Suren is an aspiring writer and craft beer enthusiast who spends his time between Dubai, Colombo and Melbourne. Starting Colombo’s first micro-brewery is his goal in life. Due to the commercial unfeasibility of this project and the inability to earn enough from writing, he is compelled to fly airplanes for a living. He can be found prowling craft beer shops all over the world trying to find the best six beers to transport back in his suitcase.
This article is part of an ongoing series about “conversion beers” – the story of getting hooked on great craft beer. To see all articles, go here.
This is Suren’s Conversion Beer
Self: “Huh?” (I am most articulate when awakening from a deep sleep and multiple-hour time zone change)
Spouse: “Hurry up and get dressed. We’ll be late.”
A short while and much grumbling later, I was drinking a coffee in the car as we pulled into the Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre (MSAC) on a bright and beautiful spring day. My previous visits to this Melbourne institution had been for swimming contests. The crowd today was not particularly focused on sport. Mainly they appeared to be teenagers of a particular age group, high on sugar and full of energy. Quiet and orderly they were not. The noise levels were moderate to severe. The effects of the wine I had consumed on the aircraft the night before (purely as a sleeping aid of course and as a passenger) were pressing on my temples. The coffee was not helping.
“Stay here” she who must be obeyed commanded (apologies to John Mortimer). “I’m going to find Sharon. Mark is here and he will find you.”
I obediently sat down on the bench. The sun reflected off the swimming pool, directly into my jet-lagged pupils. The noise levels were reaching epic proportions. Resveratrol segued between my digestive system and my brain. It didn’t appear to like either location. The teenagers eyed me with suspicion. The Jewish community in Melbourne is wide and varied, but my particular complexion was not well represented. A fit looking individual wearing an ear-piece started to drift in my direction from the periphery. The morning was not turning out well.
Suddenly a hand clapped me on the shoulder. Expecting a SWAT team, I was delighted to find it was Mark, my host.
“Suren” he boomed. “Thanks for making it. I know you only just got in, didn’t think you would wake up in time.” He eyed me shrewdly. “You’re looking a little peaky mate. I think I know what you need! Follow me.”
I gratefully stumbled behind him to a mess of Eskies. They appeared to be mainly dispensing luridly colored soft drinks, the cause of much of the noise and energy levels of the assembled multitude. Mark approached one that was lurking under a table and discreetly closed. Opening it, he groped inside and produced two small brown bottles, with tan labels sporting a hirsute animal head. Fat Yak it read. I’d never heard of it.
“I was waiting for someone to have a beer with. Here try this – you’ll like it.”
Gratefully accepting the beverage, I opened it and filled my mouth with cold beer.
It was as if I’d entered a portal. Instantly I was transported to the tasting room of the brewery that my father had been a director of in Sri Lanka. There as a much younger man many moons ago, in an atmosphere redolent with hops and barley, I had tasted the very last batch of Jubilee Pale Ale. The brewer was in mourning as the brewery had been purchased by one of the giant global conglomerates and all the niche beers they had been making for over a hundred years were being terminated. The prospect of a sterile, surgically clean brewery with steel tanks, producing the mass-market beers that sold well, were an anathema to the old man. He was taking a much-delayed retirement and had produced a last batch of the older beers, with the tacit approval of my father. The crates of Sinha Pilsner and Jubilee Ale that were my father’s favourites were among the final batches of these varieties ever brewed. (Thankfully, one of the beers, Lion Stout has survived and can even be found in some craft beer retailers in Australia to this day. But that’s another story.)
Sadly, this was a long time ago and the last crates of Jubilee Ale had been consumed decades previously. My tastebuds had become atrophied to the point that I drank (moderately and responsibly of course) those very mass-market beers the old brewer had been so contemptuous about. I had forgotten what real beer tasted like.
In one instant, it all came rushing back. The strong scent of hops at the start. The complexity of the aroma – clean, fruity and earthy at the same time. And finally, a jolt of hops again at the end. This is what beer was supposed to taste like.
I looked up from the first mouthful astonished. Mark gave me a wonderful smile. “I thought you’d like this. Good stuff eh Captain?”. I nodded wordlessly and took another swallow. Oh man, this stuff was ambrosia! All the cobwebs vanished, the noise dropped to a tolerable level, the hyperactive teenagers seemed to slow down and all was well with the world.
So began my infatuation with craft beers. Now I go around the world hunting out the most obscure types I can find. I then drink some (well before flying of course) and bring many more back in my suitcase. Customs eye me suspiciously. “What is that Captain?” they enquire. I diplomatically point out that it is just beer and well below the allowed limit.
An old fridge has been commandeered to be my cellar. It is well stocked with a variety of types from all over the world and my mates have become accustomed to having to choose one. “I’ll have a beer” is no longer acceptable in my house. You’d better specify what you want and then talk about it after. I’ve become a beer snob and a bore. The old brewer would be proud.