Land of Hops and Barley

Every so often, I just have to sit down and see what happens. I don’t mean on the toilet – that’s much more predictable – I mean in front of the PC, with a blank sheet of virtual paper in front of me, a couple of beers down the hatch already, and another one sitting nicely in the glass, just waiting for me to nip into it. I guess I’ve had a bit of blogger’s block lately, which explains a very long dry patch where little or nothing has been written despite a serious amount of beer drinking going on. What can I say? Well, nothing, since this is a blog.

Now then. As you can tell, I’m off-piste and slightly pissed (in the British sense of the word) here. The title of this blog post is actually a play on a very famous ultra-patriotic British song with a great sing-along tune. Every year in London, there’s this thing called the Proms Series, which culminates in the Last Night of the Proms, a pretty grand spectacle in the Royal Albert Hall where people from seemingly all over the world come together to sing a selection of the most British songs you can imagine, including “Rule Britannia!” and the one I have shamelessly mangled for the title here. I kind of like the idea of Germans or Norwegians or whatever travelling to London to sing along to these tunes. What does this have to do with beer, I hear you scream? Nothing, my friends, absolutely nothing. It does however, bring me nicely on to the main topic of this blog post: beer.

The United Kingdom is a country which consists of Britain and Northern Ireland, and Britain is an island consisting of the three countries England, Scotland and Wales (in order of population) or Scotland, Wales and England (in order of highest mountain). I spent 13 years of my life living in England, and I guess this is where I really learnt to love beer. When I arrived in 1996 things were not so great. Most pubs had a few beers on tap, some of which were so-called “continental lagers”, most often Carlsberg, Kronenbourg or Stella Artois, all of which tasted very little if you were lucky, or a bit like industrial waste if you were not. A few pubs also had English traditional beers, commonly referred to as “bitter”, which were a bit better – though many of these were, unfortunately, poorly kept, and together with the fact that they were lukewarm and flat it took a little while before I grew to like this style of beer.

Being born in the early 70s turned out to be one of the cleverest things I ever did. Not only did this mean that I grew up before the internet and mobile phones, which means that there are loads of things I can enjoy that young people today don’t even understand (and no, I’m not referring to analogue porn), but most of all it means that I have experienced almost the entire beer revolution that’s swept the planet, from the first tiny experimental breweries to the recent explosion of choice both in terms of new and crazy beer styles and in terms of variety in pubs and supermarkets. USA led the way here, but England wasn’t far behind, and I was delighted to experience the biggest expansion in quality and quantity of beer in modern and ancient times.

The traditional beer style in Britain is ale. This means a top-fermented brew, which typically gets more of its taste from the yeast than the bottom-fermented varieties do. Furthermore, since the beer has less carbonation and is served at a higher temperature than most beers elsewhere in the world, it is actually possible to taste quite a few different flavours, such as gun powder, treason and plot. Or was that a poem? I forget. Anyway, where many countries have generally regarded beer as something that has to be ice cold and fizzy, the Brits have always hung on to the notion that beer should taste of something, probably because the weather is generally rubbish. To cut a very long story short – Britain is nowadays a fantastic place to drink beer. If you choose your pub wisely, you will get some of the best beers in the world in your glass, and you get to drink the beer in one of the nicest environments imaginable, namely the Great British Pub.

Classic English Pub

You may not be surprised to hear that I spent a great deal of time in the pubs when I lived in England. Normally, it happened a bit like this: someone would say that it was a “special occasion”, or it was Friday, or some other day of the week, or it was a rare sunny day, or it was cold and rainy, or there was some other great excuse, and we’d head down to some pub for “a swift half” or “a couple of pints”. This would usually lead to an all-night session where we’d sit and drink beer and talk bollocks continuously for however many hours we had until the barman called “last orders” at 11pm, at which point we’d all shuffle out and head home. This may sound like a terrible idea during the week, but it was actually pretty OK due to the fact that British beer tends to be a bit weaker than the continental ones (around 4% instead of 5.5%), so even after half a dozen pints I could survive the next day at work.

I do miss those days. I don’t spend nearly as much time in the pub these days – I guess the culture here in Germany is slightly different, though there are places and times, especially on weekends and during the summer, when it comes close. I guess I am phenomenally lucky to live in a day and age where it is actually possible for a Norwegian to move around Europe and live in different countries in order to drink beer, and it is sad to see that Britain and other countries are taking steps to become less open to us foreigners. Much as I respect the right of any nation to decide its own future, I also think that the best way to avoid sliding towards a situation where war is no longer unthinkable is to encourage people from as many nations as possible to spend as much time as they can in the pub together whilst drinking good beer. On this thoughtful note I shall wish you all a happy 2017 even though a large chunk of it is already behind us, and hope that I will meet all of you in some pub or other somewhere in the world, where we can say “CHEERS BIG EARS” and clink glasses. I can’t think of a better plan to save the planet than that, at least not right now.