First Beer Experiences – Mark Dredge

Mark Dredge is a beer, food and travel writer. His next book, The Beer Bucket List, is out in Spring 2018. You can follow him online @MarkDredge.

When did you have your first taste of beer?

I’m sure you don’t care about the stolen sips of beer I had from my dad as a kid, so instead I’ll tell you about three beers which changed my drinking forever. Summer 2002: A disgusting pint of sour Ruddles in my mate’s dad’s work’s (too many ’s…) social bar was the first cask ale I’d ever had and I was pretty sure I’d never have it again. Summer 2003: We started drinking in a rock bar in town and a really hot girl wore a belt made from Newcastle Brown Ale caps while she walked around drinking a Newcie Brown straight from the bottle – I drank nothing but Brown Ale for months. Winter 2004: At university, one mate loved drinking different ales but none of the rest of us did, so he’d take us around all these real ale pubs in and around London and beyond, while we just followed and tried to find a beer we liked. One day, in one of the Wetherspoon pubs in Reading, I tried his pint of Theakston’s Old Peculier and it was extraordinary. 

What was your impression of beer before then?

Beer was just beer. It was alcohol. There was always lager around, and I was happy-enough drinking it, although I didn’t love drinking it, but by the end of the first term at university in 2004 we were visiting different pubs every week and actively trying to find as many different beers as possible. I still didn’t really like that much of it but the process of trying a lot and going to pubs was something that I really enjoyed – I started to see that there was more to beer than sour cask ales, bottles of Newcie Brown, and cheap cans of lager.

What was your reaction to that first sip?

My first sip of great beer was a moment that I’ll never forget. I’d been drinking different ales for a few months – and this was when cask bitters and golden ales were almost exclusively what we had to pick from, with no American IPAs, no good kegged beer, or anything like that – but the richness, the flavour, the depth in that Old Peculier was amazing. I didn’t know beer could taste like that and from then on I’ve been forever searching for more beers and drinking moments that make me say ‘Wow!’

How have your thoughts about beer changed since then?

I love beer now! I love trying new ones but also love going back to old favourites again and again. I travel the world to find different beers – and to experience drinking in different places with different people. That’s what fascinates me the most: what and how people drink beer all around the world. I also still love a pint of Old Peculier when I see it. 

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

I wouldn’t recommend one. I’d recommend trying as many as possible. There are so many different beers now that it’d be impossible to suggest one perfect first beer. Instead I’d just drink as broadly as possible and try to work out what ones are not for you, which ones are good and which are great – and try to figure out why it tastes great to you and then find more like it. Just try everything.

Mike Hampshire