On Thursday I helped to organise a beer dinner at The Masons Arms. It was great fun and I hope at least a few of the people present were as impressed as I was at the quality of the beer and food presented.
It was the inaugural event of a loose organisation of people we are calling the Cumbrian Beer Appreciation Group. It includes, amongst others, myself, the great beer critic; Jeff Pickthall, the ever increasing light in support of great beer in Cumbria; Neil Bowness and one of the key management of aforementioned pub; Alex Routledge.
We currently have no formal structure, no constitution and no membership criteria. Indeed, if you like beer and live in Cumbria, or like Cumbrian beer, or visit Cumbria and drink beer, or perhaps just observe beery goings on in Cumbria then perhaps you have a right to be involved, if you want.
We stand for beer appreciation in Cumbria. Any beer really. We try not to have preconceived ideas about beer, other than we know what we like. Neither is there any real reason to be geographically constrained, other than for reasons that all the current "members" are Cumbrian residents. We like cask, keg, bottle conditioned, chill filtered and canned beer alike. We have even talked about doing a serious mainstream beer review video. We consider a well executed version of a traditional brown bitter to be just as worthy as a modern pale mild, a mainstream interpretation of classic IPA to be just as notable as a 9% hopbomb and indeed, for my own sake must admit that nitrokeg stout is a sound fall-back where that couple of pints are required in unwind mode should beer esoteria be unavailable.
I know that scorn has been poured on the concept of beer and food matching in some quarters. Perhaps it's my upbringing, but I feel that there is much milage in matching beer and food. Don't get me wrong, in my youth I have consumed my fair share of economy foods, and still do when quick calorific intake is required. From an early age I was taught the value of quality, even though we could rarely afford it. Quality events with my relatives, work colleagues, business associates and friends have often involved good food and perhaps wine of some sort of superior value. I never could get the hang of wine connoisseurship but I am certainly influenced by the fact that many good people I know have it mastered and are often revered by their peers for their knowledge, even if I suspect there is an element of male bovine excreta present.
Because I believe that beer deserves an element of progressive appreciation I have willingly, and I believe successfully, been involved in this sterling effort to bring a little bit of this to the Cumbrian beer world. It is just one of the many things that is bringing me great joy and hope about the 21st century beer world.
I notice that The Pub Curmudgeon has started a poll on his blog asking what decade the reader would most like to drink in. I voted unashamedly for 2011, mainly because 2021 and 2031 were not made available. I can't remember drinking in 1971, but in 1981 the beer wasn't that good and it's been progressively improving since. Yes, perhaps some things have got worse, less pubs for instance, but I'm not convinced that many of the losses will be greatly missed. Mudgie recounts his view of the way things were, just to give us a reminder. He asserts that the future is gloomy. Although I like Mudgie's approach generally, I do feel that today is a good time to drink beer and it's getting better, there is plenty to look forward to.
The opportunity to present beer in the way we did on Thursday is a great leap forward. We've been asked to do the same thing again in a few weeks at a different venue and so we hope the momentum will continue.
The evening itself was attended by a good mix of people. Some were confirmed beer enthusiasts like me, people who were looking for real beer inspiration. Others were interested industry people from Cumbria, brewers, licensees and the like. The rest were ordinary punters with no great beer aspirations, but looking for a good night of food and drink.
I found it interesting that some thought the early beers a little uninspiring, but conversely, the latter beers to others far too overwhelming. Overall, we believe we got the balance right and I hope that the Crafterati present understood that the exceptional balanced subtlety of the craft brewed pilsner and pale ales went extremely well with the soup and fish courses. Equally, to match beer with a rich chocolate desert or strongly flavoured cheese requires robust beer that would normally fail to find any appeal in a normal drinking session. If we sent one person away with a greater enthusiasm for progressive beer then I'd consider that a success.
This sort of dinner is a specialist event. Most beer drinkers will be unimpressed with the idea of sitting down in a posh joint and pontificating about flavour descriptors of the beer and food in question. I think it can only be good that there is a progression towards respectability for what I believe to be our core alcoholic beverage of the UK. Long may it continue to gain pace, as this is part, if only a small part, of what some are calling a beer revolution.
I'm raising a glass to the great future of beer.