About eight years ago, I found myself in a pub with four or five handpumps on the bar. I recognised the names on three of them, but couldn’t remember what any was like. I jumped in and ordered a pint of one of them.
When I got back to my seat and took a swig, I instantly remembered the beer that I had just bought. It was the one that tasted of mouldy weasel piss. I remember thinking to myself that as I was getting properly into this real ale stuff, I really should start making a note of what I have had, so that I can choose the best on the bar (from my own personal point of view), and avoid the nasty stuff.
I had a Palm Pilot PDA, so I designed a little database to store my list of beers with my own tasting notes and scores. I had inadvertently become a ticker.
Now already, I can hear groans coming from some quarters, with words like ‘nerd’, ‘geek’, ‘anorak’ and ‘trainspotter’ being muttered. Those same mutterers could probably list every goal scored by their favourite football team back to the 1920s. That’s not nerdy is it? No, that’s football. So before you start grumbling about nerdy tickers, take a quick reality-check on yourself.
The thing is, as in any pursuit (I particularly like comparing ticking to twitching) there are degrees of obsessiveness. I’m a casual ticker. If there’s a beer I am particularly keen on on the bar, I will have a pint of that. And I always know how well I like a beer if I’ve had it before, because I made a note at the time. I do not single-mindedly go for ‘new’ beers to increase my tick count.
To make the comparison with twitchers, consider this: There are casual twitchers who will enjoy watching birds and noting (maybe only mentally) which species they can identify on their country walks. Then there are more serious twitchers who keep a record of each species they encounter; they may have a garden list, a country list and a world list. They keep lists. Then there are the even more serious ones who travel the world to see more exotic species. And finally there are the ones I just don’t get. The ones who hear a message on the twitch-vine that a lesser-spotit wotsit bird has been seen in Penzance, only the second time one has ever been seen in Britain. ‘Ah!’ says the uber-twitcher in Newcastle, ‘that’s only 500 miles away. If I call in sick this morning, I could be in Penzance by teatime!’
The same sort of gradation occurs in ticking. Me – I tick as I go along, not forsaking known great beers for unknown ones, but enjoying trying many different beers, and definitely not sticking to one or two beers only, as some people do. A level of obsessiveness up from me sees those who will not drink a known beer (even if they love it) if there’s an unknown one on the bar. And finally, there’s the guy who sees that a new beer is on at a beer festival 500 miles away, and will go to the festival for that one beer, or more specifically, that one tick. Because this is the point. This is where the line is crossed; when it stops being about the beer, and becomes about the list.
A friend of mine frequently says, ‘The trouble with ticking is that you have to drink a whole load of rubbish beer,’ and to an extent he’s right, but my response to him is that I’m not tasting these beers for the sake of a list, I’m searching for the next really great beer. How can you possibly find exciting and wonderful new beers if you won’t try the new beer on the bar?
My personal beer list now has well over 2,000 beers on it. I can’t possibly remember them all, so to have the list in a handy portable format (now on an iPhone) guarantees that I won’t drink a nasty one if I’ve had it before. If there’s something on the bar that scores 9/10 or over on my list, then that’s what I’ll drink in preference to anything else. Over 8/10 and I know that I could happily drink this beer all night.
So next time you see someone checking out a handheld device whilst standing at the bar, remember that he may not be a geeky nerdy anorak after all, he might just be attempting to give himself the best possible drinking experience in that place and at that time. And if he is obsessively list building, what does it matter? That’s his problem, not yours.
Words and images are my copyright, please respect that. All you have to do is ask. Thank you.