Out of the loop

A milk carton of IPA.

I ended up sat in Bottles & Books on my own on Friday night, hovering around the edge of a conversation about beer that made me feel totally ignorant and out of touch.

Bot­tles & Books is our local craft beer phan­tas­mago­ri­um, with fridges full of cans, a wall of bot­tles, and a few taps of draught beer served by the third and two-thirds mea­sure.

On Fri­day, the dis­cus­sion turned to IPA, and it was when I heard this sen­tence that I knew I was out of my depth:

Brut IPA died a death fair­ly quick­ly, didn’t it? And NEIPA just tastes a bit… old fash­ioned. It’s all about the Hud­son Val­ley style now.

Hud­son Val­ley? Is that a region? Yes, but it’s also a brew­ery, as pro­filed in this arti­cle, which has a head­line appar­ent­ly designed to annoy con­ser­v­a­tive beer geeks who already think brew­ing has been fatal­ly com­pro­mised by the ama­teur ten­den­cy:

Hud­son Val­ley Brew­ery Makes Beer Based on Instinct, not Instruc­tions

Sour IPA is, I gath­er, the long and short of it, and sure enough, when Jess and I went to the Left Hand­ed Giant tap­room yes­ter­day, there was one on the menu.

We gave up try­ing to stay on top of trends years ago but there was some­thing intox­i­cat­ing about all this new infor­ma­tion, all the names and details, that made me think… Should we try?

The odd edu­ca­tion­al eaves­drop­ping ses­sion prob­a­bly wouldn’t do us any harm, at least.

Soon After Opening

Soon after open­ing I came down to the pub­lic bar in the plain old pub in the plain old part of Exeter that traf­fic flew through, dust­ing every­thing black and shak­ing crumbs from the cracks, fol­low­ing Mum for no spe­cial rea­son oth­er than that fol­low­ing Mum was my default course, and know­ing soon that I would be sent upstairs, away from the optics and the entic­ing piano, away from the plas­tic sign adver­tis­ing hot pies and pasties, away from the plas­tic Baby­cham Bam­bis and unbe­liev­ably, unthiev­ably mas­sive porce­lain ash­trays.

Soon after open­ing and the old sailor was in his usu­al seat with his quiv­er­ing dog and a bulb of brandy glow­ing like a port-side har­bour light on the table before him, in his grey Mack­in­tosh black at the cuffs, in his knocked-back flat cap, in his steel-capped shoes that anchored him in place. I had a sketch­book to show him and fold­ed it open so his quak­ing, tobac­co-cured fin­gers could trace my pic­tures of bombers, tanks and sub­marines, but not bat­tle­ships, thank good­ness not bat­tle­ships, like the one that burned and bub­bled away into the Java Sea beneath him in 1942, tak­ing half his mind with it.

Soon after open­ing and nico­tine-tint­ed frost­ed glass soft­ened the light, warmed it, and weak­ened it so that the far cor­ners stayed black as bot­tled stout. Last night’s spills and cig­a­rettes, twen­ty years of dust in the car­pet, and the gush of pumps into buck­ets, trailed the next turn of the cycle – anoth­er round of hands in pock­ets and make it a dou­ble, why not, and dirty play­ing cards slid­ing through pud­dles, darts drum, drum, drum­ming into a board more hole than fibre.

Soon after open­ing the juke­box came on, and imme­di­ate­ly we rocked down to Elec­tric Avenue, we wouldn’t let the sun go down on us, the Eton Rifles, Eton Rifles, Eton Rifles, Agadoo doo doo – cen­tre-less sev­en-inch records grabbed and flipped into place, clunk click every trip, as a sil­hou­ette in a shad­ow-black leather jack­et loaded coins into the machine with one hand, greasi­ly-fin­gered pint glass in the oth­er, knee bent and foot tap­ping. The small sound made the room emp­ti­er, a form of wish­ful think­ing.

