Against The Grain (The Session #83)

The Session (aka Beer Blogging Friday) is a thing where beer bloggers from around the world think about a predetermined topic and then simultaneously release their thoughts into the wilds of the internet.
Imagine those beautiful candle-powered sky lanterns, but with added beer.
This month’s thoughts are being corralled by thebakeandbrew.com with the theme; Against The Grain. Basically, what do you dislike that everyone else loves, and why (or vice versa).

When I first read the announcement for January’s session, I knew instantly what I was going to write. Unfortunately, I am worried that it is going to seriously undermine any beergeek-cred that I’ve accrued over the last couple of years.

I expect that many of this months Session posts are going to read something like; “I keep trying DogFishHead’s 90 minute IPA and, call me a fool if you like, but I prefer the 60 minute” or “I just can’t get past the fact that Westvleteren12 is over-rated“.

My own thoughts are… well, erm… Where I go against the grain is… ahem, I… Oh man, this is harder than I thought. OK, here goes…

I have a dirty little secret.

I quite like [coughs] Corona.
From a [coughs] bottle.
With a [coughs] slice of [coughs] lime.

Right. I’ve said it, and now am going to be drummed out of the club.
The thing is, I think of beer a bit like I think of poetry or prose; I love well-crafted verse. Beauty can be found in the words of a sonnet, or in a series of rhyming couplets, or in a phrase of iambic pentameter*. There is majesty in the words of the greats; Shakespeare, Dickens, Dahl…
But, on the beach, I read fiction – stories about detectives or soldiers or sci-fi.

It’s exactly the same with beer; I love a well-crafted pint. A perfectly balanced IPA is a beautiful thing to behold; when the malt bill compliments the hop profile, with neither dominating. Beauty can be found in a mouthful of saison, or a porter, or in a barleywine. And there is majesty in an Imperial IPA or Russian Imperial Stout.
But, on the beach, when I have sand between my toes, and sun in my eyes, I like to drink Corona. I know that it’s not a great beer. I know its not really even a good beer. It doesn’t even taste right without a wedge of lime in the neck of the bottle. Or if the sun isn’t shining.
It would be easy to say that I have been taken in by Corona’s From Where You’d Rather Be advertising campaign, but I felt this way before it started.

Sometimes, a beer is elevated by circumstance. Sometimes, I don’t want to have to think too hard about the beer I’m drinking. Sometimes, I realise that there is a very fine line between beergeek and beerwanker. And nobody likes a beerwanker. Now, did anyone see where I put my barrel-aged, hop-forward, fruit-infused, sour, smoked imperial barleywine?

*As an aside, I’ve decided that one day I am going to brew a lambic, just so I can call it lambic pentameter. I might even drink it on the beach.

Corona

Perception

I’ve just had an epiphany. Well, maybe calling it an epiphany is a slight exaggeration, but I’ve definitely realised something about the subjective nature of taste.

HopHog ValeVale IPA has long been one of my go to IPAs. I’m aware that some regard Vale IPA as slightly substandard, and that “you can taste the contract” (Sh!t Beer Geeks Say 2013), but I think that’s a bit harsh. It is an easy-drinking IPA, rather than a “special occasion” beer, but that doesn’t make it substandard in my book. I often take it with me when I’m on missionary work converting the unenlightened (craftbeer unbelievers). (Dan’s $3.99/bottle)

Feral HopHog IPA was recently voted Australia’s #1 beer. Again. I know that I risk being run out of town, but I never quite got the hype. People really rave about this beer. It even gets mentioned twice in the aforementioned “Sh!t Beer Geeks Say”. I’ve always enjoyed HopHog, but to call it Australia’s best beer felt a bit much. Even calling it Australia’s best IPA seemed a bit of a stretch; Mornington Peninsula Brewery’s Imperial IPA, or the late lamented Temple Brewing’s Midnight IPA, anyone? (Dan’s $4.99/bottle)

Anyway, the other night I opened the two back–to-back, and I finally get it.
We started with the HopHog. It is a well-hopped beer, with real citrus punch and a piney resinous backbone – there’s plenty of hop-flavour and real bitterness there too, but it’s controlled. The beer sits nicely in your mouth, and doesn’t demand your undivided attention. Drinking HopHog is a very pleasant experience – no one component is overpowering.

Moving on to the Vale IPA, I noticed a distracting base flavour that I hadn’t appreciated before. The aromatic hop flavours were there, the alpha-acid bitterness too, and a hunk of malt. But they didn’t seem to fit together. I’d never noticed it before, but it just seemed a bit two-dimensional, jarring even. Not bad, mind; just unbalanced.

So, I’ve had my mind expanded. Just a little bit. I’ve seen that my opinion of one beer can be affected by the previous or next one. And that as my palate matures, and my knowledge grows, I am starting to recognise more complex (and amorphous) qualities like balance. I’ve also learnt that when I’m underwhelmed by a beer that everyone else raves about (or at least, all those beergeeks who I respect), I should probably try it again.