An interview with a beer writer - Melissa Cole
How did you get into beer writing?
I've always been a journalist, knew it was what I wanted to do since I was 14, I studied it at University and then, having fallen in love with great beer at University, landed the plum job of working for the then Licensee and Morning Advertiser (now the Publican's Morning Advertiser).
When I went freelance about eight years ago I was very keen to concentrate on something that I was passionate about and I went to a tonne of events and drank wine, spirits and beer, immersed myself in the cultures of all of them for a while and beer just kept on coming out head and shoulder above the other two as my personal preference.
I like beer more as a product, as an industry and as a human experience - in fact I love it!
What has been your most interesting brewery experience?
Every time I go to a brewery I learn something new, for example I'll never forget my first taste of unfiltered, unpasteurised lager straight from the conditioning tanks at Budvar (I think there are still nail marks on the walls where they had to drag me & fellow beer writer Pete Brown out of the tasting room).
But more than breweries it's brewing experiences that make me the happiest: I'll never forget my first collaboration brew at Thornbridge and, so keen to prove that I was as good as any of the boys got carried away with digging out the mash tun and hit the brewer Matthew Clarke in the face with two shovels of hot malt before I realised what I was doing! Brewing with Stuart Howe down at Sharp's was a complete school day, I learnt soooo much, the man is a mine of technical brewing knowledge.
I'll never forget being let lose on a brew kit for the first time (almost) unsupervised at Otley and creating Thai-bo, made with lemongrass, kaffir lime leaf, galangal and lime skins - and the continued buzz I get from the fact that's been a commercial success for the brewery. Brewing with my oldest brewing buddy in the business Buster at Brecon Brewing and, of course, my collaboration with Dark Star which saw nearly 700 people come out to try the M&M Porter at the four different pubs we visited, not to mention the noise on Twitter about it.
What is your current favourite beer style?
It's whatever's in my glass at the time! Seriously, I think beer's brilliance is all about it diversity, its ability to match your mood and the occasion. For example, I'm just about to pop down the pub and there I'll be having a pint of Young's. Why? Because it's Friday night, I've hardly seen my other half all week and I want to wind down with a few quiet low ABV pints and enjoy myself. However, the other evening when it was a gastronomic blow-out at home things like Magic Rock High Wire and Southern Tier Creme Brulee were busted out - that's the beauty of beer to me, you can find one to match any moment in your life.
What is the most impressive food/beer pairing you can recall?
Hands-down it was the other week at Alyn Williams at the Westbury at an event I did with Goose Island, he did a smoked duck dish and we paired it with the Goose Island Madame Rose, which is a stunning sour cherry beer and a whole table of 20 people who had previously been nattering animatedly went silent, it was magical.
Are there any varieties of beer you haven't tried much of that you wish to explore further?
Loads! I want them all! I'd like to try and get my palate around some of the more obscure German beer styles, which I kind of struggle with and sometimes when you get a sense of place with them you can understand them better. Which, by the way, is something that genuinely ticks me off about wine people when they bang on about beer not having a sense of place! By which they mean it doesn't exactly have a terroir.
It doesn't have to have a sense of place, the important thing is that the beer is well-made, tastes good and is where you are!