I like beer and also cooking. Those words are almost enough on their own to define me, just add a peppering of the outdoors, technology, and shorts and you’ve got me pinned down really. But there is a little more the curious might find interesting, so if you want to go well beyond this TLDR read on…
I’m an Australian living in the UK since 2006,
tied to IT through my HSMPTier-1 visa on a permanent residence visa. I’ve not decided to go on to becoming a British citizen yet – it’s just more money thrown to the government really. I spent the 10 years from 2003 to 2013 being a code monkey (aka “software engineer”) quite happy hacking on anything new from embedded C code, through systems C++, to Python web backends and HTML/CSS/JS. Sometimes I even enjoyed it. Essentially I am a nerd of the computer science variety – with a B.Sc from Sydney University. I’ve quit the industry for now – on a “mini retirement” I call it, because I’ve just lost the spark… I have lost the will to code.
I have a background steeped in food & cooking. Both my parents are chefs you see, so I literally grew up in a commercial kitchen. My parents have high ideals when it comes to food. I believe so anyway. Up early, to bed late, because just about everything was done from scratch. Bread: home-made; pasta: home-made; sauces: home-made; preserves: home-made; herbs and garnishes: from our own gardens whenever possible; etc. For some of the time we even had our own chickens (convenient disposal of scraps in exchange for some eggs & a batteries-not-required alarm clock). I always enjoyed the kitchen though I didn’t really use the opportunity of my upbringing to learn as much as I should have. However, I have a built-in sense for a lot of basics. Rarely do I need to worry much about following recipes, though I own a heck of a lot of cooking books for reference. This upbringing comes with its own curse too, no domestic kitchen will ever be big enough for me. British kitchens really depress me in fact.
To begin with I never had much of an interest in beer. I experimented with the odd one as far back as highschool. It was the done thing. The tipple of choice was Hahn Ice – ice filtered, for minimum flavour. When it eventually came to pubs I settled on Guinness, everything else was a tad flavourless. Wine was where it was at back then, no surprise as I grew up in the midst of the excellent south-west WA wine country. My parents even ran restaurants at wineries from time to time. In the uncertain year between highschool and university I worked for wineries and vinyards. Even did a cellar door wine tasting & sales course. Ultimately I preferred the outdoor work though and in that year must have planted several thousand vines, harvested countless kilos of grapes, and weeded, wired, and generally helped build vineyards. I have fond memories from those times and could very well have stayed put. Whenever I’m back home I drive past some of the vineyards we built and feel a small sense of pride at having been involved, even if in a very tiny way.
University took me across the country to Sydney. A memorable drive, all those kilometres in my old 1975 Ford F-100 truck, a former West Australian ambulance. University was a rough old time, properly on my own for the first time and reliant on state support – which often failed due to administration errors. It worked out well enough in the end and while I wasn’t the best student (never could be bothered with the bits that I found boring), I was good enough to network with the cream of the crop & academics. This secured me work teaching, then work for the department, and ultimately my escape to the private sector. Another turning point, I could very easily have ended up a career student or University employee.
Sydney is where I discovered some appreciation for beer. Mainly this was down to enjoying imported brews at the Belgian Beer Café. The very early signs of what has built into a US-style craft beer scene were just emerging back then in the first half of the 2000s. The James Squire Brewhouse on Darling Harbour was a favourite spot to hang out, and Red Oak had recently come onto the scene with their micro offering. I took to the tastier brews over there and by the time I left Sydney beer was my primary tipple, with wine a close second – or perhaps vodka (thanks to Russian & Ukranian friends I went through a stage of “vodka appreciation”, you could call it…) I had reached a point where I was picky about beer at pubs, and thus picky about pubs themselves – and always interested to try new beers. When I go back to Australia and taste some the the beers I liked back then I’m bemused. Mostly they’re very fizzy and not very flavourful! That said, they’re better than most standard UK “lagers”! The James Squire range (now Lion Nathan’s “Malt Shovel”), Redback, Beez Neez even… although it has pretty shocking reviews on RateBeer I see.
