So off I trotted around every shop in St Andrews asking if they were recruiting. My current place of employ told me 'no' so I went into Oddbins. Consider the fact that I was twenty three at that point, and had only been drinking alcohol for two years, so I had not a clue about wine in any way, shape or form. I managed to get an interview, and during that interview I was asked the following question:
"What do you know about wine"
Knowing that any lie I told would be immediately found out the second I started, I told the truth with the sentence: "I know what I like".
I was convinced I was done for. What does that mean anyway? Of course I know what I like. Everyone else does knows what they like too, but that doesn't help if you are trying to sell a bottle of Australian Cabernet to someone who wants a wine to go with beef stew. And the fact was, I didn't have a clue what I liked, because all I knew about wine was that it came in three colours and that Jilly Goolden and Oz Clarke said it tasted of 'galavanting gooseberries through a nettle patch' or some other strange description that nobody could decipher. I had paid about as much attention to the wines that I had drunk in my life as a teenage mother had during the contraceptives lesson at school. So the honest answer should have been "I'm afraid I know absolutely nothing about wine and simply need a job"
Having said that, Oddbins were obviously desperate and gave me the job, so I learned about wine quickly. VERY quickly. And now I am in a position to employ people and I ask prospective candidates the same question that I got asked on the 1st May 2001, "what do you know about wine?" I delight every time they utter the same words I did, and most of them do.
So you would think that a decade on, I wouldn't utter those words about an alcoholic beverage anymore, but you would be wrong. When it comes to beer, I do know what I like, but I know precious little about it. I know I like a pint of Guinness, and I know that I like Luckie Ales 68 shilling. I know I like a bottle of Corona on a hot summers day, and that Pilsner Urquell reminds me of similarly hot days playing Frisbee on the beach. I also know that it gets me drunk very quickly, and so I tend to shy away from it. However, ask me anything about the brewers, the hops, the barley, the history or the styles of beer and I know nothing. I know what I like. Nothing more.
So when we decided to conduct a blind IPA tasting, I decided I would taste the beers seen so I my more learned friends could test their senses. We gathered together seven beers, ranging from the omnipresent Deuchars IPA (that I had a T-shirt of during my student days because I drank 6 pints of it in one night) through to Scottish micro brewer Stuart McLuckie's Luckie Ales IPA following a recipe from 1868 that is only available in one shop... mine!
This is what I found out....
Odell Brewing Co IPA (7%) 60 International Bittering Units (USA)
Sweet honey elements with a herbal flavour - lots and lots of basil. A dry fluffy element on the palate, pretty thin. It is dry and hoppy with a very gentle flavour. A bit light and commercial for me - a bit of a session beer if it wasn't for the alcohol. 5/10
Stone Brewery Ruination IPA (7.7%) 100+ IBUs (USA)
Very sweet on the nose, yet very fresh. A lovely toffee element follows up a malt and dried fruit aroma. The palate matches the nose initially, then the freshness goes and it is a lovely, dry, bitter flavour with hints of sultanas and jacobs Cream Crackers! I like this. 7/10
Luckie Ales East India Pale Ale (7.3%) 223 IBUs (Scotland)
Sweet sherbet with lemonade and a fresh citrus element, all mixed up with some spicy pepper. A lovely floral element on the palate with some gorgeous hop elements and a creamy texture. Very very clean and balanced. 8.5/10
Urthel Hop It (9.5%) 80 IBUs (Belgium)
Quite vibrant, lots of sweet power and herbs again, not so much basil but rosemary. The palate is very sweet, full on alcohol attack and far too much unbalanced hops. Quite savour too. 6/10
Brew Dog Hardcore IPA (9.2%) 150 IBUs (Scotland)
Basil toffee and quite floral on the nose. There is a hoppy bitter element to it, with more basil on the palate, but it is very soft, well integrated alcohol and with a lovely bitter finish. A good beer. 8/10
Caledonian Brewery Deuchars IPA (4.4%) Approx 30IBUs (Scotland)
Light aroma but with a burnt element. Quite soapy and thin. The palate is weak, yet flabby at the same time and with no redeeming feature whatsoever. 2/10
Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA (6%) 60 IBUs (USA)
Soft and floral, quite hoppy on the nose and very malty. The palate is very creamy, with subtle basil and a rather fruity flavour. A really tasty beer that reminds me of cut grass for some reason. 7/10
Net result of this tasting? I know what I like, and I like India Pale Ales