It's the first Session for 2009, so host "Beerme" at Beer and Firkins has asked us, appropriately enough, to look back on The Year in Beer 2008 (what will we miss?) and also think about what might await us in '09. (Check out the roundup at B&F.)
So here's the partly-abbreviated-but-not-really tale of a fine beer experience I had in 2008 – one which I surely miss and will continue to long for in that misty-eyed, alco-romantic way.
I spent a good chunk of late spring/early summer in Europe, enjoying such places as Paris, southern France, Spain and London. As is often the case when I vacation, the trip consisted of me trying to beer-hunt as much as possible without driving my travelmates crazy.
Enjoying beer in strange lands is always an exhilarating experience, but perhaps never more so than when those lands are some of the world's great beer hotspots, where you can take in classic beer styles as fresh as can be and in the places where and among the people with whom they were meant to be consumed.
For that reason I consider myself extraordinarily lucky to have visited Belgium, Germany and the Czech Republic in the past (and let's not forget, to live in the United States right now), and to have spent time in London last year. Anyone moderately versed in beer styles and beer history knows why England is a special place for people like ourselves, and a visit to the pubs of London should almost be considered requisite for those who have the inclination and the means. For me, it was little short of a revelation.
I had drank cask-conditioned (American) beers in the past, and liked them. I had drank plenty of English ales in the past, and depending upon the style either liked them very much or felt indifferent at best. But English cask ales, in England? Hoo boy.
The first thing worth remarking is how plentiful hand-pulled real ale is in London. Any "authentic-looking" pub worth visiting (now here's a circular definition) has several cask ales on offer. Yes, some pubs carry only a major brand (Fuller's rules at The Hung Drawn and Quartered – that's just one of plenty of examples) but England's many free houses feature small, independent breweries that even a devoted Yankee beer snob is likely never to have heard of. Either way, who cares – it's delicious and it's authentic.
And how about the fact that many of these ales boast alcohol percentages in the low 3's. You may at first have to reset your thinking from a low alcohol = low flavor mindset. Give me a hand-pulled, 3.2-percent Dark Mild any day, thank you. Give me several, in fact. That is, after all, the idea.
The whole experience was enough to make this hitherto English-ale-agnostic homebrewer seriously consider going on a British brewing binge. Speaking of which, I'll wrap this up neatly by naming that as my beer item to look forward to in 2009. It's just a damn shame I don't have a beer engine...