I read an interesting blog post today, “Zen and the Art of Appreciating Simple Beers.” Now, the post goes on a bit about developing one’s palate to a place where you can identify and enjoy (or criticise) even the simplest or subtlest tastes. This is a concept that I appreciate, while having to acknowledge that likely my own taste buds aren’t there yet.
But I do agree with the overall theme – that as you began to dive further and further into good beer one tends to go for the big, complex beers – your Imperial IPAs, your big barely wines, your complex Belgians – and think of them as “best.” While the simpler beers – the lagers, the golden ales, the bitters – get viewed as something not as good.
Which is utter rubbish. But I think every drinker has to find their way back to realising how lovely a more simple beer can be.
The post concludes with this, which I think is fairly spot on:
“Beer appreciation is not linear; it’s circular. First you love beer naively, out of a simple joy. Then your head gets filled with a bunch of crap about what’s “good” and you begin disliking beer out of a blind prejudice. Finally, you come back to appreciating beer for its own nature.”
Quite coincidentally, over the weekend I drunk an Epic Lager for the first time in probably four or five years. Back then my beer preferences would have“graduated” to the bigger flavours. And this then led me to say that I thought I’d been ruined for lager forever. Ale for me, I declared, none of this light, watery, flavourless shit. No more beers like Epic Lager
Again; utter rubbish.
I have found my way back to being able to enjoy lagers, thank god. Yet I was still a bit tentative about this lager from Epic, because my memory of my last taste as “not good” had got stuck in my mind.
Of course, my memory was really of it being “not ale.” Because it is good. Sexy pale straw colour, tantalisingly light touches of bitter fruit in the aroma, and big full and sweet in the mouth. There’s a hint of lemon from the hops, while that big malty flavour that always makes me think of Superwine Biscuits sits there deliciously, showing this to be a good lager, and doing lager things well.
As I was enjoying it, however, another set of memories came back, far earlier than my memories of last drinking this beer at music quiz night at the Southern Cross. There was some scent and taste memory from this lager – the bitter fruity lift of the hops, a slight metallic tinge in the aftertaste, and a sneaky sweetness in the mouth and a tang of bitterness.
“Beer” my memory said to me. It reminded me strongly of my first memory of beer. The smell that would arise when my father would crack open a quart of beer, probably a DB Draught. The delightful play of sweetness, bitterness and metal that would come as he let me sneak a sip from his pewter mug when mum was out of the room. The warmness of the alcohol, and the long tasty aftertaste.
I think that speaks volumes for the quality of this lager. Because I’m decades older, with a far more jaded palate, but this lager tasted to me just like the taste explosion that was a grown-up’s beer tasted as a child – a bit metallic, sneakily sweet and lightly bitter. A very beery beer. Epic Lager tasted just like that beer from my memory.
* * *
Now, after praising a simple beer, I might as well mention the other side of the coin – a big-flavoured beer that I just didn’t like. Really didn’t like. Read on…
Not long ago was the “City Tap Takeover,” where beers from America’s Stone Brewing Co took over all the taps of two bars in Wellington; the Fork & Brewer and Malthouse. I only made it along to Malthouse for a few hours over the evening (because one has to work to pay for the beer), but it was an incredibly rewarding few hours.
Those Stone Brewing people know how to make a beer. They know how to play with flavours, emphasise different qualities, and an evening spent with an array of palate-expanding beers saw me in foggy-eyed, blessed-taste bud heaven. I didn’t love every beer I tried, but all had quality, all were enjoyed. I wasn’t able to take notes or photos, so I’m just left recommending trying any of Stone’s beers if you get the chance.
All but one. The aptly named ‘Punishment’.
A beer brewed with the hottest chillies they could source.
It was revolting. The only thing I could compare it to was drinking the brine from a jar of jalapeños. And why the hell would you want to drink the brine from a jar of jalapeños?
Well, Stone answer that themselves in this blog – it’s all about “the challenge.” “Are you up for it?” they ask, daring “spice-taunting masochists” to give it a try.
It really is that sort of beer. The sort of beer for boys (and they usually are, – or at least men who act like boys) who want to prove they’ve got the biggest dick by wolfing down the hottest curries, smearing the hottest chilli sauces on their pizza, daring each other to try the most horrifically hot chillies they can find.
Now, I love spicy food. It really is my thing. But I just don’t get that behaviour. And I really don’t like ruining a nice bit of food with taste bud destroying heat. And if it is too hot for my acclimatised mouth, you can bet it is ridiculously hot.
And that’s what Stone’s Punishment was. A beer brewed for that sort of people to try to out-do each other with, regardless of what it might do to their ability to taste anything else for the rest of the evening. Or the rest of the week.
An unnecessary beer. A disgusting beer. A bad beer if you were looking to do that thing with beer that really is the point of the beer – to drink it and enjoy it!
I just know by describing Punishment like this, however, I’m probably inciting some readers to track it down, asking “how hot can it really be?” Look, I’m trying to warn you – it’s incredibly hot and incredibly un-drinkable. But, go on, knock yourself out – as Stone ask, “are you up for the challenge?”
Me, I’ll be over here enjoying a well-made lager.