Chasing The Dragon (And Other Phrases…)

As a family, we rarely did stuff together as the kids got older. The one thing we DID do – on a monthly basis – was to go to a good pub and have Sunday dinner. Something Fionn & Roisin both loved.

We still talk about some of these fond memories. Like driving all the way to The Crooke Hall Inn (at Daughter Thing’s explicit request) only to find that she was too hungover to actually finish. And wanted to go home!

We still do this. Go for Sunday lunch. TLO, Daughter Thing & I. And I look at an empty space where the boy used to be.

Sunday lunch now means – to us – one thing. The Marble Arch. And it’s bloody magnificent. And consistent. With consistently beautiful beer to wash it down.

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And when I look at that bar – whenever I approach – the first thing I think of? Pint. As good a session beer as you will find. Anywhere. Bright, sharp, reliable. Just delicious.

And? It’s that rather old fashioned thing. A core range beer.

I got to thinking about that quaint idea of having a core range of beers after ending up – as I frequently do after a day trip – at The Brink.

Looking at the bar, I spied an old friend. Stocky Oatmeal Stout by Thirst Class Ale. Rich. Roasty. Creamy. Utterly delicious. And… Another core range beer. From a reliably excellent brewery.

And – at a tangent – something else got me thinking about core beer ranges. And the breweries that still do them.

Instead he relies on research and diligence to score the beers his customers want.

This comment came from a piece in a trade journal (re off-sales), I won’t link to it, it was focused purely on London with no perspective from outside.

The piece was making a point about shops scrambling to get the latest FOMO beers. From the most popular producers. But I had to ask….

Is this where FOMO has taken us? Popular beers being talked of as if they are rocks of crack? REALLY? WTF ever happened about just enjoying good tasty beer? Rather than looking for a hit, a higher high?

I mean, I like hops. But I despair. I really do. And yet – in a small way – I’m a part of this problem. Because of what I insist on for beer supply here.

This chasing of the dragon isn’t new. Far from it.

In 2017 I was talking to a highly respected brewer who opened up the cold store. Row upon row of beautiful, tasty, beer. In keg. Sat there. Because – in his words – “everyone wants something new”. I could have wept at the idiocy of such thinking. But for the simple fact that I was there. Making beer. New beer. To feed the FOMO. To sell tickets. For the FOMO fearers. The new “tickers”.

Hypocrite.

I’m far from old fashioned. As anyone who has seen the line up at an ISBF bar could tell you. But – above all else in beer – what I love most is consistency. Reliability. THAT excites me. Approaching a bar and – inwardly – licking my lips, knowing, with CERTAINTY, that what I’m going to be drinking will be delicious.

I’ve drunk a little bit of Lager & Helles & Pilsner (call Lager whatever you want) recently and really enjoyed them. And had the mantra pushed at me “if you can get a Lager right, that shows that you’re good”. That may be true. But not just Lager.

The breweries that I respect most have a core range. They brew those beers consistently excellently. The quality doesn’t waver.

Runaway Pale, Brewsmith Pale, Marble Pint, Five Points Railway Porter, North Riding Mosaic, Neptune Abyss, Pictish Brewers Gold. These beers – to me – are absolutes. Flag bearers of consistency. Of excellence. Beers that – the moment I see them on a bar, I point to.

Quality. And consistency of quality. These things excite me. Those breweries above have consistently excellent core ranges. They get them right, time after time. Brew after brew. In such ways is my trust earned. I know that each beer – however new – released by these will be reliably excellent.

Don’t misunderstand me. There are breweries out there that don’t have core ranges. That still make excellent beer.

But beer – to me – is like music. I’m currently listening to the new Mountain Goats album. And it’s predictably fabulous. Well crafted songs. Seasoned with beautiful playing. Consistently excellent. (I adore John Darnielle)

I yearn for a time when people just appreciate beer – like music – for what it is. Good, tasty, well brewed beer.

Not just the latest feel good hit of the summer.

The sooner we reach that destination, the better.