I noticed a tweet earlier this week from Melissa Cole’s Twitter account; it reminded me of those happy moments, vivid recollections and foundational sepia tinged memories we can have with beer in certain situations. Often they are tied to a time when we had great people around us, were at a truly memorable or joyful occasion or reached some kind of personal landmark.
I can’t quite place the exact moment where I knew that I loved good beer, it was possibly a slow process. A slow fermentation of an idea that I loved things put together with care, with nuance and with good providence. There is one beer which stands out to me as one that sparked a point of no return on beer, where I wanted only interesting flavours and was less inclined to drinking less than premium products and that my friends, was Pendle Witches Brew from Moorhouse’s Brewery. I distinctly remember which pub I was in, what glass I drank the beer from (an Imperial glass, thanks for asking) and what day of the week it was. I’ll come back to that.
There were stolen mouthfuls of beer, taken after furtively creeping round the back of a settee of beers such as Cameron’s, Banks, Trophy Bitter, Cain’s, Flowers and Castle Eden from the barrel glass (or dimple mug, if you prefer) that sat on the floor next to my Dad’s place on the couch. This usually elicited the same response as a youngster – a pulled face and a noise of disgust. My Dad usually just laughed (on occasion I probably got a clipped ear too) and told me that I would probably eventually grow into it. Back then I probably didn’t think so, but it never stopped me trying on occasion.
Fast forward to teenage years where interest is piqued in the mid nineteen nineties, adverts for Stella Artois, Kronenbourg and other continental beers are ubiquitous on television, promising premium product and something vaguely sophisticated alongside John Smiths and Boddington’s adverts pushing more UK based styled beers. There was still an interest in seeing the beer come from a handpulled cask line, with Guinness’ Kilkenny Bitter and (I’m sure that I am not making it up) Murphy’s Stout on cask (distributed by Whitbread as I understand it) in nearby pubs to where I grew up. I remembered drinking both of these quite fondly.
There were a few occasions where we visited the Hayfield and were faced with at least 8 – 10 lines of oddly named cask beer (along with a superb array of single malts and oddly, a draught line of Budweiser, which was rare in the area back then). There were some excellent beers on these visits, the beer kept in top condition by the landlord, Geoff and one of the managers, an American guy who loved his motorbikes, also called Jeff. I can remember other things about the pub from back then too, that elicit fond memories, such as the awful carpets on the floor, the amusing graffiti in one of the toilet cubicles, the brass last orders bell which was kept immaculately shiny, the seemingly endless chalk board selection of cask beers available, the plethora of postcards from patrons and staff all above the bar space. Two beers from my visits there stand out as truly exceptional and watershed moments in regard to really drawing me into the world of beer. One was a cask stout by Roosters Brew Co, at the time called Zulu – and if memory serves, it was a coffee stout. Creamy, rich and deep and incredibly smooth.
I was reliably informed that this beer evolved and was renamed as Londinium by the brewery themselves. The second and one mentioned at the head of this piece, was Pendle Witches Brew. A beer which was ‘strong’ back in the day, being over 5% and not considered to be very sessionable. It was burgeoning with fruit flavours and a crisp, deep malty backbone. Loads of berry notes in the aroma and berries in finish meant this was far too easy to sink one after another. It became a beer I sought and occasionally gleefully found at local beer festivals and other pubs in the area, although I never found the same joy in drinking it from bottles found in specialist bottle shops. It had to be dispense on handpulled cask too.
Anyone who has found joy in drinking beer, in homebrewing, in writing about beer or having any other involvement, will most likely have a beer which provided their ‘Eureka!’ moment, or their beer epiphany. Can you remember yours?