Over the years, I’ve come across people who have an intense interest in hi-fi, but are totally cloth-eared when it comes to music, and others fascinated by cars but who aren’t at all bothered about driving. And when I read about all these extreme beers, mega-strong beers, oak-aged beers, beers brewed with unconventional ingredients and all the rest, it does make me wonder whether some beer enthusiasts aren’t rather missing the point.
Don’t get me wrong, life would be very dull if all beer was the same, and it’s good that a wide range of beers are available and new ones are introduced, some to succeed, some to fall flat on their face. But you can only drink one at a time, and I don’t feel short-changed if I spend all evening drinking the same beer, or regularly go into pubs that offer nothing I haven’t had before.
Visiting a pub for a beer or two or six should be about celebration, or convivial socialising, or relaxing, or even just a brief respite from the stresses of life, not solely to sample a particular brew.
At heart I have to conclude I’m more fascinated by pubs than beer – by the variation in layout and architecture, the fittings from many different eras, the ebb and flow of trade, the little rituals and quirks of pub life, the mix of customers, their interaction with the bar staff and each other, the way their clientele and atmosphere reflect the varied strands of society. Every pub is different and has its own character and its own story to tell.
This is one of the reasons why I like visiting Sam Smith’s pubs as, although they only offer the one unchanging cask beer (and not always even that), they are without exception proper pubs with their own individual character and their own distinctive cast of customers. And, on the other side of the coin, why I always find the experience of visiting one of Wetherspoon’s soulless food and drink emporiums so oddly unsatisfying.