I'm finally beginning to see the point of real ale and the game changer for me was Punk IPA by Brewdog. An independent Scottish brewery, in business since 2007, Brewdog not only produce interesting, complex beers but they open bars that people like us (definitely not punks but with a slightly anarchic streak well concealed by our middle class jumpers and sensible shoes) really love to drink in. It's a crying shame that the Leeds branch is so blooming small - it's very, very hard to get a table. We've been drinking our way around the others though and can reveal that Birmingham might be the best one. Or possible Shepherd's Bush. Or Camden. Or Glasgow.
Our local bar has had a Brewdog tasting which was exceptionally reasonably priced and a great introduction to the different products so it's worth keeping an eye out to see if somewhere near you is running something similar. Punk IPA remains my favourite but I did enjoy tasting some of the others. Like wine, these sorts of beers can have quite complex flavour profiles. Brewdog are also slightly notorious for producing the some of the world's strongest ever beer; my brother actually shared a bottle of Sink the Bismark (41%) with us a couple of years back and it is really interesting stuff - much more akin to a whisky than a beer and definitely not one for downing by the pint.
The other thing that I have really enjoyed about the Brewdog bars is the food - for a well priced, tasty lunch they've proved a pretty safe bet. We recently had pulled pork and cheesy fries in Shepherd's Bush:
And, just last weekend, beer battered Cajun chicken and a mushroom and halloumi burger in Manchester with seriously good sweet potato fries (apologies for the yellowness - I had a weird filter on. The burgers were just the right amount of yellow in real life):
The menu appears to vary slightly from venue to venue but is all in the style that D called "Dirty Americana" - barbecue, lots of meat, judicious hits of spice, really scrummy stuff.
Whether you're a beer fan or more of a beer semi-virgin like me (although can one be a semi-virgin? It's probably a bit of an all or nothing state of being) this is definitely a chain to check out.
(NB: On reading this back it came across a little bit like a sponsored post - and I almost wish that I could say that this was because then I would probably have a load of bottles of Punk in the fridge, but it isn't. I just really, really like Brewdog and want to spread the love.)