A while ago I wrote about pretty much the only beer style that I don’t like – the rauchbier. The liquid bacon from Bamberg, I’ve tried it many times but on each occasion it gets the upper hand. So I’ve made my apologies and am prepared to move on. Yet after writing that post, the interesting mini debate that followed got me to thinking if there are any other styles that I would willingly consign into the dustbin of never-again. And to be honest, I really thought there weren’t any.
Until I tried Faro.
Now every beer fan is different of course – me, I am always of the glass is half full variety. The vast majority of different types of beers, brewed by different men and women around the world; it’s all great. Newcomers should be applauded, nothing should be taken too seriously, it’s all good. I mean, I’ve never even taken a short pint back to the bar to be topped up (this happened again the other day – hey, it’s only a single sip!). But all that misplaced good nature went out of the window with a bottle of that uncommon Belgian style.
And it came from the ranks of Belgian beer too, can you believe it. The Room 101 companion for rauchbier hails from the land of dubbels and tripels. Flanders Reds, Oud Bruins, Belgian Blondes – all and more besides are fascinating, vibrant and uniformly amazing. I’d never tried a Belgian beer I didn’t like – until I’d scoured the plains and turned up Faro. The fact that I really didn’t enjoy it at all is fairly ironic, given the meaning and history behind the style – it is the ultimate training-wheels beer, the Belgian equivalent of shandy or watered-down red wine.
Apparently bartenders used to occasionally add sugar syrup (or caramel, or even raw sugar itself) to tart, puckering lambic to balance it out and ease the unfamiliar into beers that on drinking for the first time lead you to worry if you’d accidentally been given something from the cupboard under the sink. It makes perfect sense, in a classically Low Countries-esque lager tops kind of way. Although the thought of putting sugar water in Fosters doesn’t bear thinking about.
Beer writer Gregg Smith neatly summed up Faro as a beer that “wraps the drinker like a favorite [sic] blanket, greets you with a reassuring fruitiness and gradually its fabric comforts you with an elaborate finish woven from caramel, candy and toffee.” Although, he did also say they deserve greater recognition. I can appreciate the description whilst politely disagreeing with the sentiment. But after thinking about it rationally, there’s a reason for this.
There’s no way to say this without sounding like a gigantic craft beer dick, so I’ll just come out with it. The reason I don’t like Faro is because I think it is beneath me, as a style. I don’t need to wobble on those training wheels – I jumped straight on the carbon fibre road bike to Cantillon (or I guess being in the era of craft hipsterism, probably a penny farthing). My first ever taste of lambic was at the musty, spider-filled hallowed ground in Brussels. And you know what? I didn’t really like it.
That moment took place – in a strange co-incidence – exactly six years ago today, when things were all very different. It’s a complete irony that I started off on a Cantillon Gueuze and Rosé de Gambrinus and ended up all that time later on my final Belgian style (I think I’ve got them all now, bar the really hard to find ones). And that I didn’t like either of them. If someone had offered me a Faro that day in 2010, I’m sure I’d have much preferred it – although how it would have affected my Belgian beer education I’m not really sure.
Would I still have struggled through a few different sour beers over those years before it eventually clicked? Or would I have got to the appreciation of one of the world’s great beer styles that much faster? I’m guessing the latter. So that’s why Faro very much has a place – and why I am wrong to disagree with Gregg Smith’s desire that more people know about it. What he really means, I think, is that it deserves greater recognition earlier in a drinkers’ ‘journey’. And having taken that journey in reverse, that is something I really can agree with.