In this issue we talk to beer expert and author of Let Me Tell You About Beer, Melissa Cole about her passion for making the world’s favourite drink more accessible and why language on your packaging really matters.

Q: So, how did you get into beer?
It all started when I was at university, working in a proper northern pub. As a soft southerner, this meant I had to get to grips with strange drinks like rum ‘n’ pep (dark rum and peppermint cordial!), endure lots of people talking at me in a fake East End accent (I’m from Buckinghamshire and sound nothing like a ‘Laaaarndener’) and develop a royal set of calluses at the base of my fingers from pulling beer through a huge array of hand pumps.

But, despite these things, I loved working at the Old Black Bull in Preston. The regulars were a hilarious bunch, great tippers and generous with drinks. Even 12 years later, my time has left me two amazing gifts: the landlord’s son Ben (my long-suffering better half) and a great love of beer.

You see the pub had, and has, the most fantastic selection of real ales, under the tender care of Ben’s mum, Pam. A bustling powerhouse of beer knowledge, Pam was always keen to tell staff about the guest beers provided you were interested in listening and, being a nosey journo in training, I always did and, to be honest, I wanted the free taster she was handing out too!

When I left ‘sunny’ Lancashire, and was busy trying to become gainfully employed, I temped in the production department of pub trade paper the Morning Advertiser, which suddenly seemed like a dream job!

So, I started dropping none too subtle hints to the deputy editor about having a degree in journalism and when one of the reporters left I was in! I’ve now been freelancing for seven years and haven’t looked back.

Q: What was your epiphany beer?
Actually, there were two; the first was Kelham Island Pale Rider, which won Supreme Champion Beer of Britain in 2004, and the other was Rooster’s Cream, which I don’t believe they brew any more but the rest of their portfolio is equally stunning, I love their Yankee in particular.

Q: So what are your big loves about the brewing industry?
Well, the beer has to be the first thing I love, discovering new brews, the depth of flavours, the passion and quality raw ingredients that are used and, without doubt, the people – it’s got to be the friendliest, most fun industry in the world. Plus I get to spend a lot of time in the pub!

Q: Is there anything you dislike?
I hate lazy phrases like hoppy and malty, they tell you everything and nothing at the same time. The sheer breadth and depth of flavour you can find in beer is truly astonishing and to try and sum it up in two words is just ridiculous to me.
If you’re talking about a quality lager then you have the choice of using citrus, grassy, herbal, crisp, light and refreshing – those phrases really give you an idea of what you’ll be getting; but so many breweries will just say something like ‘hoppy pilsner-style beer with a bitter finish’, which is a bit pants really!

When I’m judging at something like the fabulous Great Taste Awards and the entry form, and I kid you not, merely says the word ‘beer’. Why on earth do brewers, or for that matter entrants to any other category as I know it’s an issue elsewhere too, pay money to enter a product that they’ve carefully crafted over months, even years, and then put ‘beer’? I find this pretty unfathomable personally.

I also hate it when people run beer down like it’s some sort of sub-standard product. Wine bores in particular are guilty of this. I don’t know about wine really, I enjoy a glass or two now and then, but I don’t profess to know all about it. However, you get wine writers and critics whacking out the odd piece on beer, getting it all wrong and then sneering about it at the same time, it works my last nerve when I see this dismissive attitude.

Q: So, what does make beer so special?
Put simply, it’s our national drink and we brew it better than anywhere in the world.
From golden ales the colour of soft spring sunshine, with the most delicate floral nose, to rich amber ales with aromas that remind you of walking through autumn leaves through to the mysterious and complex depths of a strong whisky barrel-aged stout, that feels just right in a brandy balloon in front of a roaring fire on a cold winter’s day – beer’s got it all.

I just want people to be as blessed as I am and experience all these great tastes and, if the book does nothing else, I hope it inspires just one person to go out and experiment.

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