Not long after I started drinking beer – for legal reasons let’s say I was in my late teens – myself and a group of friends started drinking ale, purchased from the local supermarket. The reason we started doing this is simple; one of our mothers bought us 4 bottles of Wychwood Hobgoblin for a night in, and we were hooked.
At the time, beers in supermarkets were rather limited, although not in our eyes. All we had seen previously were 3 or 4 different brands of mainstream lager, which to us all tasted the same (I will leave that chestnut for another time). So 30-odd different beers on the shelves of ASDA, in differing shapes, sizes and colours, was very exciting. We started regular beer nights where we would buy a dozen or so bottles and mark them out of ten, discussing why we liked them and why we didn’t. Early on, reactions were questionable; we greatly disliked Erdinger and many other decent beers, yet loved Innis & Gunn and Spitfire. We gave marks for presentation, which usually meant that clear bottles scored highly. We weren’t all bad though - everyone loved Summer Lightning and Old Peculiar, and our favourite was Hobgoblin.
We did this for a while, and quickly exhausted the supermarket range, going further afield to find new beers to drink. Thanet, where we grew up, was not exactly a haven for high quality beer, with one particular unenlightened company owning almost every pub it seemed, so it was a while before we discovered the pleasures of cask beer. I tried various beers on tap, but nothing that sticks in the memory. But then on a trip to Canterbury, we found the Hobgoblin pub on the high street, serving its eponymous drink, for an incredibly low price. It was dark, grungy, and alternative – for all of us MTV2 crowd it was heaven, a respite from shots of aftershock, bottles of Fosters Twist and Craig David blaring from the speakers. The beer was awesome – my first was gone in a matter of minutes. Perfectly kept, cool, a big frothy head, dark reddy brown liquid smooth as an angel’s jazz, sweet, rich, bitter and grown up. It didn’t matter that I was one of about 7 people under 30 who felt this way, but I thought this was cool as fuck.
One of the things we loved was the marketing – the slogans, artwork and general ethos, form the cool bottle shape to the aggressively anti-lager sentiments on t-shirts and posters. I know there are many critics of the ‘Lagerboy’ ethic they used heavily back then, but it was exactly what we needed to get us into beer. It put words to our quiet outrage that lager was so popular and it was difficult to get a decent pint of bitter anywhere. Plenty of people made fun of us for drinking ‘weird’ beer, and this gave us a comeback, a sense of identity and virtue. It gave us permission to be outspoken and opinionated on the subject, and take a love of beer to a new place, one where we actively encouraged and persuaded others to try new beers, a quest that has been extremely fruitful. One year our rugby 7’s team were called the Hobgblins. We sucked. We didn’t care.
To be honest, I don’t drink Hobgoblin much anymore. The two bottles I bought as a memory aid for this blog are the first I have purchased in a couple of years. My tastes are now more geared towards pale and hoppy beers, lagers and the esoteric. I am guilty of looking too much for the new and different, while forgetting the old and reliable. There are many beers I like but rarely drink, not because I stopped liking them, but because I started liking something else and got distracted. Of course there is only so much time and many, many beers, but I once heard we should make new friends and keep the old, because one is silver and the other gold. I intend to renew some old friendships soon, starting with another one of these.
Picture from here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wychwood_Brewery