Belgian beers & tapas night

Just a Beer Please series – week two

If you had a chance to read past few posts you will know that I’m endeavouring to drink only beer (as my alcoholic drink of choice – not just in general!) to ascertain whether beer is suited for all occasions.

Concurrent to this I am putting together an article about women beer drinkers for Roger Protz to determine what types of beer women drink, in what settings and when. The responses I’ve had to date have been immense, and they have shaken my preconceptions about women drinkers. My impression (based on those around me) has always been that wine is the preferred drink of choice – particularly with dinner or at home after work – while a pint may be reserved to the pub visit.

Yet I am starting to learn that trying to define the “woman drinker” is about as easy as trying to count grains of sand on a beach. Funnily enough, tastes and preferences seem to be as across the scale for women as they are for men when it comes to choosing a favourite tipple. I guess Venus isn’t quite so removed from Mars when it comes to the world of beer!

Back to my own experiment – I was particularly challenged with my “beer only” project last Saturday when I joined the girls for a wine and tapas evening in town. While it’s not the first time I’ve paired beer with food, it certainly felt odd to opt out of a shared bottle of wine at Number 23 St Albans, where the vibe couldn’t be further from your typical pub pint.

The evening started with pre-dinner drinks with my friend Cara. I suggested a pub which has a good range of beers available to ensure I had ample choice. We headed to the Mermaid, one of my personal favourites in St Albans as it always has a huge range of fantastic cask ales on draft. Cara went for a red wine so I decided to peruse their Belgian beer bottle section, which were so artistically served that Cara seemed more envious of my drink than the other way around!

I started off with La Couffe and then moved on to Delirium  – both of which are well known to me from my time lobbying the European Parliament on behalf of CAMRA, which brought me over to Brussels on a regular basis. There’s something quite special about Belgian beers – aside from their unique taste, they are higher in alcohol content and served in smaller glasses, with the intention of sipping them slowly rather than “downing a pint”.

Going for a Belgian beer meant I was able to stay relatively in sync with drinking time as Cara sipped her wine. They were also incredibly tasty and a break from the norm, so it was quite fun to opt out of a house red for a much more interesting Belgian variety.

After the pub and away from the Belgian beers was when the hard part kicked in. We were joined by two others for our sit down “British tapas” at Number 23, which included a baked Camembert and numerous cheese options. The obvious choice for shared tapas (particularly when cheese is involved) is to share a bottle of white – which the other girls did. I declined and instead chose the aptly named Black Sheep Ale – a full bodied best bitter. It was very nice but incredibly filling with the tapas, I was completely stuffed afterwards!

After dinner the girls decided to share another bottle of wine – by this point I was far too full and sleepy to continue drinking so left the party early.

It was tough to stick to beer only that evening – normally I would have switched to wine at dinner to join in with the girls. It’s a shame that beer doesn’t come in a sharing format, as I did feel left out at this stage of the evening. My friends were very supportive of my efforts, but I felt awkward ordering a beer on my own at a restaurant that was so clearly wine and female orientated. I had to tell the waiter that I didn’t need a wine glass in front of me – even after I had ordered a beer!

I also couldn’t hack going out for another drink after three beers and food. I was far too full, whereas I know that if I had switched to wine earlier in the evening I would have felt more than happy to continue on with the night.

The most positive aspect from choosing beer only is that I only drank three beers – as opposed to say two beers and sharing bottles of wine afterwards. My head and my wallet were both happier with that decision. Despite the initial awkwardness of ordering the lonely beer when everyone else was getting involved in wine, it didn’t actually impact the quality of my night that much and certainly put me on good behaviour. Overall, I would call the tapas evening a success. I even feel emboldened to opt out of that bottle of wine in the future and stick with a trusted brew – particularly of the Belgian variety.

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