First Beer Experiences – Phil Mellows


The grandson of an East End publican, Phil Mellows has made a living writing about beer and pubs for more than 30 years. He is currently a freelance journalist working mostly for the Morning Advertiser and the Brewery Manual, is a judge for the Great British Pub Awards and considers the mysteries of alcohol policy in his blog, the Politics of Drinking.

When did you have your first taste of beer?

I remember licking the froth off my mum's Guinness (bottle-conditioned pints) at a very early age, then it was secretive bottles of Worthington E in my mate Pete's bedroom. My first pub beer was a pint (my first and last pint) of Skol (12p) in Stratford St Mary while on a school trip to Constable Country. I was 16 but looked closer to six, as the publican made clear. He still sold it me, though.

What was your impression of beer before then?

A good thing. Essential to adult life.

What was your reaction to that first sip?

The taste of the Guinness froth, bitter as it was, has stayed with me. There was something intriguing about it. I didn't especially enjoy drinking beer back then, though. It was just something you did. Rebel that I am, by the time I was 17 I'd given it up, though, under social pressure, I found light & mild acceptable.

How have your thoughts about beer changed since then?

It was cask ale that got me back on track at 18, again thanks to Pete, who had gone away to uni and found it there. Living in my part of east London we had to walk two miles to the nearest pub with cask, the Prince of Wales on the River Lea, where we drank Young's 'Ord', or 'Spesh'. More than the taste of it, more even than getting drunk, it was the feeling that we'd discovered something that kept us going back. And still keeps me searching for that special pint.

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

Light & mild. But beer offers such diversity these days there isn't a single answer to that. I know people who've been won over by the new breed of hoppy pale ales and others by chocolaty stouts. I can't believe there's anyone who doesn't like beer at all. They just haven't tried the right one yet.

Mike Hampshire