As beer enthusiasts, it’s one of those defining moments we remember for a very long time – the point at which we graduated from mass market industrialised fizz, to something a little more gratifying.
If you’re anything like me, your first experiences of beer were probably pretty underwhelming; you sipped samples from your dad’s lager, which was likely one of the usual continental style suspects, brewed under licence in the UK.
For years, I never questioned it. I bought the same pint everyone else drank and I took the same 4 pack of tins to parties – this was just how beer was supposed to be. But me being me, I couldn’t quite settle; there had to be something more interested out there than this!
At first, I became aware of the other non-lager products sitting next to the mass market fizz that I had come to associate with as ‘beer’. In the UK at the time, this was pretty much limited to John Smiths, Tetley’s Bitter, and Guinness. Although these beers were just as industrialised and mass produced as my pint of lager, it did spark my initial curiosity – particularly surrounding the terms ‘bitter’ and ‘stout’.
What were these strange terms? Were they different from lager? Were they even beer? I was intrigued and wanted to know more. As a 17 year old at the time (wooopps, I mean 18) I naturally asked my dad about bitter and Guinness. To be honest, my dad is very a intelligent guy, but the response I got only confused the situation further. It was a long time ago, but essentially I was told that it was, well, bitter tasting, and that he’d stopped drinking it in the 70’s because lager was easier to drink. For some people, this would have been enough to write bitter off as an unusual, quirky, old-fashioned product for old-men. But somehow I wanted a more definitive answer than this. I’ve always been drawn to history, so perhaps this was enough to keep me in pursuit of the truth.
How I Discovered Cask Beer
Around the same time, and with curiosity still at a peak, I began to notice the different serving methods at the bar. It was early days, but I had just discovered cask beer. The idea that a beer had to be pumped up from a cellar did seem a little odd at the time, but little did I know, I was about to embark on whole new world of beer.
So, one sunny afternoon on the way home from my humdrum job stacking shelves at the time, I popped into one of the many pubs in my home town to try some of this curious cask stuff.
Stupidly, and rather naively I explained to the landlord serving that I had never tried cask bitter before, and said i’d like to order a pint please. I didn’t really know what to ask for, so it seemed logical to ask for a recommendation.
The landlord was pretty old school, and almost laughed as he begin pouring a pint of Greene King IPA; the chap at the bar also sniggered as if to say ‘who’s this young fool, that clearly knows nothing!’ Now that I look back on it, it was pretty poor customer service. But, meh, I was just here for the beer – I carried on, added a pack of peanuts to my order, and eagerly awaiting my first cask beer.
As the beer was handed to me, I instantly took my first sip, and annoyingly, it went down the wrong way; pretty embarrassing as the landlord and regular laughed at me some more. Needless to say, I quickly took my pint and sat outside in the sun. Lucky for me it was a glorious day and I was finally left to try some new beer in peace.
Ok, so it was only Greene King IPA, it’s not exactly exciting. (For those of you outside the UK, Greene King IPA is basically the most readily available cask beer in the country, and also one of the most bland). However, this blog is not about beer snobbery, and it’s also important to put this into context with the time.
10 years ago, the beer scene in Britain, and even in the US, was not what it is today. The range of cask beers in most establishments were usually limited to the brewery’s own range, with maybe a single guest ale if you’re lucky. Places with more choice than this were few and far between, and although Greene King IPA is fairly run of the mill by today’s standards, it was still a big change in flavour to anything I’d tried before. It provided the steeping stone and opened the door to a whole world of new flavours and beer styles that I might otherwise have missed.
For this reason, my first cask ale experience was a memorable one indeed. I sat out in the beer garden, happily soaking up the sun, and to this day, the combination a peanuts and Greene King IPA still takes me back to that moment. The power of taste and aroma on our memory is powerful indeed, and for me, this is one of the many factors that makes beer so enjoyable. With so many styles available to suit every occasion and season, our memories and experiences are only ever enhanced further. Sometimes, they can even last a lifetime.
Share your story
Can you remember your first ‘real’ pint? Tell us your story in the comments below – we like stories.