2018 Primetime Emmy
& James Beard Award Winner

When You’re Hot, Drunk, and Stoned on a Bus, at Least Drink Good Beer

When You’re Hot, Drunk, and Stoned on a Bus, at Least Drink Good Beer

American Pale Ale in London

It’s the hottest day of the year and I’m on the top deck of a London bus. I’m with my photographer and friend Charlie Whatley and we’re melting. We’ve entirely failed in our journalistic task for the day, but I’m a little drunk and that’s all that really matters.

I’ve been trying to make it to Imbibe Live, a booze convention at London’s Excel exhibition centre. The Excel tends to host the most odious of corporate events, with this year’s highlights being a property fair targeting foreign investment at a time when the poor are being pushed out of the city and an arms fair at a time of wild warmongering.

The task was one I’d set myself: I was to go to the drinks fair, see what bullshit they were peddling, and write about it for a beer magazine. The idea was to see how much the exhibitors were getting into using buzzwords and piggybacking on popular movements to sell inferior products. I expected a lot of push on “craft” products that were nothing of the kind. A lot of beer writers want to bore us with the “what is craft?” question, but I won’t bother. I just think there’s good beer and not good beer.

Good beer is hard to avoid in the UK right now. Since the introduction of the Progressive Beer Duty in 2002, which gives tax breaks to small breweries, there has been an explosion of craft outfits all over the country. London in particular plays a big role in this new era for the beer industry, which is pulling in different directions. Whilst tiny microbreweries pop up in every conceivable space, the multinationals are still bent on total domination. Due to the constant mergers and acquisitions of brewery businesses, AB InBev and SABMiller now own most big beer brands and have recently agreed to a USD $104 billion deal to merge, making them responsible for one in three beers sold worldwide.

The big brands, however, have neither quality nor creativity on their side. Small breweries are said to be opening at a rate of one every other day, and they’re going against their corporate rivals by being collaborative rather than competitive. Each little brewery knows it can’t quench everyone’s thirst, so they rely on each other to maintain a sustainable scene that moves away from trend factors to a genuine change in how we drink. Despite most popular beer recipes originating from Britain and Europe, it’s the U.S. that has taken the idea of locally produced beer being a joyous thing, and with it, has given us a model that is economically sound.

One big U.S.-exported factor of modern beer is the aesthetic pleasures of wild artwork and 330ml cans. The small beer can wasn’t at all common in the U.K., its usage confined to a traditional barley wine called Gold Label (now the property of AB InBev, naturally). Now, everybody’s canning, and the leading light in all of this is Beavertown Brewery.

Beavertown is one of the largest small breweries in London. Started by Logan Plant from his restaurant Duke’s Brew & Que, the U.S. influence is clear. However, it’s a blend of British and American ideas that make it so successful. One of their first beers was Smog Rocket, a smoked porter, a style intrinsically linked to London; however, their other flagship beer was 8 Ball, a rye IPA that has a distinct U.S. flavor. Their most popular beer, and the one that saves the day on this return journey from journalistic failure, is Gamma Ray, an American Pale Ale. It’s a classic, super-hopped pale and all kinds of refreshing when served up fresh and cold.

Visitors from the U.S. are often confused by our “warm, flat” beer, but cask ale isn’t as bland as it once was. Styles fall out of fashion, some are reinvented. People aren’t drinking milds and best bitters, they’re drinking pale ales and IPAs stuffed with hops from around the world. U.S. hops are just more bold in their flavors than their British relations. Even as my day descended into a shambles, as we took wrong turns, lost things, got distracted, drunk, stoned, I realized the story was right here anyway. I didn’t need to see the horror to report the upside of things.

As I drink from my cold can, I look around the bus to see a Hispanic Hunter S. Thompson lookalike staring on from the back seats. He’s the only other guy on the bus, sucking on a carton of Capri-Sun. His tinted aviators stare back at me. Maybe the heat is getting to me. Maybe I’ve drunk too much. Maybe it’s still the lingering THC from those morning joints that started this mess. Either way, I’m telling the story. The Gods of coincidence have spoken.

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