Sock it to me
Mark Dredge sings the praises of punchy beer flavours
Saturday 04 July 2020
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Flavour. It’s remarkable, isn’t it. I’d almost forgotten about it, settled into a long-term thing with comfortably reliable beers, with good ol’ golden lagers and not-so bitter bests, beers I drank pints of while being dismissive of sticky, slutty stouts and sloppy hop juice. Not any more. I’m all about flavour and booze now and I can’t stop drinking Double IPAs.
Ahhh. There’s that quick-felt livening comfort, one that comes with a loosening sensation, a softness yet a new alertness, a buzz. It’s a sensation that only a strong beer can bring, a beer drunk quickly, in a few deep gulps. A beer able to sand down the day’s splinters, its rough edges, and give a cooling warmth.
It feels good. It’s why we drink strong beer. It’s why Double IPA is one of my favourite beer styles. An intense beer, not quite overwhelming, but it fills all the senses: the hazy yellow swirl; the smell of all the world’s best fruits; the cold, smooth, spritz; the sweet alcohol, the bitter finish; the mute button of a deep and completely relaxing exhale. Ahhh.
I didn’t used to get why people drank so much Double IPA at home. Was it just to be cool? Were they just drinking the trendy brews? Why didn’t they just want good lagers or pale ales? But I get it now. This new situation has had its impact on me, and my habits have changed. I’ve gone from a few pints in the pub to one can on the sofa; I’m living it down and drinking it up and I now want every beer I open to smash into my senses. I want to be wowed by it. I want to have something which immediately gratifies, which completely engages and excites me, surprises me, a beer which comes at me in high definition and which also blurs out the background and brings in a hazy, heady high.
Near the end of the can that first beer feeling leads to a temptation to have another, as if this pleasure can be stretched, even doubled-up, and you feel like you can tiptoe to the edge because it’s thrilling over there, and you know it’d be easy to go and jump and fly delightedly into a second beer, but it doesn’t work like that (too many times I’ve had the second one and metaphorically fallen). Instead I’ve come to understand that one is perfect and two won’t be. I’ve come to embrace that there’s something so simple and satisfying about this feeling and that it came from just one beer. It’s like magic; it’s probably the magic of why we drink beer.
But isn’t magic just an illusion? A trick of the eye and mind in that instance?
After a few weeks on the big DIPAs, I briefly discovered a newfound joy, a joy that wasn’t newfound at all, actually, but it found itself newly rehoused, in my house, and it saw me drinking a large can of beer, usually a good and faithful lager, pouring it into a pint glass, drinking it all quickly, and then opening another can of the same beer, pouring it into the same glass, drinking that, then having a third, where the third one, probably opened within an hour of the first, gave me that same thrilling fizzy feeling, that lightness and sharpness and looseness, and it reminded me of something not-quite-forgotten but something already habitually lost, a muscle weakened, a memory faded, a song I know every word to but can’t quite hear the tune in my head: the pub and the pints. That already-nostalgic thing, that cue for the deeply knowable feeling of friends and social warmth and other peoples’ conversations.
But while I could replicate the drinking motions, and I could get the feeling of a lot of lager in my stomach, it didn’t come with those other communal cues, and that way of drinking psychologically and physically belongs somewhere else – somewhere that’s not in my house. I can keep it as an occasional drunken diversion on this static state, but where I am right now wants something totally different.
I want intensity and impact and entertainment from my beer. This isn’t beer drunk for forgetting or desensitising or disassociating from the world, and instead it’s for engaging in it, for thinking about the beer, for being inspired by it, for seeing it and seeking it as a pleasure that I want to focus on. I think that’s the heart of my new excitement: it’s a reengagement with beer, with what can be so great about it and with what made me love it in the first place. There’s no illusion; it is magic.
I’ve actually written most of this in a flash of night-time inspiration after a can of 8% Double IPA. It was a remarkable beer, a beer which felt like it was brewed just for me, like it couldn’t be improved, not by context, not by the pub, not by sharing it, and not by drinking more of it. It was a beer that was made for the version of me that now loves to sit on my sofa and drink a beer and feel myself melt downwards and lift upwards and get that pure, simple, moment of pleasure that only a strong, flavoursome beer can bring.
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