Here are all the times that six packs have played a memorable role in my life: at college parties and house parties and movie nights with my roommates. At dinner parties, sometimes, and picnics in Prospect Park, covertly. The night my best friend Sarah had her first sip of alcohol, at the age of 20, sitting on our dorm room floor, and then her first bottle of beer, and her second, in quick succession. The occasional miserable Tuesday.
During my freshman year of college, we used to trek 12 blocks uptown to the bodega that never carded for sixers of Blue Moon and Leffe. Sophomore year, now almost a decade ago, I paid 60 bucks for a fake ID and used it at the neon-bright, 24-hour grocery store closer to campus. It never once gave me away, despite having a hologram made of glitter glue.
If my view of six packs sounds like it’s been filtered through a foggy lens of nostalgia, that’s because it’s been years since I last bought one. Partly that’s for all the boring reasons, the predictable mundanities of adultness. But primarily, it’s because I moved to London from New York when I was 24, and quickly learned that here in the UK, six-pack culture barely exists at all.
While it is possible to buy multipacks of beer, mostly that’s in supermarkets, and mostly it’s not the stuff I’m looking to load up on, anyway. At the city’s bottle shops, a crop of which have blossomed in the last five years, the default is still to purchase bottle by bottle, can by can. It’s an approach I’ve become accustomed to, and even grown fond of: I like to try new things, and besides, I don’t drink at home frequently enough to merit the volume.
But for the sake of this story, I find myself in my local bottle shop, Caps & Taps in Kentish Town, North London, picking up a six pack of Beavertown’s Gamma Ray. This 5.4% APA was the toast of London’s craft beer drinkers when it was first released in 2013, its tropical hops and pithy, orange-bright finish making it an easy stand-out in a nascent scene. Today, if no longer quite as exciting, Gamma is still regarded with real fondness. My cans have to be handled individually and snapped into a lime-green, plastic holster to qualify as a six pack, but it’s a technicality I’m willing to accept.
Already, the six pack has been in my fridge for two weeks, untouched. I do most of my drinking in bars and pubs, which is becoming an inconvenience. A thing to know about my fridge: it is British, shared among three adults, and therefore barely has the shelf-space for my pint of milk and loaf of bread. (If there’s one lingering cultural dissonance that still persists, as an American overseas, it’s that household appliances in London seem to exist in “miniature” by default.)
But tonight my friend Leah is coming over for an impromptu dinner, which is, at last, a good excuse to unearth my six pack. Leah and I met six years ago in New York when we worked at a gourmet grocery store downtown, both of us behind the cheese counter in matching chef jackets and little white caps. Fittingly, she arrives bearing two vacuum-sealed wedges of cheese that have been illicitly ferried back from the U.S. And as it turns out, she isn’t drinking during the week anymore—it is January, and she is a prospective bride. But at this point I’m committed, and open a can anyway.
I forget how good Gamma Ray is, how satisfyingly chuggable. It’s fruit-forward, but that dry and piquant finish makes it, as we’d say ’round these parts, incredibly moreish. It’s also a natural fit with our ad hoc meal: it pairs well with the aged goat cheese and the smoked sheep’s milk cheese and even with the bowls of dal I’ve made for us, served with saffron rice and salted yogurt and ribbons of lime juice-pickled red onion.
I like a hazy IPA as much as the next person, but Gamma is cleaner, sharper, absent of any clagginess, and therefore exceptionally refreshing. After polishing off the first in 20 minutes, I open a second can and drink it in thirsty gulps. Here is a beer that can be enjoyed without preamble, without any preciousness or fussing, which makes it a perfect candidate for six-pack-style boozing.
I’m spending the weekend in Hampstead. This North London neighborhood is best known for its concentration of celebrities and its proximity to the eponymous Heath, a wild tract of meadow and forest that feels like a segment of the British countryside someone has grafted on to the city. I’m here to look after Leah’s cat, Levi, and so I schlep over a small suitcase, enough pasta to keep me alive for several days, and my four remaining Gamma Rays.
It just so happens that Phill and Steph—owners of Caps & Taps, who have become close friends since it opened in 2015—are in the area, and they swing by for an hour to relax and vie for Levi’s affections. Ideal conditions for busting out some beers, in other words.
As we drink together, I’m reminded of one of the six-pack’s greatest advantages: it is an effortless tool of hospitality, such a simple way to welcome people into your home (or, in this case, borrowed apartment). Instead of grabbing some special tallboy from the fridge and dividing it into thimble-sized pours, I can toss each of us a chilled can almost unthinkingly. It's deliciously satisfying to open each with a loud crack, to drink directly from the cold aluminum, the fridge-chill working its way into my fingers and, on this wintry day, deeper into my bones.
The afternoon winds down and our cans have warmed enough that the last slugs aren’t quite as pleasurable as the first. We’re about to head to Mason & Company in East London for GBH contributor Jonny Garrett’s book launch. If our departure is slightly delayed, it's because Levi has fallen asleep on Phill’s lap. I’m tempted to take the final can in the six pack along as a train beer, but the evening’s tap list looks promising, so I save it for another day.
Sunday in Hampstead, and the locals—uniform in their quilted jackets, traveling in chattering packs of parents and dogs and small children—head for the Heath in droves. I follow, last can tucked secretly into my bag. All of us are hoping for warmth. Flashes of sun in the morning have falsely suggested some beginnings of Spring. But, it being early February in London, the day darkens and chills and, from the Heath’s hills, rain is visible in the middle-distance. I go for a bracing walk, enjoying the occasional wafts of wood smoke, as well as the surprising flashes of green: London’s parks are home to a population of wild parakeets whose appearance is always at odds with the prevailing grey.
After an hour, I squelch along a muddy path and settle on a bench near the ponds, where decidedly British swans float by. It feels far too cold for the can, and part of me is embarrassed to crack one open on a Sunday morning when so many families are rustling by, but god does it taste good: quenching and restorative. I drink Gamma too rarely these days, and I’m reminded of the value of spending time with old favorites. It is the last can from the six pack, the first that I drink alone, and absolutely the most satisfying.