Some beers don’t elicit much response. You can drink and neither be inspired nor repulsed by what’s in your glass. If challenged you’d struggle to say much about it other than a loose description of colour and flavour. Then there are beers which really pull the right strings and tickle the right spots. If challenged, again, you’d be able to say why you like this one, perhaps not eloquently, but simply; you fancied something sour/bitter/dark/strong and this is just right. And then there are other beers. Ones which make you talk.
In the last few weeks I’ve had some talkative beers: Westvleteren 12, Tactical Nuclear Penguin and Pete Brown’s Calcutta IPA, the beer at the heart of the fantastic Hops and Glory. These are not just any beers, these are special beers. Having them in your glass is a tangible experience; there’s excitement to them, delicate underlying tension, a sense of wonder. These feelings come from the rareness, history, age or the story (of the actual beer or a personal story of your own) of the beer.
Westvleteren 12 is ranked on RateBeer (and that other rating site…) as the best beer in the world. Tactical Nuclear Penguin is the current strongest (I think… is that 40% one out yet?). The Calcutta IPA is uniquely tied up with a great story (the 200-year history and the two-year history) and it’s been in a cask for two years. When you drink these they come with added involvement.
For me, the best thing about drinking the Westleteren is the way it makes people talk. It pulls out so many different questions about personal experience, rating experiences and the rating process. It makes you think about what being the best means, how it becomes the best and how it stays there. Then there’s how rarity affects experience and location. How it’d only be fair to drink it blind but it’s the sort of beer that you want to know what you are drinking. You can be consumed in conversation while drinking through the bottle, and I like that a lot.
Calcutta IPA grabs you with the history side of things, then it pulls you in through Hops and Glory, then you get to taste it and it’s this pale, sherried, fruity-sharp golden elixir. Unlike anything I’ve had before. It makes you think about the history of beer, what it would’ve been like in India all those years ago, how aging affects beer.
And Tactical Nuclear Penguin. When this was released the internet lit up with talk about it. People all over the world suddenly knew exactly who BrewDog are. Beyond that it opens up debate about when beer is not a beer, how processes affect beer, and then makes you think about what beer is and what it can possibly be. I think this beer is fantastic, intense, insane. It’s one that demands sharing because of its super-strength and is made to be talked about. It’s also great as dessert. Here’s a video of me drinking the Penguin, where I bring up some of these points and just enjoy drinking the beer for what it is.
I think beers which have this level of interest to them are fantastic and it adds so much extra to the experience of drinking. That alone makes them great beers, regardless of the taste. There aren’t many which can really do it.
Which beers have you had which made you talk? And why did they make you talk?
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