Remember back in 2002/2003 when every other bar had Hoegaarden on tap? I do. Those days are well gone now, just like my youth and vigour. Which means I view both through rose-tinted goggles.
I wanted to take my time writing this post, because this beer is a significant one for me, and reviewing the time we've spent together is a bit cathartic.
People talk about gateway beers - ones which open the doors to new flavours or styles; well Hoegaarden is just such a gateway for me, THE gateway in fact.
During my early pub going days, I only drank cider, being unable to stomach the taste of lager. Then, around the age of around 22 I finally ditched cider, as my stomach was no longer able to stomach the taste, and my brain was no longer able to stomach the hangovers. I switched straight to lager, looking for something easy to drink and inoffensive - in short, something without a lot of flavour. My favourite early lagers were Fosters and Budweiser: being refreshing and reasonably light.
Then I tried Hoegaarden (and shortly afterwards Belle Vue Kriek).
From that day on, I was a beer fan: fascinated by hunting down new brews and obsessed by finding the best/most interesting tastes and experiences.
How did Hoegaarden do this? Hard to say exactly, but it was something to do with the chalky mouthfeel, the subtle lemon flavour, the opaque appearance and the refreshing qualities of Belgian Wit, a style I still love to this day. The portcullis had been lowered and I wanted to get right into the heart of the European beer kaleidoscope. Trips to Belgium, Holland, Germany and Poland in 1999-2001 cemented my absolute fascination with continental brewing heritage and, much to my delight, the trend started to seep back to the UK, helped by the increasingly ubiquity of the Internet and the availability of cheap flights.
My knowledge was growing, my thirst was raging and even in uncosmopolitan Birmingham, Hoegaarden was in every supermarket and city centre pub. To quote Henry Hill "it was a glorious time".
But things move on, tastes develop and old favourites no longer satiate our thirst. I was after variety and even though I loved Hoegaarden, I wanted more hops, nay I demanded more hops. I would happily have sipped the odd Hoeg, dovetailed with a Darkstar Hophead or a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, but in the end, I'm a simple man and couldn't commit to Hoeg on a regular basis.
Before you know it, 5,6,7 years have passed and Hoeg is no longer a fixture at the Old Joint Stock or Edmunds. In fact, you hardly ever see it. And despite the odd pang of regret for times passed, the reality is that as I sup a Hoeg right now, it just doesn't excite me as much. It's still handsome and functional, but nowadays, it's appeal to me lies in the wistful memories, rather than the exciting future. But I can't take away the effect it has had on my life, shaping and crafting me into the person I am.
There. You didn't expect that, did you? That was a bit cod wasn't it? But I meant it.