I was stood in Tenterden, Kent, in search of decent local beer. More precisely, I was in search of Abigale, and had jumped on a bus to Ashford on a well-timed whim, electing to stay on the bus to Tenterden. Of the four or so pubs I found in Tenterden, all but one were Shepherd Neame – which I dislike – and one was serving some nice beers, but none of them from anywhere closer than the New Forest. It seemed to be odd to be more or less surrounded by hop fields and to not be able to drink anything from Kent. Aside from the Sheps. A supermarket was selling Rother Valley Blues, but that’s not the same as a draught beer.
I had counted something in the region of twenty breweries in the Kent area, a third or so of them relatively new, and it occurred to me that there was something interesting in local produce and small enterprises. There’s something to be researched. I am surrounded by hops, a key ingredient of beer, and I am a few miles from Wye, a centre of hop research.
I’d recently had a bit of a health scare, and was on a diet, and had to cut down drinking so … it made sense to try and make each pint count. It occurred to me I knew little about beer – it had yeast and hops and malt and water and came in pints, and some I liked and some I didn’t, and there were once six big companies which had been broken by the revision of the laws about tying pubs to breweries and … that was about I. I liked Theakstons and Youngers and Timothy Taylor, and would regard myself as a Northern drinker, stranded in Enemy Territory.
Growing up I would have shandies with Watney’s Red Barrel or Watney’s Pale Ale, and occasionally sampled and disliked Home Ales and Shipstones, the two Nottingham breweries; I later tried and didn’t like Mansfield Bitter. My underage drinking was lager, which I found hard to drink because it was gassy. Then, at a theatre club, I was bought a pint of Theakston’s XB. By a cop. I was seventeen. It would have been rude to refuse. It was awkward to point out he’d broken the law. I stayed with beer.
But I never really thought about what I was drinking.
This is a place to think about it. Because, after all, I think about films and books and photographs and art and god forbid I live an unconsidered life.
This is my space to find out about beer – and teach myself, and no doubt state the bleeding obvious. And to find out how to write about beer. And work out precisely what I want to research about beer. I note that I am supervising a PhD student, who is researching binge drinking, so the sociology of drink may come to the fore at some point.
I don’t know where it is going.
I’ve had two bottles today – an Old Dairy Snow Top and a Wantsum Figgy Pudding, both from Kent Breweries, bought from Wild Ferment. Now I’m on a beer from further afield, an Anarchy Brew Company Sublime Chaos, a startling 7% and described as a breakfast stout. It’s thick black, or very dark brown, with no head to speak of, very burnt bitter flavour, with a touch of espresso coffee on a rich roast – Ethiopian coffee beans apparently, Guji – and New Zealand hops. I’d expect it to be much sweeter, given the percentage, but the beans hold it down. There’s a back of the throat, warm oaty taste, which is pleasant, but you wouldn’t want a third bottle.
Time to investigate breakfast stout…