Tag Archives: Craftbeer

Stags and the art of the train beer

What is it about trains?  A couple of years ago through some very random circumstances I found myself having to travel up to the Isle of Skye at a days notice.  Now a journey of that magnitude needs careful consideration!  I looked at all sorts of options to cover the ground, but in the end decided the best option was to get a train to Edinburgh, another train to Inverness and a final train all the way to the lovely little village of Kyle of Lockalsh which is a gateway to the Isle of Skye.

Now the whole journey took well over 8 hours, but any of you who’ve travelled north or Newcastle on the train, you’ll know that its one of the prettiest train routes you’ll ever see.  First part was motoring past the Northumberland coastline taking in Lindisfarne, the colourful houses in Alnmouth, Bamburgh castle and the many stunning golden beaches in between.  Granted it was February when I made the journey so it was bloomin’ cold outside, but on a nice warm train, on a crisp sunny winters day, believe me, this journey was a delight.

I left Newcastle at about 8 o’clock in the morning, reached Edinburgh by half nine, was in Inverness at lunchtime and finally reached Kyle of Lochalsh by mid afternoon.

I find train travel very relaxing.  OK so it’s not always relaxing.  If you have to rely on it and the service lets you down then I can well understand that stress levels rocket!  But in the main my train journeys are pretty dependable and sporadic enough to not be consistently expecting them to be on time!

But on this particular journey, I had a 20 minute change between trains in Inverness, and given the time I figured I’d nip out and grab some lunch to eat on the remainder of the journey.  Train stations being train stations, there was an M&S very handy.  So I grabbed a few edibles to pick at, and scooped up a couple of bottles of M&S beer.  This was in the days when they only sold their own stuff, so I got two from the single hop range, including their derivative of Oakham Citra. 

That final stretch of the journey was the very epitome of what a train beer is all about.  As the almost empty two carriage train meandered through the highland countryside, along the edge of lochs, passing stunning heather patches and rolling moorland, we came upon a section with an open hillside no more than 500m away, the train slowed to stop at a small simple station platform and in the distance a stunningly regal stag stood up, looked at the train, sniffed the air and then got back to eating the foliage.

Throughout all this, I sat with my train picnic, a pork pie, scotch egg, some cheese, crackers, chutney and a packet of crisps, and I supped my way through a few beers. Loving the moments, loving the view and loving the enjoyment that the beer brought to enhance that journey.  Now I know there are better beers, and I’m pretty sure there are better trains, but for me that journey was majestic!  I imagine it was those wonderful citra hops that the stag was sniffing out!

img_4629And that’s what I seek in a train beer.  The good thing with train travel is that you don’t have actions to take, you simply climb aboard and relax.  And I think that aim to relax for many people is enhanced by a good train beer.  It can’t be any coincidence (ok maybe it is) that Marks & Spencer have become a train beer provider of choice, if it was a deliberate business plan (I know the food supply was and maybe the beer supply has piggy backed on that, but hey ho, indulge me a little), but having a broader range of beers available in train stations has been a real boost to the train beer community!

The availability of cans helps.  I was always conscious that the image of cracking open a bottle when sat alone on the train looks like you mean business with your drinking.  Cans nit so much, mainly because a can appears more suited to travelling, it opens with its own mechanism for starters, you don’t need an additional opener.  Obviously there’s a weight issue too, no not what the calories will add to your waistline, I mean carrying cans is far lighter than carrying bottles ergo much more suited to travel with.

img_4628But above all else, I often feel a tinge of guilty pleasure to a train beer.  For me it still feels like a recent phenomenon and I always imagine those around me would be surprised if they knew what I was drinking.  I say that because I am happy to carry any beer as a train beer.  One of my favourite was after a stressful 24 hours working in Edinburgh, I found a bottle of Brewdog Born to Die which was delicious, but swigging from a big bomber on a busy train felt abit odd!  Another example was when I had Cloudwater DIPA’s (believe it was versions 6&7), on a train so packed that I had my case on the floor between my legs and literally had no space what so ever.  It didn’t stop me cracking them open, I even took a tulip glass to make the most of them.  Again, the traveller in the seat beside me was abit taken aback by it but for me, it was a tremendous use of my time!

I would encourage you to welcome train beers.  However, I have been on the early train to Leeds on a workday, full of suited commuters and had a suited man sit next to me with an accompanying aged sweat aroma (*shudders*), who proceeded to crack open a can of Carling for the journey, at 7 o’clock in the morning.  Obviously this kind of train beer is associated with bigger problems and I quote it as an extreme, but I did imagine that some people’s judgement of me swigging from a big bomber bottle of Born to Die, will be tainted in a similar way to how I felt about seeing this gentleman and his Carling. 

img_4630Maybe its that acting against convention that adds to the appeal.  I often wonder how many people in the carriage around me recognise the beers that I’m drinking.  My instinct is none of them, which makes it feel all the more like it’s my little secret.  If they only knew how good this beer was, but all they will see is a man drinking beer and assume the same level as that man with his can of Carling.

