In 1987, I, like most of the pop-loving world, played Rick Astley’s mega hits to death on my trusty Walkman. I like to think I’d bought the album but to be honest, it’s more likely I’d dubbed them off the radio because that’s just what we did back then. (Sorry to cost you those royalties, Rick.)
Anyway, they always say never to meet your heroes, but I’m 30 years older now and when the invitation came through - “Do you want to interview Rick Astley about beer?” - I figured I could handle it. After I’d stopped jumping around the room and screaming, I dug out my old 7” of Never Going To Give You Up, found a marker pen and headed off to behave like a grown-up at the Draft House Hammersmith where he was launching his new beer with Mikkeller, Astley’s Northern Hop.
Over a pint of said beer, I managed to grab a few minutes with him before his people rushed him off to soundcheck for his gig that night at the Royal Albert Hall, where Astley’s Northern Hop would be available for the first time for fans to buy.
How did this all come about? The story goes that there was a rumour going around that you lived in Copenhagen which made childhood fan Mikkel [Mikkeller founder Mikkel Borg Bjergsø] want to brew a beer with you...
"The truth of it, I’m not exactly sure, but Mikkel said he was a real fan of mine when he was young so he thought it would be a fun thing to do. I think I agreed because Mikkeller is Danish - if, say, a Belgian or German brewery had approached me, I might not have been so keen. But even though I don’t live there, I almost consider myself a percentage Danish these days. My wife’s Danish, I speak a little Danish, my daughter lives there, whenever anything comes up, I’m pro-Denmark.
So we got chatting and I was really honest with Mikkel. I said, 'Look, I know nothing about this, I’m not even heavily into craft beer', but he took that on board and that’s what’s made it such a fun thing. They didn’t expect me to jump around and say, 'We should do this or use these hops.' I said, 'Let’s just make something I like.'
I tried a whole lot of beers in the process. Some of the beers Mikkeller sent over I couldn’t actually drink! I think I’d be able to drink some of them now, knowing and understanding a lot more about the craft beer world, but if you’re used to going down the pub and having a pint of bitter, and then you’re presented with this red thing… "
On that note, did you ever think about doing a rick-roll with this beer - calling it a lager on the bottle and have it turn out to be some crazy Flemish red that tastes a bit like vinegar to the unwary palate?
"No! Some of the beers they sent the first time were so out there, I thought, 'I’m not sure I’m going to be able to do this. I just really want to be able to enjoy this beer at home and with my mates and family.' So they sent another batch and these ones were all very drinkable, so I narrowed them down to about half a dozen. I couldn’t tell you why I liked them or even describe them, but luckily Mikkel managed to work it out and we went from there."
Were you ever tempted to call it Never Going to Give You Hops?
"Ha! The name was the hardest thing. I didn’t even know if I should put my name on it, to be honest. In the end, I’m kind of a professional Northerner to some degree - even though I’ve lived down here for 30 years, my accent hasn’t ever changed. So the name - Northern Hop - made sense to me. I wanted it to be something that if someone was to drink it in any part of the country, it didn’t feel elitist. I wanted them to say, 'Oh yeah, it’s a beer. It’s real beer, it’s a great beer.'"
Have you got a taste for this brewing thing now? Will you make a beer again?
"We’ll have to wait and see. I didn’t do this because it’s a business venture, I just did it because it was a fun thing to do. I like it. It’s so different from what I normally do. And you know, I work with a bunch of geeks - musicians, tech guys, we’re all proper geeks. And this is just another bunch of geeks doing something else. It’s great."
Rick is a thoroughly top bloke and refreshingly honest about his experience in the world of craft beer (this is a man who said he was never gonna tell a lie, after all). It was a genuine pleasure to meet him, and I'd think that even if I hadn't been a former tweenage fangirl.
It's tempting to write something like this off as a gimmick, but even though I may have initially been a little disappointed the beer wasn’t a giant rick-roll, I wholeheartedly admire the fact Rick stuck to his guns and made a beer he wanted to drink. It’s a lovely drop and I think he’s achieved his objective of making a beer that anyone can enjoy. Once again, Rick hasn’t let us down. - Jen
WIN: From tomorrow, we'll have Astley's Northern Hop available to buy in store and online. Everyone who buys a bottle will go in the draw to win a Mikkeller goodie bag containing a T-shirt, glass and a copy of the awesome brewing bible, Mikkeller's Book of Beer. We'll draw a winner on Monday 15 May.