I was once in possession of this, it didn't last.
Now I don’t want to make enemies with the multinational brewing organisations but I’m not particularly happy with them (and I don't think they'll ever read this).
Multinational beers are, at best, bland and dull with hints of board-room, generic fizz and a fancy marketing campaign – they really offer no advantage over proper beer apart from that they keep a lot of Ad-men in Soho rolling in Cocaine and shareholders being able to dangerously invest money ruining other market sectors.
It particularly hurts when the rise and rise of awful European Lager has pretty much all but destroyed the beer scene in the UK – one of the world’s most important brewing nations. There are still local, micro-breweries dotted around the country but they fight not just against changing tastes (or advertising influence) of the consumer but also ridiculous taxation schemes whereby the multinationals occasionally have a tax-bill waved off but John in his shed producing 100 barrels of beer a year has got to give up half of his income to some slippery taxman in an off-the-rail suit.
John can’t afford a bottling machine, nor can he afford to produce his beer all day (he’s got a full-time job somewhere else) but when he, and he alone, gets down to brewing beer, it’s all about excellent ingredients, hard-work and a love of beer. By stark contrast, skyscrapers full of smart suits press buttons on a keyboard in an office thinking of new ways to crush John with another fantastic advert series that, despite its high-quality, doesn’t show in the product itself at all.
At the brewery itself, often miles outside of inner-cities in big factories, hundreds of workers in safety gear wonder around the brewery looking forward to their next break, casually checking up on machines that are doing the work that they should be doing. The identical litres will be filled into identical cans, barrels and bottles and sent off to a variety of pubs where identical people will slurp large amounts of the liquid down in each sip thinking “hey, this tastes roughly like beer”.
Now, you might think that it's Lager I’m attacking here and, well, it is – the majority of Lagers you get in nearly every pub and shop are, and I’m not sorry for saying this, poor. There are a few odd ones out: Peroni and Becks actually possess a tiny amount of typical origin and character – rare in the premium Lager world but both are produced in god-awful amounts by people who don’t really care about what they’re making.
Of course, it comes down to personal taste and if you don’t like anything but Lager: a) you should probably see a doctor and b) make sure you’re not investing your hard-earned pounds into Mr Soho’s next line of the white stuff. Opt for something local (if possible) or something you’ve never heard of – it WILL taste better and more of the money you spend is given straight back to the people making the product – no middle managers financing a 4 bedroom house in a sleepy suburb with an Audi parked out front, just a bloke with a beard and a satisfactory pile of hops and barley.
However, if you really like beer (and I mean beer) and you live in the UK, I’ve got some good news: you live in beer heaven. Although the micro- and local breweries have taken a hit, there are still plenty of them around and, in stark contrast to multinationals’ beers, they all have unique characteristics typical of the local surrounding (just like wine I might add). Now beer has never been a complicated drink – it is a beautiful pint of relaxing elixir that combines every taste we glorified, bald monkeys love: its bitter, sweet, spicy and everything else too and I’m not going to bother even thinking of it like wine - but the comparison is there and for those who spend lots on wine, you should be thinking about buying proper beer too (although the good stuff is usually cheaper)!
Going back to the local aspect for a minute: you’ll find Scottish beer is powerful and, the most traditional of breweries substitute a certain amount of their hops for local crops: thistles, heather and much more to give beers a unique feel – malty, hoppy but also bitter but sweet and dark and….I’m longing for a pint of Caledonian ale except I’m stuck in Lagerland.
South English beer is lighter, hoppier, fruitier, redder, herbier, more refreshing and those brewed on the coast taste like….well, like they were brewed on the coast – salty, aromatic, spicy, lots of fresh air, sandy and altogether rather fabulous.
But it doesn’t stop there, head off to the West Country and, if you don’t find yourself in a pub selling proper cider (none of that rubbish with ice cubes and straws or whatever), you’ll find some lovely creamy, smooth, fruity Cornish ale. A quick swim over the Bristol Channel and you’ll be acquainted with Welsh beer – big, juicy pints of spicy, herby beer with as much local character as the people you’ll be standing next to at the bar.
