First Beer Experiences – Jessica Boak


Jessica Boak has been blogging about beer at since 2007. Her most recent book, co-written with Ray Bailey, is 20th Century Pub. She lives in Bristol.

When did you have your first taste of beer?

I think my first taste of beer was probably at about the age of four or five, sipping from my dad's beer in a pub garden somewhere.

What was your impression of beer before then?

(I didn't have one...)

What was your reaction to that first sip?

It was really bitter and I didn't like it. I remember spitting and yukking. My impression was that it was like vinegar, but different. (Which is kind of correct.)

How have your thoughts about beer changed since then?

As I got older, from the age of about 14, I used to drink a bottle of Bishop's Finger or Newcastle Brown with fish and chips at teatime on Saturday. I didn't really like it but I was conscious of it being part of being a grown-up.

When I really got into beer as an adult it was in the context of work. I was a trainee and my peers and I would go out to pubs near the office several times a week. A few of them were 'into their ales' and convinced me try a few of those which is how I began to discover the variety of character and flavour available. An early passion was Deuchar's IPA -- quite a hip beer 20 years ago -- which seemed pale and interesting, rather than merely bitter and dowdy.

These days, beer isn't something I drink to fit in or prove anything to anyone. It's just part of my DNA.

What beer would you recommend to someone who wants to try it for the first time, and why?

I think it's about acknowledging that if people don't like beer, they might not like beer. Going around trying to convert people, I realise now, is a bit obnoxious. If you absolutely must try, though, the trick is finding beers that confound their expectations of what beer is. If they think beer is just brown and bitter then fruit beer is a standard gateway because it can be so sweet, maybe sour, and certainly vibrant. Big, hoppy IPA might seem like an odd place to start (maybe they're seen as 'advanced level' beers?) but many these days are soft, sweet and juicy, which dominates any bitterness, and so have a certain pop appeal. And Belgian Witbier is a good bet, too, being so far removed from a pint of Best Bitter in every way.

Mike Hampshire