In two weeks time, I’ll be in Dublin for the European Beer Bloggers Conference 2014. In fact, two weeks from when this post goes up, I’ll probably be cursing the name of Reuben Gray for hosting the Thursday night pub crawl and trying to unstick my eyelids, use rudimentary tools, make trousers work etc. Just you watch.
Edinburgh doesn’t know what to do with all this heat. Huge pockets of it are trapped in the cellar-like bars and cavernous pubs where folk would normally be taking refuge from the cold. Beer has been imbibed in ferocious and yet responsible quantities – a half here, a half there, sensory product and all that, yet consumed solidly all day. Now it’s starting to weigh us down, soaking through our skins and moistening our foreheads. It’s gone from being the fuel to our fire to the ballast against our senses. What do we do now, with such parched palates and beer-filled bellies? Gin, comes the answer from somewhere, a voice clear in tone and purpose. Gin.
It’s been a big year for me since the last EBBC – a year packed with opportunities – and I feel I’ve really ‘levelled up’ as a beer writer since that balmy weekend in Edinburgh a year ago. Once again, I’m pondering what I hope to experience at the EBBC. As beer gets better and the brewers increase in number, the world seems to gets smaller. So small, in fact, it could fit into a pint glass. Or should that be a third? Whilst it’s no International Conference by any stretch, the European Beer Bloggers Conference has a sense of community that beats our regular virtual interactions on Twitter and the like. Sharing a few glasses of world-class beer with seasoned companions in a foreign city is enough to get me onto a plane to pretty much anywhere.
Of course, there’s something about that word ‘Conference’ which implies a lot of dry content and classroom instruction. There’s a fair bit of sitting down and listening, certainly, but one’s experience of an event like the EBBC is very much self-determined. You get out what you put in. There’s plenty of interesting content in the programme this year, some great evenings with top brewers, and I’m really looking forward to finding out more about the beer scene in Ireland – a country so close and yet its beer scene feels so disconnected from the one on this side of the Irish Sea. The Scottish beer scene blew me away last July, and I’m hoping for a similar epiphany in Dublin.
You can’t take that in there. You just can’t. They’ll get angry. Put it down.
I’m convinced that the Shawarma takeaway is an unsuitable place to take a glass of Bourbon Barrel-aged Bearded Lady. I’m trying to explain this to a companion. It’s clear that he couldn’t bear to part with it at the pub, of that much I am certain. But more importantly: where is *my* glass of BBBL?
There’s another reason I’m so looking forward to Dublin. You see, long before I was a craft wanker, I was a Guinness wanker. Before I’d tasted Sierra Nevada or Jaipur or Punk IPA, I was very much a stout man. I grew up in Grimsby, a place where it’s still difficult to find well-kept real ale, never mind any other sort of craft beer, beyond the Wetherspoons. In my early drinking days I drank Grolsch because I knew it was somehow better than Carling, and I eventually moved to Guinness in a conscious effort to seek out different things and, if I’m completely honest, appear marginally more sophisticated. I went to university in Leeds in 2004, when West Yorkshire’s microbrewery boom was in full force. I tried a lot of different beers, and my tastes become more diverse and esoteric. I enjoyed tasting new beers, finding them, and learning the stories behind them.
Still, I would occasionally enjoy a pint of draught Guinness. Aside from the beer, I loved the branding, the history, the stories, those toucans (I still have ‘flying duck’-style Guinness toucans on the wall of my lounge). After time, travel and further exploration of the world of beer in those 10 intervening years (bloody hell I exclaim as I type that), only Guinness Foreign Extra Stout still gives me pleasure as a fully fledged beer nut/geek/wanker/obsessive.
The last time I was in Dublin was 2008, when I was still relatively fond of Guinness, and visiting St James’s Gate was a fantastic experience. Looking back, I can see a lot of things I would question, or even outright dislike, but there was still a real sense of Guinness there, whatever that is. I still have (and use) the keyring bottle opener from that 2008 trip. It’s opened a lot of great beers over the years and I’ve not come across a better bottle opener since, regardless of how ‘craft’ the beer emblazoned on it might be. My affection for Guinness itself hasn’t lasted quite as well, but FES still plucks several good notes whenever I return to it. So when I return to Dublin and visit St James’s Gate, I’ll be seeking that same sense of something historic, the story of something important. What I really want is that energising feeling I got from last year’s EBBC.
As I stand, beer in hand, at the front of Stewart Brewing outside of Edinburgh, I’m reminded of the opening line of Neuromancer: ‘The sky above the port was the colour of television, tuned to a dead channel.’ Only in this case, the sky at dusk is hitting a deep, flawless blue just a few shades darker than the Blue Screen of Death. It’s an ominous sign, but the night is too beautiful to see any darkness in it. The talk is also of a science-fiction theme: Blade Runner, then other things; among them the consumption of milk thistle, keeping up this lifestyle, being a craft wanker, topics flowing into and through each other, a sort of sparge if you will, rinsing the laughs and moments of significance out of the seemingly everlasting grains of the day. At a natural lull, we turn back towards the brewery. There are new beers to seek, friends to make, discoveries and moments and stories. We return.
The seeking is what I’m in this game for. It’s not the ‘ticking’, or even the choosing. The search, and that will to seek, to find, and to taste, is what this is all about. I’m in it for the stories too, because I’m a writer and beer is stories; because, when the weekend is over, the hangover sets in and the plane lifts off, the stories are what sustain you. They make it all mean something.
I’m going to Dublin in a couple of weeks for a few stories. I hope to see some of you there.