Last Thursday, I went to ‘Beer School’.
This is not a euphemism for simply going out and getting drunk, nor is it my way of admitting I took a six-pack with me when collecting the boys from school (the temptation is often there, believe me) – it was actually an evening of beer education (and, most importantly, tasting), run by the BrewDog brewery, which was a Christmas present from my in-laws.
The voucher was for myself and a friend (although I did briefly contemplate going alone and consuming twice as much), to visit any BrewDog pub for their weekly Beer School, which is essentially an evening of beer and cheese tasting.
I should explain, at this point, that aside from the fact I am very firmly of the view beer and cheese do not go together (in my opinion, cheese should be paired with wine, or perhaps pineapple; while beer is better suited to crisps, nuts, and meat), I am not a huge fan of cheese full stop. I know this places me in the minority, but my personal preference is for cheese to be as mild as possible, melted, and either atop a pizza, or mixed in to a pasta dish, so that I cannot taste it.
Nevertheless, I decided that, for an evening of drinking beer, and more importantly some time away from the children (I love them dearly, but so help me God I need a break every now and then), I would either have to man-up and eat some cheese (there’s a phrase you don’t hear every day); or, more likely, explain on arrival that my voucher was a gift, and I do not really like cheese. The way I saw it, worst-case scenario was that they might think me a little odd; while best-case scenario was that they would take pity on me, and pair my beers up with some delicious sausages instead.
When it came to selecting someone to accompany me, I invited my (joint) oldest friend, who we shall call Tim – because, well, that’s his name. When I say that Tim is my ‘oldest’ friend, I don’t mean he is ancient (although he does turn forty next month, which is frankly nothing short of a miracle, because he is both reckless and fearless, and regularly places himself in harm’s way), but I have known him since I was nine. That means we are celebrating thirty years of friendship this year, which struck me as sufficient reason to sink a few beers.
When we arrived at BrewDog in Manchester, there was just enough time to grab a quick pint, before heading to the reserved ‘Beer School’ table… which was deserted. I immediately panicked that it would only be us in attendance, but thankfully an older couple arrived within a few minutes, and shortly after that a table of four, who had been sat to one side, turned around and said they were taking part too.
The older couple seemed very pleasant, but the lady explained she was a last-minute substitute for their son, and only came along so her husband wasn’t on his own, admitting she didn’t really like beer. This news delighted me, because it meant my hatred of cheese wasn’t going to be the weirdest announcement of the night; and it delighted Tim, because he was sat next to her (and, sure enough, he drank at least two of her beers before school was out).
The other group of four (two couples) were rather less palatable. Don’t get me wrong, they were friendly enough, but on one side of the table was a man who smugly regurgitated beer facts every few minutes (rather pissing on our host’s parade), and on the other side were the sort of couple I detest – he was in a suit (and I got the impression that wasn’t because he had come straight from work), whereas she was clearly delighted by the sound of her own voice. Plus, they were both well on their way to pissed before we arrived, meaning their confidence and self-importance was magnified ten-fold. In short, they were the sort of people who appear on The Apprentice, which made them the sort of people I could happily take an axe to.
Then, just when I thought our company for the evening couldn’t get any more irritating, we were joined by what appeared to be a hyperactive blonde kangaroo with a nose-stud, who literally bounced up to our table, and announced at a rate of seven-words-per-second that she was ‘Talulah’, our Beer School host for the evening.
At this point, suit boy grinned, pointed at her, and loudly announced ‘Hey guys, this is Talulah!’, which, I suspect, he didn’t mean as a piss-take, but I certainly took it that way (partly for my own amusement, and partly because, if I was to make it through the evening, I needed to find some common ground with this prick).
I swiftly concluded that Talulah was, to be blunt, irritating-as-fuck (and even briefly fantasised about turning my axe from suit-boy’s head, to something a little shorter and blonder); but looking back I was wrong to jump to conclusions. I still maintain that any more than a few hours in her company would drive me insane, but her knowledge of – and enthusiasm for – beer was impressive; and by the end of the night I had to at least applaud the job she had done, not least because it transpired she was meant to finish work at 8pm, but was still tutoring us well after 9.
