The Importance of Doing Beer Research Before Traveling.

I have to say up front, that I thought long and hard about writing this post.  In teaching the lesson here today, I have to point out the short sightedness of others and really, I’m loath to do that.  Everyone makes mistakes or missteps in their lives, I know I’ve made my share.  And I know how I feel when someone uses me as an example of “he should have thought that through better.”

Mistakes

But I think this needs to be said, partly I guess, because I’m shocked that it needs to be said.  So if this helps one person out there, somewhere, sometime, not to have a similar experience then I’ll consider this time well spent.

Dogs of Beer co-founder Chuck and I found ourselves out and about one day, enjoying the local craft beer scene.  We were a couple of beers into one brewpub when I saw a text message that another brewpub, not to far way, was tapping a chocolate stout.  Agreeing that it sounded good, we hopped into our respective vehicles and drove over.

Once there, we were surprised to see that the couple sitting across from us (the bar is a rectangle so for most of the seats you’re staring across the middle at someone else) was a woman who used to work in our building and her husband.  This woman used to work for a contract organization our company uses, but having left to take a position at another company, I hadn’t seen her in quite a few years.

Everyone at our end of the bar was engaged in the usual “bar chat” when all of a sudden the husband made a loud proclamation, “Don’t go to London.  We had a terrible time, the beer was horrible”.  Of course, Chuck and I having both been to London were quick to rise to the city’s defense.

I know some of you might be thinking “oh yeah ‘served warm and flat’. We’ve heard it before.”  This wasn’t the case.  First off, I didn’t really expect that argument coming from these two.  This couple are not your typical American “the mountains must turn blue before I can drink my over carbonated beer” beer drinkers.  No, when she worked in our building this lady and I shared many great conversations on craft beer, great beer bars we’d travel to, etc.  They’re both long time mug club members for a brewpub that just celebrated it’s 17th anniversary.  This couple appreciates good beer.

The first piece of information we were able to get out of them was that the husband thought the beer scene was to “similar”, “to many tied houses.  Everything was Fuller’s.”  For those who don’t know what a tied house is, it’s pretty much what it sounds like.  A tied pub is ‘tied’ to a certain brewery and therefore will feature mostly that particular brewery’s beers on draft.  Occasionally, you will run across a tied house that has a “guest beer”, a beer brewed by another brewery, but sometimes these beer aren’t anything more than another brewery’s major offering which you can also find all over the place.

Tied House (L to R) : Fuller's, Young's, Courage
Tied Houses (L to R) : Fuller’s, Young’s, Courage

I have to admit, I couldn’t argue this point much.  Last time I was in England, we traveled quite extensively around the country, so I got the chance to walk into pubs that were tied to different brewers, if indeed they were tied at all.  All I had to do to guarantee that I’d have a variety of different beers on draft was to wait until we got to the next city or town. I can certainly understand how someone hoping to experience a variety of different beers can find it frustrating to walk around a section of London and learn that almost every bar has basically the same tap line up.

After a bit, a few more comments were tossed back and forth and the woman, again with a very firm attitude, stated something like, “and I didn’t like the beer there.  It wasn’t what I was hoping it would be.”  To which I replied, “Well what were you expecting?” To which she replied, “Hop Devil on cask!”  I don’t know which resonated through the bar more, the shrill “WHAT!” that came out of Chuck’s mouth or the sound of my jaw hitting the bar.

At this point, a lot of emotions swirled within me.  But after awhile, the one that I finally landed on was sadness.   As a beer lover, I want other beer lovers to travel and enjoy what this world has to offer in the way of the rich history and heritage of the beverage we love.  But in doing so, one must accept that not all that you experience is going to be as it is here in America and one should educate themselves and be prepared for that eventuality.

This couple’s trip (beerwise) was deemed a failure by them because they assumed that English cask beer would be the hop forward varies that turn up in bars so frequently here in America.  And when they found out they were not, they couldn’t pause, step back, and appreciate what they WERE drinking – well made cask conditioned ales from breweries who help build top fermented beers into the strong styles they are today.

So if you travel, and beer is on the itinerary, do your homework and hopefully you’ll be ready for whatever is in the glass that is placed in front of you.  But even if you’re not, take a moment and try to put it into context, not only with your surroundings, but its place in the full legacy that is the world of beer.  And then hopefully you can appreciate it for what it is, not dismiss it for what it’s not.

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Author: Ed (The Dogs of Beer)

Beer Blog focused on Delaware & surrounding area. Drinker of beer. Writer of stuff. Over user of commas. Dangler of prepositions.

5 thoughts on “The Importance of Doing Beer Research Before Traveling.”

  1. This is a fantastic post (both in terms of writing and content). My family is British, so I know this problem all too well. America has taken craft beer and run off into the woods with it, for better and for worse. British beers tend to be trusted staples put there for the locals; there is less experimentation and more tradition.

    American craft beer drinkers have come to expect an abundance of hops, whereas a lot of European beers (especially British and Irish) use them very sparingly. But I know this, because I was raised by Brits and traveled a lot as a kid. When I went to Ireland for my honeymoon, I knew what to expect, and was pleased by the offerings pretty much anywhere I went.

    1. I read an interesting post from another ex-Brit who said something like, “People in America see Brew Dog and think that the American influence is heavy in Britain. They’re wrong.” Having just come back from Scotland I could firmly say that was the truth.

  2. I think this holds true for regions in the US as well, coming from the hop headed Wild West some of the more subdued beers my husband and I had in NYC from East Coast brewers weren’t what we expected or were used to, but that didn’t make them bad. I find it always helps to understand a regions beer history but also figure out what a brewer is actually trying to achieve and judge the beer on those merits.

  3. Having traveled to UK three times, it too hits home. The British sometimes are quite surprised and put off by our aggresive “catty” hops.

    I am one of those travelers who like to research a bit but at the same time I get off on the differences. I get the tied house thing though. But a cool cask ale. Hell yes.

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