You know those clip-on taps you see at the pub where the logo seems to have been designed probably by the youngest member of the brewing team who has almost no idea of digital design but a childhood’s experience in Microsoft Paint and Google Image search at his disposal? Those clips represent the old world of beer brewing.
This is a world of brewing long before Messers Heineken, Carlsberg and Carling generalised the beer world into making all beer taste the same. Those badly-designed, cheaply-made tap clips loosely attached to a piece of brass sticking out behind the back of the bar is what is left of regional brewing in the UK.
Whereas the rest of the drinking population is heading in the direction of generic European beer, stupid designer cider with ice cubes in the glass and aggressively-marketed spirits with sparkling sugar syrup poured on top: the tap clips are only ever rarely looked at and almost solely ordered by men over the age of fifty, usually with a beard and who, amongst their masses, have a rather high ratio of blokes named Bob.
Of course I started with Lager – the little bottles of Stella Artois and Export 33 thanks to a semi-legal booze haul from one of Nord-Pas-du-Calais’ many English-run drinks wholesalers. I eventually moved onto stupid (and rather expensive) cider from the bottle (in a pub) and finally onto spirits – which was a phase that didn’t last long thanks to my then juvenile liver and mother’s displeased reaction to scrubbing not just the toilet itself but the area around it too.
Bitter was something I got into (as you read in my last beer-related post) when I worked in a pub. At first I stuck to the brands, the regular bitters with their mock-brass, screw-fastened tap clips where it is obvious a design agency was involved in the creation of the both the brand and logo. Eventually however I started on the world of guest, regional ales and, whilst many were nearly undrinkable, I loved it and still scream in delight the next time I walk into a British pub and see a cheap white piece of plastic with someone’s surname and a badly-illustrated sketch on it holding on dearly to a real-ale hand-pump.
This is confusing for most of the friends I have at my age. It is also confusing to the many Germans who’ve been lucky enough to experience London with my not-so-excellent tour-guide self (Pub, then attraction, then pub, then pub, then pub). “It isn’t fizzy” they’ll say “the glass isn’t thin, it is brown, it is opaque, it isn’t particularly cold, the only others drinking it are three times your age”.
But here’s the interesting part and I’ve found that it almost always works. These dark (and therefore real) beer critics are only critics until they try. The first couple of sips are always reminiscent of the famous German Kampfschluck (the fighting sip) but, after a while, nearly all who have tried are able to understand the fascination of ale. They might stick to Lager or ridiculous bottled cider but they’ll appreciate that what you have in the glass is good (and certainly enjoyable).
You might find it hard to believe but I have actually managed to get Germans to willingly drink the stuff too. Sometimes at my place when I’m lucky enough to have a few bottles of ale in the cupboard and when I ask the question “Was möchtet ihr trinken?”, often enough the answer that comes back is a question, one similar to “Hast du vielleicht (et)was Englishes da?” – a question that I answer with an undertone of glee in my voice before bringing them a pint of British Bitter.
Not all Germans are convinced but then nor are all the English and that’s fine by me. If you don’t like it, you shouldn’t drink it but if you haven’t tried it, you shouldn’t formulate an opinion.
What’s more is that those regional ales with the bad logos are often produced very close to home. As an Essex boy I’m lucky enough to have three fantastic breweries close to my hometown whose beers, depite only being distributed within Essex and East Anglia have won many awards: Nethergate who brew the beefy Old Growler, the Mighty Oak brewery with its beautiful and crisp Maldon Gold and Ridleys (bought by Greene King in 2005) with its fantastic Old Bob.
Perhaps the next time you’re in a pub with an impressive rack. Start off with something a little more mainstream (Young’s, Caledonian Deuchars IPA, London Pride, Bombardier, Pedigree) and move on to something from the region. If you happen to live close to a pub that serves guest ales from other regions then congratulations, you are about to embark on a beer-tasting tour of the UK from a worn-out chair, a sticky table and the sodden carpet of your local pub.
Regional beer – excellent.