Only here for the beer

I started drinking beer relatively late in life (that is to say, I waited until I was of legal drinking age). For the first four or five years I stuck to cider; preferably dry, usually Olde English or Scrumpy Jack. Please note, the latter is a brand name only and is not to be confused with genuine scrumpy. A friend once procured some real scrumpy for me: a plastic container he’d bought from a local farm which seemed to hold an unholy concoction of paraffin, twigs, hay and a handful of rotten apple peel. It nearly took my head off and I’ve never been anywhere near it since.

Later I switched to lager, usually going for the best combination of price and flavour, and doing my best to avoid anything Australian. It was during these years that my drinking declined, and by the time I moved to Italy at the turn of the millenium I was mostly drinking wine, apart from the occasional bottle of Nastro Azzurro or Moretti to accompany my pizza.

Then I moved to Belgium, where beer is viewed in an entirely different light. In the land of (literally) a thousand beers connoisseurs abound and  the amber (or ruby) nectar is treated with reverence, the subject of learned treatises and civilised tasting evenings. It’s a far cry from the “Never mind how it tastes, just keep pouring it down your neck until your bladder bursts” attitude to which I was accustomed in my youth.

Nowadays when I return to the UK I like to taste the local brews with this slightly more considered approach, seeking out unusual local specialities. The south west offers much to entice the beer enthusiast, not least Otter, which has been doing very well of late, but the one which caught my attention this time was Badger. The pint of Badger First Gold pictured below didn’t grab me at first, but halfway through I started to notice the complexity of the flavour, and the wonderful smokey aroma. I bought a gift pack of four of their other beers and am looking forward to savouring the rest of them.

Later in my trip I was in Bath and discovered the Bath Ales range, specifically Golden Hare. Not as complex as the Badger, but crisp and refreshing, without sacrificing taste. One of the things that bothers me about how many beers are presented is that their prime concern seems to be that they be ice-cold and thirst-quenching, as if all they were were a hydration tool rather than a drink to be enjoyed for its own merits. I’m reminded of the Hobgoblin marketing campaign: “What’s the matter, lagerboy, afraid you might taste something?”

A pint of Golden Hare

By the way, can we seem a theme emerging here? Yes, the English like to name their beers after small furry animals…

Lastly, I couldn’t resist buying this one:

I wavered initially, as it sounded both intriguing and repellent. I mean, I like beer, and I like bananas, but together? The aroma wasn’t too encouraging, smelling more of artificial banana flavouring than genuine fruit, but the drink itself was surprisingly pleasant, and not at all sickly as I’d imagined. Of course, the Belgians, with various cherry and peach flavoured beers, have great experience in brewing with fruit, so the question now is which other fruits could be used to make the perfect pint? Kiwi beer? Passion fruit beer? Mango beer?