First Beer Experiences – Matthew Curtis
Matthew Curtis is an award winning freelance writer and photographer and UK Editor for Good Beer Hunting. He is the co-author of The 365 Best Beers in the World and has contributed to several publications including: Ferment, Belgian Beer and Food and The Brewers Journal.
When did you have your first taste of beer?
I need to break this down into a few parts, because I've had a number of beer moments in my life but these are perhaps the most memorable: My first proper beer was a bottle of Beck's aged 14, I have a liberal Dad who allowed me to drink at home, with a meal, as a young teen but this beer was pretty inconsequential all things considered. Aged 17 however, he let me try a beer called Duvel. The classic Belgian opened my mind up to just how complex beer could be, but it was a complexity that I couldn't quite interpret back then. In my early 20's Dad and I had a session at our village local, The Bottle & Glass in Scothern, Lincolnshire. The beer we drank was Landlord, and that changed me into a proper beer drinker. Again, I admired its complexity without really understanding it. But when you're drinking pints of bitter as part of a great session, in a great pub, you don't really need to either. Many years later, in 2010, I'd have my first Odell IPA in the brewery taproom in Fort Collins, Colorado. That was a beer that changed the way I thought about beer forever, it was bright, bold, bitter - beer in technicolour. Thankfully, beer experiences like these are a regular occurrence nowadays.
What was your impression of beer before then?
Beer was what Dad drank, and as a young teen I wanted to drink what my dad was drinking. I had little interest in the cheap cider and vodka my mates were drinking down the park. I wanted what was in Dad's fridge. Thankfully he also wanted to let me try it. I don't think I really ever enjoyed beer until I was about 19 or 20, but those formative experiences ensure I appreciated it all the more when I finally got my head around it.
What was your reaction to that first sip?
A deeply unpleasant, bitter, and skunky/lightstruck taste. Thankfully I've come a long way since then. I'm glad I was able to have those experiences at home, it certainly gave me a head start as a beer fan.
How have your thoughts about beer changed since then?
Immeasurably. Every day I struggle to reconcile what I think beer should be and what it actually is. Because in modern brewing, with hundreds of new and historical styles within arm’s reach, beer can be pretty much whatever it wants to be. In that respect, I very much doubt a typical teenager’s first experience of beer will be anything like mine, because that beer could be one of so many different things.
What beer would you recommend to someone who wants to try it for the first time, and why?
Modern pale ales are a perfect way to introduce someone to beer - something like Beavertown Gamma Ray or perhaps a Thornbridge Jaipur. They're the kind of beers that encourage you to take another sip, piquing that first shred of interest in a compellingly wide world of flavour. But everyone tastes differently, and it’s important to remember that, because it means you still have plenty of opportunity to convince someone they're a beer fan in waiting in case you don't get it right the first time.