Anyway, after her initial introduction, and with thoughts of brutal axe-murders thankfully dissipating (honestly, these are just visions, nothing more), Talulah hopped off – again, literally – to get our first beer for sampling.
Once she was out of ear shot, suit-boy turned to the rest of us and, with obvious panic in his voice, asked: ‘Were you guys expecting cheese as well? We only really came for the cheese. We adore cheese.’
I began to visualise the axe again.
Everyone around us agreed that, yes, they were also expecting a cheese tasting session as well, which not only placated the far end of the table (it quickly transpired that the other couple of the four were also crazy about cheese, it’s just that we couldn’t hear them over blonde girl), but amused Tim, because he knows I can’t stand the stuff.
I spotted his reaction, and quickly whispered ‘don’t you dare tell them I don’t like cheese, they’ll fucking lynch me’, which only made him laugh more. He asked what I planned to do, and having briefly contemplated faking a lactose intolerance, I decided this would also attract attention (oh, how can you possibly live without cheese?), so in the end I opted for devouring each piece as quickly as possible, before washing it down with beer to avoid it re-appearing in the form of dairy-vomit.
Sure enough, soon after Talulah re-appeared (the only thing stopping her from bouncing this time, was the fact she was carrying a tray of eight beer glasses), she announced that, in case anyone was panicking, she had forgotten to mention the cheese in her introductory spiel.
“No, we weren’t panicking, Talulah. The cheese is just a bonus!”
Anyway, I could give you a description of the beers we sampled, not to mention their accompanying cheeses (quick summary: the soft and creamy ones were like cheesy snot, while the hard crumbly ones were like something you might find in a sock), but that would all be rather boring, so I won’t. What I will say is that we learned a great deal about the brewing process, the different types of hops, how to properly ‘smell’ the aroma, and how each cheese (supposedly) complimented the taste of its beer partner.
Throughout each description, Talulah continued to test my patience by repeatedly using ‘air quotes’ (yes, I realise the irony of using quotes there myself), as well as the word hipster far more than is ever necessary (i.e. more than once a year), but she also captivated us with her knowledge and stories.
Did you know, for example, that in ‘olden times’ (despite being married to a history teacher, placing periods of time throughout history was never my strong point, so I won’t embarrass myself by even hazarding a guess), when a couple got married the entire village would spend weeks beforehand preparing as much mead as they possibly could? Then, once the couple were wed, the idea was that they would spend the next two weeks drinking and, erm, consummating the marriage to hopefully bear children for the village. The idea, I believe, was that drunk people shag more (who knew?). And, since mead is made from honey, that two-week period became known as the honeymoon. See, history is awesome (and, by all accounts, so were the olden times).
Talulah also told us about BrewDog’s various publicity stunts over the years – such as the time they inflated some stuffed cats, attached parachutes, then dropped them from a helicopter over Canary Wharf. The idea was to protest against the ‘fat cat’ breweries, only the parachutes didn’t open, and they ended up injuring people (I had to again nudge Tim, and beg that he didn’t mention my occupation to the group).
By the end of the night, I don’t know whether it was the copious amounts of beer talking (although I have a strong suspicion it was, bearing in mind I hadn’t eaten anything other than cheese, and the last sample was a rather potent 14%), but I had decided the older couple were lovely, suit boy wasn’t all that bad, and Talulah was a Beer Goddess (not necessarily in terms of looks, although she was far from unattractive, but her personality was as infectious as herpes). She even gave us three ‘bonus’ beers for free, as she liked us so much:
Even suit boy’s girlfriend, ‘loud blonde woman’, endeared herself to me, during one of the latter aroma tests, because despite everyone suggesting the usual hints of vanilla and citrus (none of us could actually smell vanilla or citrus, but those had been the answers for the preceding beers so we decided to hedge our bets), she decided to be brutally honest, and claimed that her glass smelt of ‘wet dog’.
This, naturally, made everyone laugh (including herself, and I do hate people who laugh at their own jokes), but it tickled me especially, because sat directly behind her was a couple who had just come in from the pouring rain for shelter, and their soaking wet spaniel was between them under the table.
Cheers – and thanks for reading x