Soon after open­ing and the stock­take con­clud­ed in the mush­roomy under­gut of the pub where the walls wept and Grand­pa spat gold into his hand­ker­chief. Scuffed plas­tic crates, pulled from pub to pub, brew­ery to dray, hurled and stacked and left to bleach like ele­phant bones in cracked-con­crete, weed-rid­dled yards. A short pen­cil, the tip of the tongue, a tal­ly kept on the curled page of an orange Sil­vine notepad from the newsagent by the Jew­ish ceme­tery – lemon­ade times two, cola times three, light ale, brown ale, ton­ic, Amer­i­can, pineap­ple, toma­to, orange – the car­il­lon chim­ing of scurf-necked nip bot­tles snatched and shak­en, stacked and tak­en, arranged into tow­ers and walls.

Soon after open­ing in the bar where my broth­er learned his first words which, yelled from a win­dow at a passer­by, were the shame of the fam­i­ly – pub words, not real world words, not words a grown man would say before his moth­er, let alone a fat-cheeked cherub in his ter­ry-tow­elling nap­py before the whole world – more men arrived, with skin­ny wrists and slip-on shoes, and took up post at sen­try sta­tions on bench­es and at the bend of the bar. Pound notes were snapped flat and primped and pinched between fin­ger­tips to be passed across – “Have one for your­self, love?”

Soon after open­ing the moment came for me to cross the the plum-coloured curlicues of the wall-to-wall, towards the door marked PRIVATE, towards the dark stair­well and the dusty steps with toe­nail thick white paint at either side and the cen­tre stripe of bare board, up to the flat where 80 years ago com­mer­cial trav­ellers dried their socks on the fire­guard and eyed their sam­ple cas­es with sor­row.

With apolo­gies to Dylan Thomas.

Everything We Wrote in August 2018: Old Haunts, Wheat Beer, Bierkellers

Here’s everything we wrote in August 2018 in one handy round-up, from blog posts to magazine articles, via a blizzard of social media.

This was our low­est out­put since April this year, press­ing fam­i­ly and work busi­ness for both of us mean­ing that we just didn’t get round to the huge list of posts we’re itch­ing to write and have half-draft­ed in our heads.

Any­way, nev­er mind – what we did turn out wasn’t bad, and we’re hop­ing to find time for a bit more writ­ing over the course of this bless­ed­ly emp­ty week­end.

If you think all the effort below is worth any­thing do con­sid­er sign­ing up for our Patre­on (with yet more exclu­sive stuff) or just buy­ing us a one-off pint via Ko-Fi.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Every­thing We Wrote in August 2018: Old Haunts, Wheat Beer, Bierkellers”

Old Haunts #3: The Fountain

The front of a pub with a brewery sign.
The Foun­tain in 2007.

I was astonished to turn round and see a bloke with his arm round my Dad’s shoulders at the bar of The Fountain.

It looked like a stand­off. Nei­ther Dad nor the stranger was talk­ing, just star­ing at each oth­er. I couldn’t read the sit­u­a­tion at all.

The Foun­tain is the one pub in my home­town that any­one ever seems to rec­om­mend, and it’s been that way for a cou­ple of decades.

It’s not the kind of place you’d send any­one out of their way to vis­it but it’s always had vague­ly inter­est­ing ale and a prop­er pub-like atmos­phere.

When I hap­pen to be back in town and need some­where to meet my old­est friends, that’s where we often end up. We’d found it fair­ly wel­com­ing as teenagers and young twen­ty-some­things.

Before Mum and Dad moved out of town, it was the most com­mon place for us to set­tle at the end of fam­i­ly pub crawls, and I remem­ber the odd Box­ing Day ses­sion there.

I’ve got a sus­pi­cion it might have been where Jess had her first pint with my par­ents, too.

In short, I have a soft spot.

Mum and Dad start­ed vis­it­ing again recent­ly after they popped into town on some errand or oth­er and dropped into the pub on a whim. They found it under new man­age­ment and were pret­ty well charmed by the cur­rent land­la­dy, a no-non­sense, ener­getic young woman who seems to have The Knack.

I could cer­tain­ly see a dif­fer­ence. There wasn’t only the typ­i­cal But­combe Bit­ter of the region but also Fuller’s Oliver’s Island – an inter­est­ing beer to encounter in Som­er­set – and the pub felt alive. Peo­ple spoke to me at the bar – “I’m from Lon­don. I came to vis­it my aunt in 1973 and nev­er went home.” Con­ver­sa­tions took place between one table and the next. There were old boys and young­sters, all min­gling quite hap­pi­ly, drink­ing what­ev­er they want­ed to drink, from lager to scrumpy to wine to cask bit­ter.

