Monday 3 August 2009

Drinking Beer is Like Going to a Theme Park

A theme park: a vast world of fun; rides, slides, rollercoasters, amusements; bright colours, loud noises; slow and steady or high-speed-high-thrill - all fun in their own way; upside-down, round and round, 100-miles-an-hour, losing your stomach, lots of laughter. Theme parks kick ass in the fun department. While some people are happy to queue all day to go on the big adrenaline bad-boy rollercoasters where you turn inside out, over, under and back to front, others are content to ride the slower rides all day long, enjoying the helter-skelter, the log flume, the tea cups. These are altogether tamer than the big-thrill coasters but not necessarily less enjoyable. This is kind of like drinking beer, don’t you think?

That 4% sessionable pale ale that you’ve had so many times already is like the log flume. You know that it’s fun and you know exactly how it goes and that’s why you love it. You can also ride it over and over again without getting sick. Yet there are some times, when everything is just right, that the tame little log flume brings such elemental joy that you never want to get off: it’s a warm day, the sun’s shining, you are with friends. It’s the beer that you know you will enjoy.

Next to the log flume are the tea cups and the ghost train. These are standard fare, often uninspiring but can be surprisingly good fun. These are your best bitters and standard stouts. Some are much better than others. The teacups may be rickety and old or they could be new and loud and bright. The ghost train is dark and it sometimes hits the same unscary notes all the way but others can be mysterious and surprising and addictively good fun.

There are also the things which you alone like. The cheesily good fun amusement arcade, the straight-down drop slide, the whack-the-rat, the 2p slots or the dodgems. This is the beer that you love that no one else seems to get; it’s a guilty pleasure, it’s something simple and fun and all yours. It’s a fruit beer, a Desperados, a Coors Light.

Some fun-lovers might like to warm up using the log flume before hitting the big dipper. The big dipper is the 6% IPA. It has high points and low points, or in beer terms, it has bitter hops and sweet malt. You need both or it’s a crap ride. The sweetness starts off low, and that’s where the ascent is, by the time the bitterness comes in you reach the lip of the fall and you edge closer and closer until it drops and soars and you are flying then you hit the bottom and you drink again and it goes up again but this time not so high and it drops and you drink... There are no loops, it’s a straight-forward up-and-down-and-round but it’s still an adventurous one and bloody good fun (this also works for other 6-7%ers).
Then you might like to step it up. This is when you go on the aggressively named showcase ride. This is high-octane thrill seeking. This is out-there cool, this is fun, this is the sort of thing that you build up to all day; you are scared and excited and you don’t know what to expect. This is extreme beer. This can’t be your first ride ever; you are an experienced thrill-seeker. It can go in so many different directions. Maybe it’s a 10-loop coaster. Maybe it’s the highest freefall, maybe it’s the longest ride, the fastest, the loudest. Maybe it’s all of that and more. Maybe it’s a 10% barrel-aged something, maybe a 9% double IPA, maybe a 15% style-pushing stout, a puckeringly sour lambic or maybe it has exotic ingredients. These are the rides that some people hate and refuse to ride but they are also the ones that get the most passionate fans. And people will travel across the world just to get on this ride. Then the ride itself. It should be shocking and surprising. It should make you want to go back on again. It needs soaring highs and gut-dropping lows. It should be a loop of what-happens-next fun where the rider never quite knows which way he will be thrown next. That’s what good extreme beer is. It’s a rollercoaster of infinite joy when done well. It’s a see-sawing balance between too slow and too fast and anticipation and thrill and adrenaline and mystery and fun. You need to be able to do it but not be sure quite how it works. You need to be able to ride it over and over yet still enjoy different things each time (the view, the sound of the screams, the grinding growl of the coaster, the gut-turning speed).

There are also the other extreme rides which are not about any kind of balance but just try to do one thing and do that thing awesomely. It’s the free-falling, stomach-emptying drop. The 0-100 in two seconds. The ride in the dark that you know ends with a monster fall but don’t know when it comes. The 150IBU tongue-splitting IPA or the 22% tooth-rotting, fire-breathing stout. But, and here’s the ultimate downside, you can only ride these high-octane rides a few times before you feel sick. It’s just too intense to ride over and over.

Drinking beer is like going to the theme park and the ultimate beer theme park in the UK is on this week at Earls Court, where I’ll be riding the big ones all Tuesday long (although maybe I’ll heed my own advice and ride the log flume once before jumping on the 9% hop train to Drunktown).

Does this little allusion work? If so, which beers do you think are like which rides?!

I'll be at GBBF on Tuesday for the trade session and then again on the Saturday to finish of the dregs of the UK barrels. There's also a pre-GBBF/21st anniversary do with the British Guild of Beer Writers tonight, which should be good fun. And then The Bull (my favourite pub) has got a Marble showcase on from Thursday. It's going to be a long week... Oh, and I got these images from the Thorpe Park website.


  1. I worked in a theme park for five years, so it will always remind me of drinking nasty keg lager in a meat-rack pub on a Saturday night; invariably overpriced, have to queue for hours, expectation outweighs actuality.

  2. Why did you use "ass" instead of arse?

  3. I like the allusion. I'm looking forward to starting on more of the family rides (many of which to be fair are often surprisngly good and more thrilling than you expect) before trying out a few of the height restriction rides later this afternoon.

  4. Haddonsman, yup!

    Wurst, because kick arse is nowhere near as cool as kick ass!

    Andy, I hope you had some great beers, what was best, the family rides or the big ones?!

  5. Drinking beer: a day out for the family, and the children enjoy it the most!