Even the big cities have a brewing culture – whilst Newcastle’s famous beer has taken a leaf out of the European Premium Lager’s recipe for undue success (as has Manchester’s), London beer (despite not really being brewed in London) is also great (my favourite style of beer actually) with its hoppy, bittersweet notes and refreshing citrus it is the choice of thousands who know what they're doing after a hard day at work. Few people know that it was London beer that eventually turned into the creamiest of all marketing campaigns produced a few hundred miles to the North-West in a different country although, I must admit, I do enjoy a pint of the black stuff every now and then.
What annoys me even more is that I see people championing English wine on this internet thing, I see people cooking up ‘the Best of Britain’ and I see people saying how great we as a nation are – I also see these people boycotting proper British beer in favour of international fizz where you can safely say that the best thing about it, is the label on the front of the bottle.
So what am I saying? Drink British beer and, if you really don’t like Ale, Porter, Bitter, Cornish Ale, London Ale, Caledonian Ale, Welsh Ale, East-Anglian beer or any of the other hundreds of styles out there, at least drink a decent Lager – one that somebody actually made whilst wondering how his beer would taste rather than contemplating the measly wage the office-people were paying him preparing for their next round of cutting down on staff costs despite.
It’s okay to be a bit of a wine buff and know your way around a complicated wine menu. Some people find it a good characteristic to have. To know about food and wine is even better, with a perfect combination of bottle and pan of lovely hot food often bringing several smiles to any dinner table – at home or out and about. But I have noticed something recently – many people who’re experts on fermented grape juice and have no problem knocking up something fantastic in the kitchen often don’t have the faintest sense of a clue when it comes to beer. Alright, they say they like it and they drink it but how can you spend £50 on a meal and then enjoy it with a bottle or pint of watered-down, chemically-brewed Belgian or Australian beer made in Luton (not exactly famous for its culinary heritage)?
Why do people like Jamie Oliver (a disputed cooking genius) like having their photos taken with a bottle of something like Budweiser (Anheuser-Busch) or Cobra in their hands?
Sure, it’s okay to recommend the best wine on the menu to the man who just ordered the most expensive dish but why are you prepared to let him drink something awful if with it if he happens to be a beer man?
It’s not a lager thing – in Germany there are many thousands of lager and pilsner breweries that compete with each other to brew the best beers (although very alike). You can enjoy a lovely glass of bitter Jever with a fresh fish pan or a litre of Augustinian with a braised pork shoulder joint – the Germans know about this kind of thing and beer is often more popular than wine even in top restaurants.
In dark and damp North-Rhine Westphalia (at the moment anyway) the Altbier kitchen reigns supreme with the inhabitants of Dortmund, Düsseldorf and surrounding cities well aware that the winter dishes (hefty dark meats in even heftier sauces) fit just as well with a gorgeous half-litre of Alt or Dunkles just as well as they would with a native Spätburgunder or Dornfelder.
Although a small number of restaurants worldwide are now employing beer sommeliers, often even the best of restaurants only offer a small range of beers – in Germany a proper restaurant rarely offers more than three choices: Pils, Weizen or Alcohol free and the breweries often forbid the restaurants to sell anything that they don’t make – you’ll see their logos on the sign outside, the menu and probably on any table decoration too.
In defence of aforementioned Mr. Oliver, his fifteen restaurant offers a klein but fein range of locally made beers from the excellent meantime brewery in Greenwich.
London brewery Fuller’s offer a menu in its pubs that is designed to complement its beer choices and even chain-run organisations like Greene King and Wetherspoon include beer recommendations with some of the meals on their slimy food cards stuck to the table.
But these are pubs, already well known for their beer ranges (it is safe to say that British pubs offer the widest range of brewed drinks in the world) but not so well known for their food.
So think about it next time you’re eating out in a fancy establishment, you’ve just ordered something really special and then the waiter can only offer you Foster’s or Stella – complain and suggest a more comprehensive beer menu – the drinks are part of the experience as well. You wouldn’t make a steak sandwich with prized Aberdeen fillet and then finish it off with Tesco Value White Loaf would you? Don’t let restaurants try and hit you with an expensive wine list when they only offer a poor beer choice and don’t let wine buffs tell you what beers to drink. If you're not a wine person or you just fancy a beer - you should be able to have the same or similar choice as a wine drinker would have.