But then this bloke grabbed hold of Dad, and kept hold of him.

Uh… Do you two know each oth­er?” I asked even­tu­al­ly.

The stranger looked star­tled that I even had to ask.

Then more white-haired men turned up, sur­round­ing Dad, and a sort of mass Som­er­set­ing occurred: “‘Ow be, boy?” “Bloody hell, ‘ow be, Dave?”, “Gin­ger!”, repeat.

Mum had to explain what was going on. These were the boys Dad grew up with on a coun­cil estate in the coun­try­side, all pre­fabs and con­crete, built to house muni­tions work­ers dur­ing World War II. They had spent the 1960s being tear­aways togeth­er, steal­ing cars, start­ing bands, start­ing fights… All of them were now 70 or more years old, some of them still liv­ing on the estate.

It turned out that although Dad hadn’t seen most of them in years, even decades, they had been keep­ing tabs on his move­ments and had dis­cussed him from time to time in their reg­u­lar meet-ups at The Foun­tain.

It was weird to see Dad act­ing like a teenag­er again, laugh­ing as he remem­bered the time he and his pals tried to make wine from rhubarb. I want­ed to take a pic­ture but didn’t dare dis­rupt the moment but it looked pret­ty much like this:

The Lads of the Village.

When we left the lads all took turns to tell Dad to drop into their reg­u­lar ses­sions more often than once every 20 years, and he said he would.

I won­der if he will.

Christmas in the Pub, 1983

A 1980s photo of two boys in a pub.

In the picture above you can see the aftermath of Christmas present unwrapping in the bar of the Artillery Inn, Exeter, probably at around 6am, on 25 December 1983. That’s me on the left with my little brother Tim at my side.

We’re wear­ing wigs left over from the pub Christ­mas pan­to in which my Dad played Wid­ow Twan­kee. He wore clip-on ear-rings, a bra stuffed with news­pa­per, and a pin­ny. The make-up treat­ment made him look like Mol­lie Sug­den in Are You Being Served, despite his gin­ger mous­tache. Anoth­er mem­ber of the cast, then a stu­dent at Exeter Uni­ver­si­ty, went on to be a top-flight news cam­era­man at the BBC.

My broth­er is wear­ing his favourite under­pants. His favourite trick when we lived in the pub was to escape from the flat, scram­ble down the flight of stairs behind the off-licence, and burst into the pub wear­ing only those Y-fronts. He would then run scream­ing down the entire length of the bar before dis­ap­pear­ing out of the back door. I reck­on he was addict­ed to the cus­tomers’ laugh­ter.

In the back­ground is a box for the Return of the Jedi edi­tion of the Mil­le­ni­um Fal­con with a yet-to-be-stick­ered X-Wing fight­er pro­trud­ing from the top.  Among the good things about my par­ents run­ning a pub was the amount of space it gave us to run around in when the doors were closed and I have a mem­o­ry, which I think was from this Christ­mas or maybe the birth­day that fol­lowed, of rac­ing with speed­er bikes through the chair legs which for the pur­pos­es of play were the great red­wood trees of the for­est plan­et Endor.

My broth­er is drink­ing a bot­tle of R. White’s Orangeade, anoth­er perk of life in a pub being ready access to the worst (best) soft drinks. I guess being allowed that at break­fast time was a Christ­mas treat.

One of the down­sides to liv­ing in a pub was that Mum and Dad worked late the night before and then Dad had to dis­ap­pear for a few hours around lunchtime on Christ­mas Day to serve the reg­u­lars. Hav­ing talked about it with them since I know Mum and Dad found liv­ing where they worked dif­fi­cult and even at the age of five I could pick up on the stress in the air.

On the win­dow you can just see the words ‘Mer­ry Xmas’ sprayed in dec­o­ra­tive snow – the wrong way round, real­ly, if it was meant to be viewed from the street. There were also art­ful drifts of snow in the bot­tom cor­ners of each frost­ed pane. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, when Christ­mas was over and the fake snow got wiped away it took the nico­tine stain with it so that peo­ple were being wished the ghost of a Mer­ry Xmas for months to fol­low.