The Session – The Best Thing I Had Ever Tasted

4 02 2011

OK so I’ve never taken part in this before (and not sure if you need an invite or anything) but here is my two penneth for beer blogging Friday’s The Session. The topic given for this week’s posts – Cask, Keg, Can, Bottle: Does dispense matter?

My first ever recollection of tasting beer was from a can. Both my parents were tee total but they would occasionally buy some beer in for my grandfather which would often sit half empty in the fridge after his visit. Now as someone who couldn’t resist a good rummage around his parents’ bedroom at Christmas for clues about what presents I might be getting this was far too much of an open invitation. The tingling bitterness on my tongue and the bready comforting aroma sold me there and then. I loved beer. Unfortunately being around 10 years old meant I had to wait a while before I could really explore this love. The beer in question was McEwans Export and I knew that canned beer was the best thing I had ever tasted and I would never look back.

In my early teens I would try some more exotic beers from cans, Colt 45 was a particular favourite, and obviously very classy. It helped that the parents of one of my school pals owned the local off licence so we were able to try a multitude of these tempting brews. However, living just outside of Newcastle there was only one king of beers. Dog. Newcastle Brown Ale was seen as the drink to turn up to a party with if you were being serious about your drinking and if you saw someone with it you knew what they were either very brave or very stupid. To prove its obvious superiority it didn’t come out of a cheap can, oh no, this was proper stuff and came in a bottle and because of that bottled beer became the best thing I had ever tasted and I would never look back.

The now long gone Engine Inn provided me with my first ever taste of draught beer at the tender age of 16 and was again McEwans in the shape of keg Scotch. This was the real, grown up world I was in now, shoulder to shoulder with fitters and welders from the Yards who would laugh knowingly at us as we tried to act about 5 years older. The keg Scotch was like the can of Export on steroids, bursting with flavour and it came in a wrist aching pint glass…a whole pint! As you can imagine keg beer suddenly became the best thing I had ever tasted and I would never look back.

However in the early 80’s the only thing to be seen drinking was the much paler lager which was apparently some complex, arcane continental brew which made it much cooler to be seen with. The great thing was that it wasn’t just cooler in a John Travolta kind of way, it actually came chilled and girls liked it, winner. The dispenser taps for lager were also cool. Gone were the simple lit boxes of the Scotch and in came garishly lit chrome masterpieces to tempt you with their wares, each seemingly more complex and overdesigned than the next. Served chilled from a keg it became the best thing I had ever tasted and I would never look back.

At some point in the mid 80’s I ventured down to Tynemouth to partake in what would be my first ever Indian meal. We arrived early knowing there were (and still are) several pubs worth popping in to and we never passed up the opportunity for a beer or two. Entering the Cumberland Arms (I think) I noticed that they had McEwans Scotch on and in a fit of nostalgia I strode to the bar and promptly asked for a pint. “Keg or cask?” came the reply. What?!?!? I gave my mates a blank look which was duly returned and had to ask the barman what on earth he was talking about, whereupon he rather patiently, and maybe a little patronisingly, explained the difference to me. “Cask it is then” I said after picking up from the tone of voice that this was the right answer to give. When my pint arrived it looked no different than I could remember from the keg version but the taste, now that was different. Even as a lager boy I could tell this was special, it was smooth, creamy, nutty and refreshing. Cask beer was the best thing I had ever tasted and I would never look back.

So there you go, 25 years ago after trying all the dispensing methods I came across I knew cask beer was by far in a way the best of the lot. Fact. Except life doesn’t work like that, does it? Despite my new found irrefutable knowledge I still drank, well, pretty much anything to be honest as long as it was relatively cheap, had the desired effect and regardless of dispensing method. I even largely gave up beer for quite a while during what I refer to as the Whisky Years. Over the past decade or so I have taken much more of an interest in beer but, thankfully, have never felt indoctrinated by the cask or nowt argument peddled by CAMRA etc. I’m led in my drinking choices by two things, taste and the company I’m in. If it tastes good to me I’ll drink it regardless of how it is served because I drink for pleasure not to prove a point and, if the neo-prohibitionists allow, I’ll enjoy the 30p bottle of no-brand lager at my mates barbie this year knowing it was the best thing I had ever tasted and that I would never look back.




One response

17 02 2011
Reluctant Scooper

Thanks for the post. The Session round-up is now live:

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