly, while The Tiger remained a favourite watering hole for years, a lot changed in a short time and I have only had one drink in there in something like four years. But that’s a story for, maybe, another day.
From there, as I got slightly older – but, perhaps, not more mature – and, having started work, had more disposable income and a wider circle of friends, I did the whole drinking-until-you-fell-over thing which led, inevitably, to the “I’m never drinking again” thing (repeat, literally, ad nauseum). I did a few brewery tours – Sam Smiths. John Smiths, Theakstons, Black Sheep and, much more recently, York Brewery – but only when they were organised by somebody else, usually work trips, although I seem to remember visiting the Black Sheep Brewery again for a friend’s stag do. Away from York, I’ve done pub-crawls in many other towns and cities around the UK, again mainly because I was working in them at the time.
More recently, as I’ve got well into middle age, I’ve started drinking to enjoy the drink. I still like to visit different pubs and try different beers but it’s definitely with much less of an aim to get drunk. I’m not saying I haven’t got drunk – a couple of afternoons coming up to Christmas with relatives would belie that idea – but, these days, I’d rather stop at the not unpleasant buzz you get after a few drinks. I’ve also attended a few beer festivals, although only in two actual locations, which again gave me more opportunities to try different beers.
The one constant in all this is that I have, until recently, very much been a “bitter” man. That first, some might say stolen, taste of lager seems to have set me up for the rest of my life. Lager is something I generally only drink on holiday and that’s because you don’t usually have choice. It’s only very recently, in the scheme of things, that I have discovered “craft” beer. Ask me what craft beer is, though, and I’d be hard-pressed to tell you. I have one beer-loving friend who will barely touch the stuff (“real ale” all the way) and another who champions it at every opportunity. Some craft seems to me to be real ale on a smaller scale. Others would, apparently, send some CAMRA members running to the hills. (Blueberry Muffin flavoured beer, anybody?)
So, this is why I admit to being a novice when it comes to beer and why, like some of my other interests, it has become an interest at least in part through osmosis – remember the friend who champions craft beer? – although, at least partially, the blame for my interest could be said to go back to Brew York opening and my piquing my curiosity just a few short years ago, enough that I partook in the crowd-funding scheme they launched in order to fund their expansion into the building next door, now their excellent beer hall. It’s probably a mark of how limited my journey has been so far that both my favourite brewery (Brew York) and my favourite beer (York Brewery’s Centurion’s Ghost – I’ve always had a penchant for darker, stronger beers) are both local.
While I have always liked trying new beers and, being honest, rarely find one that I dislike so much that I wouldn’t drink it again (even if, at the same time, there are very few that I have actually drunk again), 2020’s Covid-inspired lockdown has given me more opportunity to spread my wings. Previously trying a new beer usually meant whatever was on the bar that I hadn’t tried before – some pubs were better for this than others, particularly locally. When pubs were forced to close, I joined a monthly beer club. Maybe not the best one available (I’ve had one box which contained beers that the club had collaborated on with a company that sells ingredients for home brewing…) but it has introduced me to breweries I hadn’t heard of before. I’ve also ordered direct from other new-to-me breweries. I prefer ones where you can buy properly mixed cases, or make up your own case by choosing individual beers, that way one delivery can allow me to try many different beers. As lockdown eased slightly, we started inviting my gig-buddy over for drinks on a few evenings. He’s the real ale fan, who has now also developed a taste for Belgian beers, so my horizons have been expanded again.
I started recording my beers on Untappd well before lockdown. Between December 2015 and December 2019, I had recorded just under 400 individual beers. At time of writing (August 2020 is drawing to a close) I am approaching 500, with about 50 that I have yet to try sitting in the fridge or on the shelf. I have also recently go brave enough to start leaving notes about the beers. I might not know what I’m talking about, but who reads them anyway, eh?
Which, conveniently, leads me back to my novicity… I like beer, but I don’t know much about it. I couldn’t tell you the difference between a Stout and a Porter, a Citra or a Pale, an IPA or a NEIPA and I definitely don’t know how to describe a “mouthfeel”. But, let’s face it, knowing nothing about live music didn’t prevent me from writing about it for years, so I might (just might, no promises, or threats, depending on your point of view) drop the odd blog post about drinking. Maybe my thoughts on the output of breweries I try, or what was in my subscription box. Perhaps, as lockdown eases further, thoughts on different pubs or a reminiscence from the days when The Tiger was great.
Until then, assuming there is a then…