That said, I think if you acted based on the potential judgement of others you’d barely do a thing.  Life’s not about doing the things people won’t react to, it’s about the experiences you give yourself.  And that Citra in the highlands with that regal stag is one of the greatest beers I’ve ever had.

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The perception of a Beer Geek

There are those out there who are all over the latest developments in craft beer. There are also a great many others out there who aren’t….

I do wonder what these people think is my thing. When all people know of you is that you’re ‘into beer’, that becomes your entire persona in their minds. A relative bought me a Budweiser gift pack one year as she knew I was “into beer”. You can’t fault the logic, I like beer, so she bought me beer. However, would you buy a wine connoisseur a bottle of blue nun? Obviously it’s the thought that counts and I know she made the effort to get me something she thought would appeal to me. But what’s interesting here for me at least is what people perceive that I’m ‘into’, when they hear that I’m ‘into beer’.

For those of you reading this, you probably have a far more educated knowledge of the sort of beer that I am interested in, aswell as an understanding of most of the terms and language used in conversations about it. But to those who can’t see and hear from the other side of the curtain, what do they envisage?

Firstly, I imagine they perceive large quantities being consumed. Fair enough on that one, I probably do drink more than average. I’m conscious that it doesn’t become excessive but I do have a session drink every now and again.

Next up is the biggest mis-conception for me, stereotype one. Many people simply see it as being into real ale and therefore envisage all the stuffy stereotypes that the 1970’s CAMRA member would have attributed to him. It’s a perception that hasn’t moved on a great deal from that time to be honest. The perception is that I drink beer from those big handpulls attached to the bar and not the gassy stuff out the raised outlets either side of the handpulls with the humorous clips and funny names. I probably go to what they refer to as the ‘old man bars’, most likely attired in scruffy jeans and a ‘Lager is for wimps’ T-shirt, slightly, no heavily faded as it was originally acquired in the 70’s in exchange for the correctly branded bottle caps….

But that’s as far as their thinking goes, they don’t see any further than that and to be honest they don’t need to.

So taking the above rather satirical perception, how far is the reality from that? I don’t drink in what I perceive to be old man bars, although no bars are off limits in my mind. I like pubs with character but I like stylish environments with interesting features. I like pubs filled with interesting people and that mix should be diverse and not limited to one particular stereotype. As for beer, well I am a fan of cask but in most instances I much prefer keg, which come out of those taps raised up at the end of the bar rather than the handpulls in the middle. I wear what I believe is fashionable attire for a man of my age. I’m no funky hipster but I like to think I aim at the smarter end of the smart casual barometer.

From where I stand the difference between stereotype one and the reality above are significant, its two very different people. But I’m up close and personal with this, I can clearly see the differences from where I stand. However, for those who don’t stand so close the edges of the two things blur and maybe they are so far from the craft beer bubble that the two scenario’s blur into being the ones single thing.

I went to Uni in Leeds and I remember when I was down there that there were those who would often refer to people from Sunderland as Geordies, based entirely on hearing their accents and having no other knowledge of their provenance. But to me I was amazed that they thought the Sunderland accent was the same as a Geordie accent, when I was so used to knowing how different words were pronounced in an entirely different way by Wearsiders when compared with Tynesiders.

This perception of craft beer is exactly the same thing. To a great many people there is no craft beer bubble, it’s all just beer and the social scene hasn’t changed a lot, other than faces being different and names being different, but people going out to pubs and clubs on a Friday and Saturday night is no different at all and that’s all they see. Hence why there is no qualms whatsoever in buying me a Budweiser gift pack as a Christmas pressie.

Why does this matter? Well in the most part it doesn’t, but consider how do we reach out to new consumers? The starting place has to be to understand the viewpoint of those you’re looking to attract and as the industry grows it appears all the more on potential new consumers horizons, the next stage is to draw them closer to the industry with intelligent marketing and good sustainable practices. And the closer they get the more they’ll see the finer details and the distinctions and hopefully the colourful world of craft beer will spark their beery imagination.

Which leaves one question still to answer…..

I know you’re all wondering but the Budweiser gift pack contained branded bottle of said lager, branded glass for said lager to go into and branded peanuts to eat while drinking said lager. So that’s beer and food matching? It’s almost craft!?!