In my early 20s, my brother and I had a discussion about our love for a certain music genre and its changes over time. I considered the generations above us who stubbornly listened to a certain period of music, only breaking tradition for one album every couple of years. Our family home and those of relatives, only ever played radio stations dedicated to 60s and early 70s music - the music of their youth.
“Do you think we’ll ever stop enjoying new music?” I asked, as we were both still in the habit of buying several new albums a month. Surely if we were going to get bored of new music it would have happened years before.
This question turned out to be a curse. Almost overnight, the genre we had always enjoyed started giving radio play and credence to the slow, clunky, mumbled stylings of the likes of Drake and Future. In less than 12 months after my question, the purchasing of new music had hugely decreased.
Hip Hop never recovered and, whilst there are still plenty of exciting new releases to absorb, I find myself returning to the music from the late 90s/early 00s that I had always enjoyed over anything new.
Innovation and progression is something I support in any industry but sometimes it cannot replace what has gone before.
I never thought that there would be a time when I would tire of the fast pace the beer industry has seen in the last 8-12 years. Each step, each new bar opening, each new brewery has been cause for intrigue and general excitement. Whilst some parts have endured for years, they have sometimes been overshadowed by new arrivals. I never thought I’d tire of it.
I haven’t – to tire would suggest I am indifferent to it. I still enjoy those aspects frequently. However, on a recent trip to my favourite UK city earlier this month – Edinburgh – I realised something I’d perhaps been aware of for a long time.
I just want to drink Jarl.
Yes, that was a long winded introduction that leads to the simplest of all facts. It should have just been all I typed today. This should have been a one sentence, self explanatory blog post – I want to drink Jarl for all time.
For some this will scarcely seem to be a revelation worth writing about but something clicked for me on my most recent visit to Scotland's capital. We like various establishments across Edinburgh, none usually as much as the dimly lit and super craft friendly Salt Horse Bar. Usually, returning here is a trip highlight; a priority.
Not this time. From the moment we exited the train station I was thinking about the rotating door just a caber toss away from our hotel front door where I knew I was certain to find Jarl on cask handpump. I had to wait until the early evening but when we finally arrived at The Guildford Arms bar the first pint lasted a matter of minutes. If we didn’t have a table booked for dinner an hour later, we may have never left.
When we visited Glasgow the following day, we made it to three different brewery taps/taprooms amongst our sightseeing. They were all lovely places I’d visit again but nothing beat the retro atmosphere of the aesthetically frightening The Laurieston because... Jarl.
The reality, though, kicked in whilst sat in a pub I chanced without recommendation and also confirmed something else within me. Walking up The Royal Mile from Holyrood Palace I spotted the Tollbooth Tavern, an old building that hadn’t always been a public house but had stood for hundreds of years. Externally it was the sort of pub I just had to visit, hoping that something was retained inside, though also expecting that I would be drinking nothing more exciting than Tennants.
Yet the pub was a treat. And there was Jarl.
Sat facing the bar with my pint of handpulled Jarl I realised that this was all I wanted from this industry, that this was still as good as it got for me. I’d take this 16th century tollbooth-structure-come-pub over school chairs and Edison bulbs any day. I’d take this beer on cask over any clichéd milky Imperial Gose you can stick in a plastic keg. It doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy those places and those beers at times, but they are becoming like new Hip Hop to me.
There are other examples of this type of beer. In the wonderful Bow Bar (also in Edinburgh) I usually start each visit with the fabulous Fallen New World Odyssey on cask. I then work my way down the other offerings finding them acceptable but never as good as that Odyssey, never understanding why I didn’t just stick to the beer I enjoyed.
It is the same with other beers of a similar vein, all when served on cask: the likes of Track Brew’s Sonoma, Wishbone Brewery’s Tiller Pin or even Hammerton’s N1 when I see it in London, though I haven’t for a couple of years. If I was a social media buff I would come up with a hashtag and new turn of phrase for such beers. They all circle around the 4% mark, all have similar characteristics in style and are all best served via cask by the pint.
They all have the “What was the point” factor, as in “What was the point in ordering anything else?”And I could live with just them on the bar. If some deranged government intervention or market recession led to Jarl being the only beer available in every pub across the country, then I’d still be fine. I could garner just as much fulfilment from the pub.
If there is such a fantasy as a “Beer Journey” then the end is definitely in sight for me. There are people older that are maybe only three or four years into theirs and discovering every day. There’s a long way to go but less than two decades I find I prefer listening to the music of my youth rather than trying to absorb the new.
That isn’t to say that the industry won’t develop and innovate further. It doesn’t mean I’m retiring from new experiences, not when there is still so much going on. But similarly to when I put a record release of 2019 on, halfway through I find the metaphorical needle coming off and the vinyl being replaced by something more familiar; often older but often better. I can experience the fresh and original but I’ll always be happiest listening to Hell on Earth and drinking pints of cask Jarl. The journey peaked for me a long time ago.