Monday, 22 October 2012

Birmingham Beer Heroes, No.1 - David Byrne

In this, the first of an unspecific series, we meet the first of our nominated Birmingham Beer Heroes. Birmingham Beer heroes, people who have added a touch of pizzazz to our drinking landscape with their ingenuity, skill and fortitude.  Here then is David Byrne* (@DSByrne), who is on a quest to [literally] drink himself around the planet.  What follows is the text of an actual interview between me and him.  It's like real journalism, isn't it?

So tell us about your project - you're aiming to drink at least one beer from each of the countries in the world, is that right?

Yes, the aim is to drink 280 beers: no more than one from each country, each state in the USA and each county in England.

First question (the obvious one) - Why?

A personal challenge, and something to encourage me to try different beers. Just a little bit of fun really.

So that's your answer and you're sticking to it, but honestly, what drives you to do this - is it a love of collecting/documenting, or an appreciation of World beer heritage?

Mostly I like drinking beer and trying new things. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a collectors streak and this is something to spend my money on other than late 80s alt-rock records.

Presumably you keep notes, photos details of each beer as 'proof'?

Of course, every beer is documented on twitter with a photo and it’s number in the challenge. I’ve got a scratch off world map and have documented on a map on the internet as well. Initially I considered a blog, but it turns out drinking a lot of beer and then making time to write it isn’t so easy!

You're a ticker.  We all are.  It's what makes us sane.  How far are you along?  Have you nearly finished?

I’m about 130 beers in. Just less than half way numbers wise... not in time though!

OK, so stating the beetling obvious, but some countries must be easier to tick off than others?

Obviously it’s getting progressively more difficult. I’ve exhausted anything I can get in supermarkets, specialist off-licences and it’s even getting tricky on online specialists.

Of the ones that you have not done, what are the common factors - small countries?  Far flung? No beer heritage in that country?

A number of factors: prohibition (although this hasn’t stopped all), no exports or small far flung places which the UK just doesn’t trade with. There are a couple of annoying countries which have alluded me – who knew South Africa was so hard!

How will you tackle countries where alcohol is actively discouraged or banned?

I’ve had to accept that some of my beers with be non-alcoholic. I’ve recently had UAE and Iran – there’s just no way around that.

I know the answer to this one, but will ask anyway..... what type of beers are you mainly getting hold of from these varied locations?

I’ve had flavoured “malt” drinks which are advertised as beer (and acknowledged as beer on Ratebeer). One was lemon, one was apple. Not the same as a proper beer but fairly drinkable.

Hmmm.  you must now be an expert on Pale Lagers - are they much of a muchness or have there been some standouts?

I’ve gone for – wherever possible – a range of different styles of beer. There have been a lot of pale lagers. A lot of the asian beers have been fairly poor lagers, but I do really like the robust Eastern European beers such as Zywiec and Viru.

Time to put your money where your mouth is - what is the best beer you have tried during this project?

By far and away my favourite beer has been Einstok Toasted Porter from Iceland. I’ve gone on to try all of the Einstok range of beers which I can recommend highly.

And what was the worst?

Uinta Brewing Company XVII anniversary Barley Wine Ale from Utah. Who knew an almost entirely dry state made such bad beer?! It may well be to somebody’s taste, but it tasted to me like someone had spiked my beer with vodka.

A project like this requires a strong support team; who have you enlisted to help out?

My girlfriend has helped a lot – she’s a serious cataloguer/organiser and I quite often find her trawling the internet for beer. She also managed to persuade her friends and family to send beer from holidays and travel – managed to get Cape Verde and Tanzania this way! My friends have been great too – helping with making my incessant online ordering a little more normal and of course stopping me from having to drink all on my own – so thanks to @grammaticalrecords and @natef15her.

There must have been some moments of euphoria, as you located a new country.  What has been your greatest moment to date?

After having bought Nogne #100 (Norway) quite early on, I managed to save it to drink as my 100th. Not a bad beer, but a great feeling of achievement.

There must have been some surprise finds too...... tell us about them.

The biggest surprise was finding the non-alcoholic beers – mostly because it was a find that I wasn’t looking for it. One of the most satisfying finds was finding a South Korean supermarket and realising they stock South Korean beer (Hite – and very reasonably priced too!). It’s lucky we live in such a multi-cultural city.

Will there come a point where you give up or will you still be doing this in 30 years time?

I don’t intend to give up until it’s a completed project – however the pace of new beers slows quickly and I imagine it will continue to do so.

Has this project changed you?  Will you ever be able to enjoy beer like you used to?

The project was more a sign of how my beer drinking had changed, rather than the other way round. When I first started drinking, I only drank premium lagers such as Stella or Kronenbourg. However, during my early twenties I started discovering ales and stouts.

And what beers would you like to drink were you not on this mission?  What is your favourite style(s)?

Guinness would be my “go to drink” or often whichever guest ale I haven’t previously tried.

Mediocre Beer Adventures loves this project.  I use Ratebeer to keep track of my finds in exactly the same way, and as is well documented, I love to visit small off licences, looking for obscure beers.  We are brothers.

Thank you for you time - any closing remarks?

It’s good to see that with the help of Stirchley Wines, Cotteridge Wines, Rai Wines, as well as pubs like The Post Office Vaults and The Wellington it’s now really easy to get good variety of quality beer.

Couldn't have said it better myself.  If anyone spots beer from any obscure countries, or is going on holiday to Bhutan, perhaps they could drop David a line, via Twitter. 

*This link is a hoax.

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