The best beer in the world
Grading beer: marking it, assigning it a score from 1 to 5 (or 1 to 10, or 1 to 7, or whatever), eye, nose, mouth, classifying it, all those things all beer geeks do. And we do it knowing it is impossible to truly rank beers. Whether you like the beer you drink or not is often down to things that have nothing to do with the beer. Or it has to do with things other than purity of taste, or whatever you want to call it.
Take the freshness of the beer, for example. I once tasted a Thornbridge Raven Black IPA that had just been bottled: in addition to all its other flavours, it had a wonderful floral, perfumed and delicate character, almost like rose water. Then I had the same beer when it had been sitting in the bottle for a couple of months. Still an excellent beer, but that floral flavour was just gone. Was it the same beer? Yes and no. Coffee beers lose their flavour very quickly. Proper German and Czech lager beers are best drunk fresh and in situ – the exported versions are pale comparisons to their nominally identical indigenous counterparts. And so on. Yet other beers grow with age – the Pannepot Grand Reserva 2005 I had recently was undoubtedly better and more full-flavoured than the regular, un-aged Pannepot 2010 (though both were excellent beers).
And that’s just the factors that have to do with the beer. How do the beers you’ve had before you’re marking this particular one affect your judgment? A lot, of course. After three imperial stouts I find myself longing for a crisp lager. The same pale ale or bitter you think a wonder of balance and subtlety when you have it on its own suddenly seems bland and boring when you have it after a hop bomb double IPA.
Then there’s that elusive thing; context. I still retain a soft spot for Kronenbourg and its higher-ABV sibling 1664, despite the fact that they’re nothing but industrially-produced bland lagers – because I can still remember drinking them in Paris as an impressionable teenager, for whom it was the height of sophistication to drink French beer in France (and who thought it was uber-cool that a beer had a number for a name). At that time, drinking that beer, I was sure that was the best beer in the world, and I have retained that memory ever since. Today, I vastly prefer other beers to 1664, but I still have one now and again and let those waves of nostalgia flow over me. I feel the same about many German pilsners – travelling as a young adult, taking in the local pleasures and reveling in the simple fact that I was drinking something that was not available in Sweden. Warsteiner, König, Bitburger and Jever are still top beers in my book, even though I might not, hand on heart, rank them as highly today as I would other beers (well, maybe except for König. And Jever).
Another example: yesterday, we (i.e. me and my family) came home from a brief (working) holiday in Sweden. It was a nice holiday, but it had its ups and downs, to say the least. Just before leaving last week I learned that a close family member, whom I was going to visit during the holiday, had a serious illness and had to go in for an operation while we were there. Then there was a string of minor annoyances: my wife forgot her mobile phone in the security check at the airport, something that made our visit that much more difficult – as we had to spend a lot of time apart we had to make appointments and agree on meeting times etc because we couldn’t call each other. Then, just as we were about to leave, we discovered that we had lost both our sets of house keys, which occasioned some frantic calling to our friends in London (who have a spare key to our flat) to make arrangements so that we actually could get in to our flat once we got home. We also forgot a bunch of other things. And while my relative came out of the operation OK, he/she is still not out of danger. And then there’s all the work I’ve fallen more behind on while being on holiday. You know what it’s like.
When we came home, after what felt like a very long time, our daughter was put to bed and I opened a bottle of St Peter’s Best Bitter. A simple, classic English bitter, at ABV 3.7. And at that time, that beer was the best beer in the world. I felt the stress just melt away as I tasted the wonderfully mild, bready bitter, with just a hint of dry, woody hoppiness at the end. Five out of five, for sure. A hop bomb or imp stout wouldn’t have done the trick. What I wanted was something soothing and easily drinkable without being devoid of character, and St Peter’s delivered.
So what do you say, dear readers? Do you have any beers that you just love despite the fact that, well, they don’t taste that great? Beers that you love because you associate them with a particular time and/or place when drinking them was just such a wonderful experience? Let London Beer Blog have your guilty secrets in the Comments section!
Posted on February 23, 2012, in Feature, Review and tagged 1664, Bitburger, Jever, König, Kronenbourg, Pannepot 2010, Pannepot Grand Reserva 2005, St Peter's, St Peter's Best Bitter, Thornbridge Raven, Warsteiner. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.