Mashing in

In the second installment of her new column, brewer Charlotte Cook enjoys shit beer in nice places

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There’s a lot to be said for location when you’re drinking a beer. A terrible setting can ruin what should objectively be a great pint and a beautiful location can elevate even the humblest of thirst-quenchers to something memorable. 

Everyone has had that experience of buying the mind-blowing wine at the charming little vineyard on holiday, only to feel that the product is muted when drinking it in a suburban living room at 5:30 on a Tuesday. I recently experienced the complete opposite when drinking a pint of Tennent’s in one of the most beautiful pubs in Scotland. 

The Fiddichside Inn in Craigallachie is a true time capsule. Ostensibly this teacup sized boozer was, for over 60 years, the living room of former proprietor Joe Brandie who ran the pub right up until his death at 88. The interior hasn’t changed in eons, with black and white photos of monstrous salmon and beaming ghillies twinkling back at you, despite decades of nicotine stains obfuscating their features. The bar can comfortably hold about 12 people, becoming gradually friendlier throughout the evening as more people pile in to sit in front of the log fire, and it is the only pub in living memory to stock Sweetheart Stout. 


There is an off-flavour in beer known as “skunky”

With that, I don’t think it’s unfair to say that the pub isn’t a beer fanatics dream destination, as far as selection goes. Tennent’s on tap, Guinness from one of those funny shaker-upper things that gives the canned version an approximation of draft, and that’s about your lot. Those looking for unfamiliar flavours and rare releases won’t find them here (unless you’re from the unfortunate lands where Vitamin T doesn’t come on tap), but the atmosphere and the setting more than make up for that. The pub is now run by the incredibly welcoming Alison who is keeping the spirit of Joe and his wife Dorothy alive, with his tradition of offering delightfully retro bar snacks for all customers. 

The thing that keeps me coming back is the garden. After arriving home, washing the grime of London off, and walking the 5km from Aberlour along the Speyside Way, I am always so full of happiness and deeply contented to sit on the banks of the river Fiddich and take a cold gulp of shit lager. 

So strong is the power of association it can even make you enjoy what would broadly be considered to be a disgusting flavour. There is an off-flavour in beer, called methyl butane thiol, also known as “skunky” that occurs when beer is exposed to light, and it smells like skunk spray. I’ve never smelled a skunk, but if you have, you’ll know that the smell that immediately spills out of the bottle when you open a Stella Artois in green glass is oddly familiar. For brewers this is an off-flavour to be avoided and so we package into brown bottles or cans and implore everyone to keep their beer in the fridge, but to many consumers this aroma is actually enjoyable! When you’re on holiday in the south of France, and those bottles of Stella have been stored in the sun, they are undeniably “skunked”, and you associate that aroma with having a lovely jolly at the seaside rather than an avoidable beer fault. 


Sometimes the best beer is the one in your hand

The great Anthony Bourdain once said “I would say that the angriest critiques I get from people about shows are when I'm drinking whatever convenient cold beer is available in a particular place, and not drinking the best beer out there”. Even as a beer lover I am inclined to agree with the big man here, sometimes the best beer is the one in your hand. I have washed down khachapuri the size of my head with a warm bottle of local macro beer Argo whilst overlooking the balconies of Tbilisi and been perfectly happy. On the other hand I really enjoyed drinking some of the local craft beer from Taybeh brewery whilst in the West Bank, and it was a damn sight better than the local Maccabee lager. As an aside, no one goes to Georgia for the beer. The wine, oh the wine is magical, and this beguiling and mysterious country will leave you with a hangover (a literal one) that lasts for a week. 

As the country is beginning to open up again, and breweries feel confident to begin to put new and exciting beers into keg, I for one cannot wait to see what the incredible brewers of this country have dreamed up during a long and difficult lockdown. I dearly hope that the pavement extensions to bars continue, sitting outside and enjoying some incredible beers as the buzz of the city continues around me has been a genuine delight. I’m far from a curmudgeon but the thought of having to shout to my drinking buddy to be heard over the music doesn’t fill me with joy. Only time will tell how much our social lives will have changed post lockdown, but I hope we take the time to enjoy our surrounds and let the pleasure we derive from a beautiful location or exciting atmosphere help us enjoy those well-earned pints even more. 

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