Porter and Paignton

The Taste of Café

The taste of any food or drink can evoke an endless series of impressions, allusions, feelings. They vary widely, too, since tasting is by definition personal. And everyone has, needless to say, a personal history.

As regimented as modern life can be, enforced to a degree by social institutions – not least social media of 2021 – everyone is rooted in a different history. Different family life, social-economic level, ethnic/national origin, education, and on it goes.

While tasting vocabulary for wine and beer has been standardized to a degree, this can never be a perfect system, nor should it. To communicate effectively, a core vocabulary has developed understood by initiates. A Rhone wine touched by “animal”, a beer touched by Brettanomyces, disclose a telltale barnyard scent.

Similarly, a “mineral” note in hops, or a gunflint taste in French white wine, convey meaningful data to the informed reader.

That said, much room is left to the personal again, for what taste discloses in a way so unique to the taster few or no others can twig to it.

An example results from a recent YouTube video, where an Englishman reviews a beer, Black Sheep Milk Stout. I posted another video by this person before, his channel bears the wry name “I’ve had Worse”.

He is always interesting to listen to, as he knows beer well but has no pretentions to technical knowledge. He has an easygoing, friendly manner, characteristic of many English people in my experience, or perhaps more a certain generation.*

The person filming, probably his domestic partner, throws in a comment or two that adds to the fun.



While I have not had this beer, his review conveys much good information. He finds the body somewhat light, which causes consternation. Earlier, he knew only Mackeson Stout, which he seems clearly to prefer. Also, the carbonation seems wrong to him, like the kind when jam starts to turn, he says.

Personally, I like this kind of “prickly” carbonation, which some cask beer has, but it is not to his taste clearly. These remarks, again, convey much to his audience (specialized or not) but then he hits one to left field.

He says the coffee note in the beer reminds him of a café in Paignton, when visiting his grandmother who lived in the town. Paignton is on the coast of Devon, a resort popular enough to earn the sobriquet English Riviera.

This beer from a northern brewer evoked for him the “lashing sea” and odours from a café on the beach. As he also noted “vanilla” in the beer, I don’t rule out that wayward draughts from confectionary and pub doorways contributed to his impression.

The beer was, of a sort, his Proustian madeleine. The taste of an English milk stout contrived, finally, to evoke a complex, highly personal association.

You can’t beat that. I’ve never been to Paignton. Even if I had, his experience is probably unique to himself. If a band of beer experts congregated in Paignton for a parley, it is doubtful any one would come up with that specific analogy.

It is his indelible personal history and experience that deliver a unique taste impression. I can’t confirm it, or of course disagree, but am fascinated to hear the record of it.

*Think also jaunty, cheerful.

Note re image: sourced from Wikipedia entry on Paignton linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed,




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