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Monday, 18 April 2016

Beer - a Few Thoughts

I was weaned on beer.  From about my 10th birthday my parents were in the Hospitality industry, first when my dad was steward of the Stourbridge Institute and Social Club, and then running a 26 bedroom brewery owned hotel named the Bell Hotel (with 5 bars!). The Bell was tied to the Wolverhampton & Dudley Brewery, whose Banks' Best Bitter was my beer of choice for a number of years when at home until I finally left the UK  for warmer climes in 1972. Not that that was the only beer I experienced. I was one of a crowd of young adults who spent a lot of time meeting in a number of different pubs - I recall the Crown at Iverley, the Navigation, The Plough at Claverley and the Unicorn in Wollaston village. Our favorite beverage when on pub crawls was either draft Bass or Worthington E.

After joining the Royal Navy in 1964 I was introduced to a wider variety of beers. My first encounter with beers during my naval career was at the Floaters (The Floating Bridge Inn) in Dartmouth while I was at Britannia Royal Naval College, though I can't recall the brand of beer that they served back then. After my introductory Officer's Course I moved to Malta for several months for the Naval Observer's Course, and it was here that I was introduced to Cisk lager. On the completion of that course I was posted to the Royal Naval Air Station at Lossiemouth in Morayshire, then home of the Buccaneer strike aircraft, and it was here that I tasted my first Scottish beers, Youngers and McEwans ales. Three tours on aircraft carriers to the Far East brought me into contact with Tiger (Singapore), Tusker (Mombasa, Kenya), Fosters (Perth & Sydney, Australia), San Miguel (Subic Bay, Philippines) and a cluster of others in Hong Kong, New Zealand and other ports of call.

My emigration from the UK to Rhodesia in 1972 and later to South Africa marked the start of a dearth of good beers. The sum total being Lion and Castle lagers in both countries and Zambezi in Rhodesia. There is little doubt in my mind that South African Breweries "powers that be" lack imagination, and there is certainly room for the development of craft beers, of which there are none at all in that country. This scarcity was to last until I relocated to the United States some 42 years later.

Some of the beers in my closet
Up here in New England there are, without any doubt, some of the best beers I have ever tasted, as well as scores that I have yet to sample. Craft beers are a big thing here, and there is a huge variety to choose from. The average price of a box of 12 beers in New Hampshire is around $12, which works out to 66p for a 355ml bottle, although a few weeks ago I found some at a local market selling at $5 for a case of 12. The most common and popular beers are around 5.5% to 6% alcohol by volume, although I have found one or two on the Internet  as high as 18%!

It has been interesting doing some of the research for this article. Only when I started researching the names of some of the foreign beers I had forgotten, did I discover that a number of countries are turning towards craft beers. Also some countries, such as Belgium, have beers that go back many hundreds of years. Australia surprised me with a huge number of craft beers. Much as I'd like to taste some of the older beers of Belgium and the many varieties of craft beer in Oz, I will have to be content with what is available locally - and there is plenty to choose from without having to resort to to such common brands as Budweiser or Millers.