Wednesday 19 November 2014

It Happened

It happened. It might not have occurred in exactly the way I'm about to describe, and certainly not all at the same time or in the same place, but it happened. Of that, I am positive. It happened on a weekday evening, in one of any number of pubs, but let's say it was up on White Lion Street, for the sake of argument.

There will have been a row of handpumps, each offering something slightly different, including one, none or fewer from the most reliable names in British brewing. Perhaps there was a Jaipur or a Wild Swan from Thornbridge; a Hophead or American Pale from Dark Star. Alongside, I have no doubt that there will have been something from a newer name - perhaps something interesting from Liverpool Organic, or maybe even one of the earlier sightings of Siren's core beers. On a weekday evening, I will have had to wait to be served. The condition of the beers being pulled will have been observed and, in all likelihood, been found to be excellent, at least to the eye.

My gaze wanders, though, to the keg fonts. To the promise of something new. To the rarity that probably shouldn't be on a bar in central London. To the exciting new beer from Wild Beer in Somerset. To the unfamiliar import from Scandinavia. To the novelty from the US. To the hop bombs from SE21. To the styles that I know for certain weren't being served here 5 years ago, and who knows when they'll be gone again?

There is an anxiety in the choice that I face at the bar on that weekday evening. I may never see some of those beers on the keg fonts again. This might be the only keg of that beer that ever sees this bar. I may never have another opportunity to taste that beer. I can order that pint of Hophead or Jaipur from hundreds of bars up and down the country, albeit perhaps without certainty about the perfection of the condition, so...

I will have been served at that point, with all my avenues still open to me in my mind. I will have only intended to come for two, perhaps three beers. The decision will have been made based on a simple calculation - what would I rather forego? The pint of Jaipur or Hophead? Or the promise of the undiscovered countries in a glass? 


The memory of what certainly happened, but which may not have occurred exactly as described, comes to me as I watch the sun set, a long way away from London. There is no cask beer, waiting to be ordered. There are no familiar names on the bar nearby, and their condition is irrelevant. There are only the same names of the same beers, above identikit bars and restaurants, in the same colours. The beers aren't bad, as such, but...

Part of me wants to dismiss it as a touch of homesickness. However, the truth is that the fraction of a portion of a memory tells me what I already knew - that I perhaps didn't realise quite what it was to have that choice in front of me; that today's drinker in London is privileged in a way that, due to the pace of change in the past few years, they may not fully realise until part of that choice is gone.


Peter Mac CiarraĆ­ said...

I did a post this week lamenting that I have neglected good pubs, pubs with "vibe", on the grounds that the beer selection is far from exceptional. I sometimes feel overwhelmed by the choice of amazing beer in London, like I'm drowning in craft. I am aware this may come across as very much a so-called "first world problem", but the notion has been on my mind. Thanks for restoring some perspective. I don't always have to go where the (good) beer is, but how lucky are we in London when it comes to beer?!

andrew_drinks said...

I can think of one particular pub with perhaps almost 50 draught beers available, but I wouldn't necessarily say I enjoy the atmosphere there... I can think of another, out in W5, where the choice is limited but where the atmosphere and perfect cellarmanship often extends a short visit to several hours. But how lucky I was to have the luxury of the choice between the two - and the other thousand or so pubs that could have been plotted on those axes of beer selection and atmosphere/quality!

Justin Mason said...

Part of living and working in Essex, albeit within relatively easy access of London (an hour or so door to door) means that I can't just call in to a pub with a mental tap list on my journey home, or nip out for a few in the evening. Family life also plays it's part and rightly so.
I do look on with a hint of envy at the escapades in the capital some times however it does make me appreciate what I have locally, the pubs that keep their beer in tip top condition, and those that I feel most comfortable in.
I straddle the gap you're experiencing to a certain extent, whereas you've jumped from one side to the other with no middle ground. Naturally you are going to miss it, but I'm also sure that you'll find one great places and appreciate what you have got and the beer you can find more fully.
Best of luck matey!

Peter Mac CiarraĆ­ said...

Andrew I've seen your tweets about missing cask. I do like cask beer but am more inclined to go for keg, very generally speaking. But if I had to go without cask, well I guess it's a case of you don't know what you've got till it's gone.

Wise words Justin. London's amazing but to be honest I find it overwhelming at times - a nice problem to have - hell I just have to step off my bus and my local offie is right there, with an amazing array of local beer (which is one reason I don't buy as much beer online as some do. How amazing that beer can elicit such thoughts and feelings eh?

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