A good beer in the sun... a deceptively elusive combination
Having a decent beer out in the sunshine, in the middle of summer, should on the face of it, be one of life’s simple pleasures. But this is the UK and things, as we know, are never that straightforward. I can’t help thinking there is bizarre inverse correlation between the vibrancy of british beer and the inclemency of our weather. Five years ago the sunshine was bountiful but beer quality and availability, though on an improving trend, still relatively mediocre. Now the opposite is the case with the number of ales and breweries at a record post War high but our bright yellow friend as elusive as ever and beleaguered, but ultimately blameless, meteorologists fast jostling for popularity with the banking community.
Faced with this dilemma, I like many others, made the last minute decision to head for cheerier climes rather risk the depressing inevitability of another media hyped ‘stay-cation’. This solved one half of the problem (apart from an errant thunderstorm on arrival), but opened up a new conundrum, namely my choice of accompanying beverage as I basked in such rare pleasures.
As I Imbibed my selection, which I will come to later, a few reflections sprung to mind. The first was just how slow mobile phone etiquette has evolved relative to the pace of the underlying technology itself. Ironically, the quieter and more serene the location you find yourself, the more frustrating this is. So by the beach or poolside this unnecessary jabbering (somehow imperceptibly recognisable, even at a distance, from the inflections and volume of normal conversation) can have a disproportionately distracting affect. Surely you come on holiday to get away from such things, but it appears some are umbilically attached to such devices and their behavioural awareness suffers accordingly. I notice one beach in the Grenadines has become the first in the world to officially ban mobiles, while some forward thinking hotels now offer a digital detox package where your equipment is physically disconnected until you leave. I recognise the charges of hypocrisy, coming as it does, from someone involved in the development of a mobile phone application, but it might just catch on...
Anyway, my second thought, a few sips later and when I had calmed down again, was of the variety and scale of beers I must have drunk over the years overseas, and what a genuinely mixed set of experience’s that has been. I mean ‘mixed’ in the truest sense of the word, in that I have probably had some of my most satisfying and, equally, some of my least pleasurable beers on my not infrequent, but never quite frequent enough, ventures outside of our jolly shores.
In the interests of brevity I will leave the best experiences for another time; on the other side of the coin though, three undeniably stand out as the worst:
I sat at the back in Chemistry class for two reasons: I didn’t want to get bullied (unsuccessful) and I figured that knowledge of the periodic table probably wouldn’t help me with women (technically true but equally unsuccessful). Notwithstanding these procrastinations, even my moderate knowledge is aware that glycerine is not a friendly substance. I thought it was an ingredient in explosives. It is also, as I discovered a preservative in beer in some regions of India. Kingfisher is a decidedly average beer at the best of times, but glycerine infected and, even with a glorious sunset and with your family and friends around you, it is, and I am afraid there is no other word for it, atrocious. Stick to the (bottled) water.
Christchurch, New Zealand
New Zealand is a beautiful place but, at least when I visited, it does not have beautiful beer. I hear the craft beer revolution has reached its shores and I sincerely hope so because, amazing at it may seem, Boddingtons smoothflow was THE premium beer. I really do wish I was kidding. My Kiwi friend ‘treated’ me to a session on the Steinlagers’ while I was out there. I can honestly say it is the only beer I have tried that is so chemically infested that you actually get a hangover before you are drunk. When you are next in Tesco, please be do not be tempted by the 24 bottle slabs, alluringly positioned on the corner aisles. There is a reason it’s on promotion...
I came here with a good friend of mine a few years back. Sunshine tick. Cuisine no tick. Beer, well I don’t even know the symbol for it. My father served in Cyprus for the RAF when I was little. He is a seasoned real ale drinker and he warned me about Keo. Like most paternal advice I graciously acknowledged it and then proceeded to ignore it. Big mistake. Keo is, in my experience, a soapy, insipid, concoction of a beer. Notionally well served on draft and in a cold, chilled glass I still couldn’t finish it. If you’re going that way this summer, unpalatable as it may seem and it certainly stokes to be saying it, but pay up for the multi-national brands.
Taken in this context, Spain, where I have just flown back from, might be considered a safe option; a far from outstanding range of beers, but where to some degree you know what you are getting into. It is actually the US who regularly dominates the worst beers in the world list though ironically it has some of the best in the world too. Back in Europe, France, clearly a more wine dominated culture, is commonly acknowledged to have worst, though others are not far behind it. Spanish brews are safer ground in that respect but are perceived as bland and lacking creativity.
Like most typecasts there are clear elements of truth to these assumptions but reliance on them can betray an underlying ignorance. My experience in the Spain though was going to true to form with Mahou, Estrella and Cruzcampo (the bottle, as the draught actually not being a bad accompaniment to tapas) firmly endorsing the prevailing opinion. The ubiquitous San Miguel was actually proving to be the pick of the bunch until a friendly waiter, sensing I was getting a touch restless, introduced me to Alhambra 1925 Reserva. Served as it is from a beautifully designed bottle, expectations are immediately lifted and I have to say it doesn’t disappoint. This is a really refreshing dark gold beer with hints of caramel and malts and a crisp, dry finish. It is quite a strong, at 6.4%, but drinks much smoother than that and has a real ‘more-ability’ about it (if there is such a word). Granted there are much better beers out there but certainly not in Spain and as a drink to have in the sunshine, I have to say, it takes some beating.
Everything settled into place after that and a restful few days saw me back in time to witness our fantastic flurry of medals. My mood improved further when I discovered Alhambra 1925 Reservait is starting to become available in the UK. My fridge is ready, now I just need to rely on the good old British weather; I have a nagging feeling I might just be back to square one...