I’ve been thinking about beer appreciation this week.
Perhaps this is not surprising as I have spent several days setting up the Gloucester CAMRA Beer and Cider Festival which starts this Friday.
However, the beer festival is only peripherally responsible for my beer-related thoughts. What really got me pondering was a t-shirt.
Before I get onto that, it would be remiss of me not to say a word or two about the beer festival.
This is the Festival’s fifth year, and it will once again take place in the historic Blackfriars Priory in Gloucester city centre, running from 31 March to 1 April. There will be more than 100 beers and around 35 ciders – details of which you can find on the website – as well as live music and artisan Gloucestershire cheeses. You’d be an April fool to miss it.
It is thirsty work setting up the beer festival: building the stillage, lugging casks of ale around and generally getting the 13th century priory ready for a 21st century beer festival.
However, at this stage it is a case of beer, beer everywhere but not a drop to drink, so after a hard day’s labour there is only one thing to do: head off to the Pelican for a pint or two.
And it was here that I saw the t-shirt that set me thinking.
The t-shirt carried the following slogan:
This made me chuckle.
Obviously it is having a dig at us CAMRA members, but there is a ring of truth about it.
I have some friends who don’t drink real ale. We try to show them the error of their ways, but sadly to no avail.
These confirmed and proud lager drinkers frequently take the mickey out of the fact that we real ale drinkers are always complaining about the beer.
It is true that some ale drinkers really do enjoy nothing more than a good moan, but you find people like that in all walks of life: even if they did find the silver lining in their cloud they’d complain that it wasn’t sufficiently shiny. But I don’t think that is the case with most ale drinkers.
I think that there are three things that people like my lager drinking friends don’t appreciate.
The first thing is that what they see as complaining often isn’t.
Beer is a magnificently diverse drink: from the pale, refreshing, hop-loaded new breed of American Pale Ales at one extreme, to the rich, lustrous, pitch-black stouts and porters at the other, there is a bewildering variety of flavours.
Some beer drinkers have a broader palate of appreciation than others, but we all have our preferred styles and breweries.
The living nature of beers also means that they can taste quite differently on different days and in different places.
None of this is bad, but to the enthusiast it is worthy of discussion, debate and comparison.
Often what is taken as moaning is actually just enthusiastic discussion.
Okay, maybe we are boring, but we are not complaining.
The second thing is the degree of complaint.
Yes, sometimes the beer is bad to some degree. This is the price that we pay for drinking a beverage of character. If it is properly off, it goes back. More often, however, it just fails to live up to expectation.
What people like my lager drinking friends can’t comprehend as they happily consume their blandly predictable pints is the sheer joy of a good pint.
A well served pint of real ale is like ambrosia from the gods.
Whatever your preferred style of beer, a hearty swig releases an explosion of wonderful flavour into your mouth, sending it dancing across your taste buds and flooding the back of your throat with a wonderful, magical, refreshing sensation that it is difficult to believe is only the result of some alchemy-like reaction between malt, hops, yeast and water.
We know that (subject to our preferences for style) all beer has the potential to be this good, but sadly (unless you are drinking in the Pelican), all too often it isn’t.
And every pint of beer that fails to live up to its potential is a sadly missed opportunity, and we mourn it.
And this brings me to my third and final point that my lager drinking friends miss.
No matter how much we moan about our beer, it is never bad enough to tempt us to drink whatever they’re having.
Of course, you don’t have to take my word for it when it comes to the pleasure of the perfect pint: there’s the perfect opportunity to try it for yourself in Gloucester this weekend…