Put simply – because it’s delicious!
Smoky beers from Germany, microbreweries in the United States, the breadth of Belgian beer from sweet fruit beers to sour lambic beers – the world of real ales and beers is a huge and complex one I never tire of exploring.
We’re lucky in Brighton to have several local breweries producing delicious beer. My favourites are
Arundel and the Dark Star brewery. But wherever you are, it’s likely you will have a local ale to hand. Not always, if you're reading this from your work desk and do not work in a brewery then we'd like to remind you Squeamish Bikini is not your enabler!
Where to start
It’s as simple as walking into a pub and ordering a pint of real ale. Most pubs will give you a taster of a beer you haven’t had before if you’re not sure you’d like to commit to a full pint (or even half pint). Beware though – that good grace is unlikely to last long if you try to work your way through everything they have to offer.
To get a wider range of experience, head along to a local beer festival. Camra (the Campaign for Real Ale) keep an up-to-date list on their website. Don’t be tempted to try beer festivals organised by anyone other than Camra if you’re going along for the beer – other organisers may lay on better entertainment, but you won’t get the same range of beers.
On the way in, you’ll pick up a glass, a booklet with tasting notes and buy tokens to exchange for beer. The beauty of the set-up is that you can get your chosen beer by the pint, half- or third- of a pint, so you can try many more than in a pub. And the tasting notes give you an idea of what to expect. If you realise part way through the event that you’ve made a terrible mistake and you actually hate all beer, there will be ciders and perries available as well. I’ve even been to beer festivals that sell wine and spirits, and there is always food available and often entertainment.
What to try
There are so many flavours out there that it would be almost impossible to come up with a definitive list of ones to try (for me at least – those good folk at Camra put out a Good Beer Guide each year with a great list of recommendations). So I’m a fan of the ‘try them and see’ approach. However, if you’d like a few pointers, try these:
You usually drink:Generic lagers
Try: Look out for light beers – many pubs will still be stocking summer ales for the next month or so. Badger’s Golden Champion is available year-round from pubs and supermarkets and combines the light, thirst-quenching properties of lager with flavours of elderflower and honey.
You usually drink:Red wine paired with food
Try: Many dark beers make a better accompaniment to food than wine does. The obvious place to start is a dark ale or bruin Belgian beer with hearty autumnal and winter fare - stews and pies come from the same part of the world as ales, so it makes sense that these flavours would go together as well as red wine accompanies pasta dishes. Once you’d like to get more creative check out these tips.
You usually drink: Something fruit and light. Cocktails, or vodka cranberry.
Try: Fruit beers. Mort Subite Kriek, from Belgium, is one of the sweetest Kriek (cherry flavoured) beers available and a good place to start. But you can also get beers in flavours ranging from raspberry to blueberry.