Back in January, guru beer writer Pete Brown offered the trip he’d won to Budvar brewery in Czechoslovakia to any budding beer writer that was able to whack down 1500 words on Why Beer Matters.
So, I quickly whacked together a piece on why beer matters to me in a bit of a stream of consciousness way (and in a way that was never going to win an award… I’ll stick to brewing I think!)
The piece below is my own personal account on Why Beer Matters…
It is a hard, steel can with a pull-tab from my childhood. It is what I watched the grown folk around me drink, laughing, barbecuing, tanned limbs and New Zealand sunshine. It is my first sip – metallic, bitter, fizzy, but adult and grown up. The first few beers given to me by trusting parents. Beginnings of laughter and fun with friends around this most social of lubricants. Good times and those not so good.
The first sip of cold lager after walking up a mountain. A swig of dark ale sitting on a beach in summer, driftwood campfire glowing, hair still wet from the last surf. Warmth inside. Warmth outside. My first six pack, all consumed with comrades around.
Blending in at a rugby club, one litre jug of cold draught beer and glass so small your hand almost hides it. Replenishing liquid after a hard game, of course. First pub visit with ID in hand. At last.
Leaving home. Sharing a beer with Dad. Cheers son, good luck. University and a calling. Sciences and biology and bacteria and yeast. Yeast. Flavours and aromas and a love of gastronomy. A melding of technology and art. Fascination.
A hero in the shape of a Professor. A legend from Belgium transported to New Zealand. An inspiration for the path my life was to take. His nose was his tool, instincts honed and palate ready. Teaching the way of beer, the way of brewing, the way of tasting. Epitome of passion now long gone. Rest in Peace, JP.
Fermentation science, flavour chemistry, gowns and caps and suits and furore. Another piece of paper on the mantelpiece. To the pub with the family, with the girlfriend, with mates. Share a beer together. Enjoy the beer, talk about the beer. Follow your nose. Wisps of sadness and end of an era. Profession awaits.
Trainee brewer. Apprentice. Tank scrubbing, toothbrush and caustic in hand. Detail, care, attention, perfection. Laboratory. Microbiology and microscopes. Yeast and agar and bottling and testing. 10am – palate at its best. Tasting beers, conference calls, discussions on flavour and aroma and esters and wild yeast . Fascination.
Brewing and malt. Maltings and grain. Hop farms and bines. Marketing, accounting, sales, engineering. The life of a trainee. The beer, what about the beer. Can I develop a recipe? Laughter. Could we change this? No. Why do we do this? Because. Frustration.
Leaving and sadness and a change in life path. Foreign. A foreigner. The Land of the Morning Calm and beer made with rice. It’s cold, it’s wet, it’s not what I want to drink. It’s not what I want to make. Kindergartens and teaching and Kimchi and seaweed. Three years and a love for a foreign land. Korea. Its food. Its culture. Its people. Student loan gone but something else missing.
Brewing beckons. The great Overseas Experience. The OE. UK. From Thailand and heat and elephants and Singha and mosquitoes. To Scotland. Lochs and laughter and learning anew. Fyne Ales. Microbrewing. Tasting the malt and talking malty talk. Rubbing and sniffing green hop flowers. Heady perfume. Flowers and resin. Pine and mangoes. Blackberries and raspberries and lemons and oranges. Caught by a hop cone. A temporary job over. Must move on.
Up and down a country. From Argyll to Derbyshire to Oxfordshire to Kent. Which brewery should I choose. Can a brewery choose a person? Instincts. Important in brewing. Important for a job?
Thornbridge. A house. Megalithic. Almost foreboding in its angles and corners and rooms and ceilings. A job. Another job. A pub. Coach and Horses. Dronfield. Decisions. Maybe I’ll have a Jaipur while I think it over. A smooth, bittersweet hop slap. My type of beer. Well made, well brewed. This brewery isn’t afraid. Neither am I.
Assistant brewer. Farewell to Mr. Dickie. Scotland beckons. Farewell Scotland for me. Hello again for him. My girl, Catherine. A pub. Now, our house. Brewing by day, pulling pints by night. Tired. Focused. Loving it. Stefano Cossi. Stop me if you’ve heard this one. An Italian and a Kiwi were brewing beer in Derbyshire. You’ve heard it.
From assistant to brewer. Crafting beers, challenging and trialling and experimenting and implementation. Our mantra runs true. It’s in our ears and in our blood. Passion, innovation, knowledge. We believe in this. I believe in this. All consuming. Morning, up, brewing. Evening, home, cellar to deal with. Stillages, customers, feedback, chatting, learning. The perfect pint and the quest for this elusive beast. I found it. It slipped. I found it again! Sleep.
Awards and kudos and people chatting. Chatting about beer. At last. Listening to words. Citrus, says one. Biscuity, says another. I like that, she says. Education and understanding and opening doorways. Achievement. Pride. What’s wrong with pride? Stoic in my job and my life and my profession. My vocation.
Living and breathing and sleeping and dreaming beer. Are you a fool? No, this is what I do. I read beer. I taste beer. I talk beer. I think beer. I can’t help it. It has captured me.
A new brewery. Technology and pumps and sensors and a reversion to the wide-eyed days of apprentice-dom. Learning. So much learning. Systems and techniques and processes and training and staff and production and management. It’s all important. It all matters.
Yeast. The same. Water. The same. Malt and hops and brewers. The same. Brewery. Oh, so different. Where are the stone walls, weeping when it rains. Still there. Still brewing. Still experimenting. Now we can clean and keep clean. Brew with exactness. Find those flavours. Preserve those flavours. Can we master this wild horse. Technology. Break it in. Keep her steady. Amber and gold and brown and black liquids all flow pure and clean and crisp and tasty. So far. So good.
Does beer matter? It does to me. Different for you? A pint at a pub, that’s all it is, no need to dress it up. Not for me, my friends. Not for me.
The fantastically talented Mark Dredge was triumphant in the competition, with Shea Luke as second runner up and John Bidwell as third runner up. John Bidwell’s great piece can be read here. Really looking forward to reading the other two!
Well, time to go and get ready for Chicago, where myself and Stefano are judging in the World Beer Cup, followed by the US Craft Brewers Conference. Please don’t swell too much, my precious liver…