I can’t grow a beard. Never could. While others who eschew the razor may enjoy a stubbly, Mickey-Rourke-ish ruggedness, I start to resemble an old lady who needs her chin plucked. If I can recline on the psychiatrist’s chair for a moment, I used to wonder whether this made me less masculine. I’d pensively stroke that glabrous chin and worry that I had some sort of hormone deficiency. This doubt was quickly assuaged when I sired two children with the ease and alacrity of Captain Von Trapp. Once I was a father, I yearned for the patriarchal gravitas of facial hair, though this was mainly to emulate Victorian Dad from Viz magazine. I too wanted to preach from the pulpit at evensong, then sneak off to the East End to visit rouge-cheeked prostitutes called Maisie.
Even though I don’t have a beard, I thought it would be a good idea to head to the East End to try craft beer. East London is now, of course, the spiritual home of hirsute hipsters with elaborate tattoos and skinny jeans. So what better destination for the full craft beer experience? The answer, it turned out, was Chalfont & Latimer station. Way out in Buckinghamshire and yet still on the tube map, this is apparently where I’d find the real craft beer enthusiasts.
In the station forecourt is The Craft Beer Shop and it’s an intriguing little place. A cross between a bar and a shop, it’s like a tiny version of the bar in Cheers. The regulars all seem to know each other and have a genuine passion for beer. None more than Mick French, the man behind the counter. He’s luxuriantly bearded (of course he is) but his is an old-school beard, not a fashionably sculpted one. He sports no tattoos and would look as daft in skinny jeans as I would. At any given time, Mick has more than a hundred beers in stock, and takes great pride in tasting each one personally. This is obviously why, like a doctor prescribing medicine, he can tell which particular micro-brew each customer will enjoy. Even this customer who has never enjoyed a beer in his life.
‘Try this one,’ he said, ‘Bit like a shandy. But stronger and not sweet.’ So nothing like a shandy at all. It was a pale ale with a kick of lemon. ‘Not too hoppy,’ I opined, like I knew what I was talking about. Unfortunately, he took this as his cue to move me up to a slightly stronger IPA. My expert appraisal caused much mirth among the regulars. ‘Hmm,’ I said. ‘Tastes like beer.’
Mick assured me that the next one wouldn’t, and handed me a chocolate flavoured stout. This was unusually good but just as I was almost enjoying it, he poured me a thimbleful of the strongest beer in the shop and said, ‘That’ll put hairs on your chest’. Obviously I hated it but still had to ask the question. ‘Have you got one that’ll put hairs on my face?’