People are starting to take beer much more seriously. The menu in my local pub now suggests beers to accompany certain dishes rather like a wine list.
Author Tim Hampson has visited dozens of countries and taken years to prepare his new book The 50 Greatest Beers of the World. “It was a tough job and I am glad I got the opportunity to do it!” jokes Tim.
In the last few years beer, and especially craft beer, has become very trendy. Some cities, like Portland in Oregon, proudly promote their local ales. They have an entire Brewery Quarter. But you don’t have to travel too far. “There’s been a dramatic renaissance here and we now have 1,700 brewers in this country,” he says. “I’ve not tasted every UK brewery beer,” Tim adds quickly, although I think he would be up for the challenge!
Tim advocates visiting the point of production and learning more about the brewing process and what makes each beer distinctive. “Many breweries offer fantastic visitor centres,” advises Tim.
I was keen to find out where the best draught beers are served. I wanted to tap – pardon the pun – Tim’s knowledge.
“In the north of Oxfordshire is the fantastic Hook Norton Brewery,” says Tim. “It is a Victorian building, which is still in good working order. It’s as modern as it was when it was first opened. Around it, within walking distance, are fantastic little pubs offering good pints of beer.”
Tim says the good thing about beer in this country is that there is history associated with the pubs. It could be to do with the English Civil War, where the railways were or when the canals were built.
I was interested to know whether Tim has tasted beers that don’t appeal to a British beer drinker’s palate. It seems that he has found something to like about most ales although he points out the sour beers of Belgium – known as lambics or gueuze – take some getting used to.
“Everywhere beer is sold has its own individual quirk. In some places like they chilled beers,” says Tim. We discuss New Zealand, where real ale comes out of the tap cold, which seems odd to a Brit. “We like to drink our beer at cellar temperature – at 10 or 11°C. Most people, when they buy beer from the supermarket, will put it in the fridge so they will start drinking at 4 or 5°C,” Tim adds.
Are there other notable differences?
“Belgium has a fantastic brewing culture with many different styles. You can drink beer out of beautiful glasses, served out of nice bottles too.”
I had never thought about beer being a drink that cuts across all social classes until now. “Beers can be celebrated without snobbery or without spend big bucks. Beer is an egalitarian drink,” Tim adds. “The worst beer in the world will probably cost around the same amount as the best beer. With wine, the more you pay, the better it is meant to be. With beer it’s just whether you like it or not.”
I asked Tim to recall his most unusual beer tasting locations.
“Going to Cambodia to visit the biggest brewer there and experiencing beers while looking up the Mekong Delta is something else,” he says, in a sentence filled with British understatement. “And visiting to Vancouver, seeing the place where people used to sail boats up to Alaska whilst you’re sitting in a bar. I just think I’m in a privileged place whilst experiencing beer at the same time.”
Tim Hampson’s book, The 50 Greatest Beers of the World is available now on Amazon or wherever you buy your books from.
Listen to my chat with Tim about the world of beers here: