Confessions of a Hop Head
“You do what for a living?” shouted the cab driver taking me from Wellington airport to my waterfront hotel. “You lucky bastard. Fancy swapping?” As a beer blogger I’m getting used to upsetting people, usually men of a certain age, but for all the right reasons.
My life is not exactly noted for inspired choices, but launching a blog about beer and travel in 2011 (Beer Airways) was definitely one of them. While my travel-writing buddies were waxing lyrical about cruise ships, spa resorts and safari lodges in their highly forgettable blogs, I decided my field of research would centre around the pub – my natural habitat.
As a former foreign correspondent I’d propped up bars from Seattle to Shanghai so why not write about my love affair with the world’s oldest alcoholic beverage; did you know the Egyptian workers who built the Pyramids were actually paid in beer? Over the past four years I’ve visited breweries in Easter Island, Patagonia, China, Japan, Ireland, the US, England, the Philippines, New Zealand and almost every state and territory in Australia.
Along the way I’ve been a beer judge, hosted beer and food matching dinners, designed beer lists for restaurants and conducted beer master classes. I’ve drunk beer with South American gauchos, Chinese IT geeks, American drag queens, New Zealand sheep farmers, Irish chemical engineers, Danish gypsy brewers, Australian lesbians and my 83-year-old mum (a hop head from way back).
Such is my devotion to my craft that I visited nine pubs and bars in Dublin on a single night, sampling Irish craft beer at every single one – and managing to drive to Belfast the following morning; that evening I shared a Guinness with Terri Hooley, the godfather of Ulster punk. Along the way I’ve tasted pilsners, lagers, black lagers, stouts, Russian Imperial stouts, kolsch, milk stouts, porters, pale ales, red ales, brown ales, sours, saisons, smoked beers, IPAs, double-hopped IPAs, American Pale Ales, English Bitters, Extra Strong Bitters, wheat beers, Trappist beers and many beers I’d rather forget.
Once considered the poor relation of wine, beer has mounted a spirited fight back around the world. Handcrafted beer is now being made and consumed in places as dissimilar as Mexico, Iceland and Japan. Beer is not only more interesting than wine, it’s far more democratic.
No brewer would be seen wearing a bow tie. You don’t need MV after your name to have an opinion about beer. Best of all, the best way to judge beer is to drain the glass. Oh… and only wine snobs spit.
Mark Chipperfield is a British-born journalist who now lives in Adelaide, South Australia. A former foreign correspondent and news reporter, Mark writes mostly about travel, food, wine, craft beer and other pleasant things. His work appears in The Daily Telegraph (UK), Qantas magazine, Voyeur, Departures magazine, The Lead, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.Visit Beer Airways at (Beer Airways at.blogspot.com.au)