Just before moving to the UK a friend & housemate sparked an interest in whisky via a sample of good old Lagavulin 16yo. So on arrival in the UK my primary drinking interest was single malt Scottish whisky. Work took me via airports frequently so I had a ready supply of whisky at home, there isn’t much else to do when stuck in London airports. My initial experiences with UK beer were pretty dismal. My first colleagues drank Stella and Fosters, which I tried and rejected. I recall I tried some big-brand cask ale too – which was pretty foul, and ruled that out as a drinking options. I lived in Rickmansworth, where the few pubs didn’t really offer much in the way of beer. So during my first six months or so in the UK pub trips mostly involved Guinness.
Then things changed. I was working out in Aylesbury and visited a place called the Hop Pole, they had something like 10 different hand-pumps on the bar. I’d never been in such a pub before and was intrigued. I tried several beers, they were good. In an instant I had been converted. From there on I ramped up rapidly to full beer geek territory. In Rickmansworth there wasn’t much of a beer playground available though, so interesting beer came in fits and spurts. The next leap forward came when we moved to Hitchin. Around the corner from the house was what became my favourite pub, The Nightingale. Generally five ales on, mostly from Tring and Nethergate (at the time) with the latter’s Old Growler or Umbel Magna almost always on. Halcyon days! Hitchin also sported the excellent Half Moon, frequent local CAMRA pub of the year winner.
The much stronger real ale culture around Hitchin and the two beer festivals (Hitchin and Letchworth) sparked an interest in CAMRA. We attended beer festivals, we then volunteered at beer festivals, eventually we both ended up on the local committee and helped run beer festivals. Overlapping with this was the UK’s “craft beer revolution”. Brewdog came to prominence very quickly and I fell for their story hook, line, and sinker. Back then they hadn’t grown bold enough to actually attack CAMRA so I felt no conflict about drinking their beer (almost always in cask back then) and when “Equity for Punks” Kat and I bought a pair of shares. We visited the brewery, it was a great trip. We attended the first BrewDog AGM – it was amazingly good! Then tensions started and the “real ale” vs “keg” vs “cask ale” vs “beer” vs “whatever the fuck” wars started. Tensions ran high, I felt very pulled and twisted at the time. I cared far too much about it all, but just wanted everyone to get along without the daft name-calling.
I like progress and I also like tradition. I also like “good beer” (as I taste it) no matter what the format. I think cask ale is a wonderful thing and don’t really see why it matters if CAMRA call it “real ale” – it just doesn’t matter that much. I don’t think CAMRA needs to support non-cask beer, I’d rather see the organisation focus on support for cask serve quality (this is the biggest enemy of cask) and saving the British pub culture from greedy corporates and their false claims of non-viability. I also think there is no problem with Brewdog (or anyone else) producing keg beer, and running keg-only bars. These things can co-exist in peace. At the end of the day when something like Carling is the UK’s most popular beer then we need to sit back and wonder if we should all be expending so much energy bickering about beer nerd politics. But it will continue, and I’ll continue to get involved in the bickering no doubt – I’m only human.
As you can probably tell at this point I have become quite actively & emotionally involved in British beer. That’s where it ends really. That why this blog is here. I find some enjoyment from writing about beer, especially food and beer. I don’t worry too much if nobody cares about what I write – but blogging will always seem a bit egotistical I guess. I write my thoughts down because it is a cathartic act, it helps get them in order, a small way of trying to make sense of the chaos in my head. If you’ve read this far then I’m astounded & indebted to you for your interest. We should meet up and have a beer sometime.
Update 2015: “That’s where it ends” … oh, no it doesn’t. In 2014 I fully invested in my love of great beer and started Jolly Good Beer. A beer wholesale/distribution business based near Cambridge. Also mobile bar, tastings, and other beer events. This has put an end to most blogging as now near 100% of my waking hours go into trying to create a sustainable independent beer business. It’s totally mental. But definitely stops me getting bored.