Roger Protz is one of the globe’s most revered beer writers. Beer Hawk chats to the editor of CAMRA Good Beer Guide about the astonishing rate of change in the beer world.
You’re probably the most famous beer writer in the country, and known world-wide. What do you think the role of a beer writer is?
A beer writer starts by loving the product. I grew up in the East End of London, surrounded by famous breweries such as Charrington, Manns, Taylor Walker and Truman, with Ind Coope close by in Romford, Essex. Beer was always present in my life even before I was allowed – legally – to drink it. I recall my first taste of Charrington IPA in a pub at Upton Park, fell in love with it and never looked back. I try to pass on that passion to readers by discussing the aromas and flavours of beer and how different types of malts and hops impact on the character of beer. I want people to treat beer as seriously as wine – and why not. Arguably, it takes greater skill to make good beer than it does wine. Wine is fermented grape juice. With beer the brewer takes two very different raw materials – malt and hops – and has to balance them to make a harmonious end product.
Did the beer world develop as you imagined it would? What has been most unexpected?
The changes in the beer world have taken everyone by surprise. I didn’t anticipate the return of IPA, which has now become a world-wide phenomenon. The passion among craft brewers to dig back into the past and recreate long-neglected styles is heart-warming. The choice and range of beers today is astonishing. In particular, I am delighted by the move to barrel- ageing that has encouraged a new host of amazing flavour notes to appear in beer. A word of caution: brewers should temper their passion and commitment with a due regard to heritage. Black, sour and fruit IPAs traduce the style. Respect the past.
What are the key developments you’ve noticed since starting to write about beer?
The major change in the 40 or more years I’ve been writing about beer is greater consumer interest in how beer is made and the ingredients used. When I started out, beer for most people was a pale, brown or black liquid that you were told to ‘get down your throat’. Now there’s a growing demand for knowledge about how beer is made and the raw materials. Drinkers are treating hops as seriously as grapes – and quite rightly so – and can differentiate between American, English, European and Australasian varieties. The range of beers has grown enormously. In the 1970s, most British brewers produced just mild and bitter. Now the range is vast and growing: Britain is no longer a closed brewing society but is open to influences from mainland Europe and North America.
If you could choose a year that marked a change in the beer world, what would it be?
There have been several key, transformational years. In the late 1970s, CAMRA staged its Great British Beer Festival at Alexandra Palace in North London. Unlike Earl’s Court or Olympia, ‘Ally Pally’ is a pain to get to and I marvelled at the crowds pounding up the steep climb to sample all the amazing beers on offer. I had my first taste of Felinfoel Double Dragon from Llanelli in Wales and relished the amazing balance of rich malt and spicy hop flavours. I had a similar experience when I first attended the Great American Beer Festival in Denver. 2002 is a pivotal year: Progressive Beer Duty in Britain encouraged the astonishing growth of the micro sector and the diversity of beer styles that developed from that.
• Roger Protz edits the CAMRA Good Beer Guide and is the author of more than 20 books, including the best-selling 300 Beers To Try Before You Die. He has received lifetime achievement awards from both the British Guild of Beer Writers and the Society of Independent Brewers and has twice won the Glenfiddich Drink Writer of the Year award. His website is protzonbeer.co.uk.
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