I made a note in my work diary the other day, reminding myself to start thinking about the latest column and oddly enough, spookily enough, Dr-Freud-is-in-the-house enough, I wrote down ‘think about beer outsider column’. What was I thinking about when I wrote down those words? Probably nothing was my initial reaction, but when I consider it a bit more maybe there was perhaps a slight nudge towards the realm of the unconscious when I wrote them.
It is this: as a writer on beer for over 20 years I have always taken it for granted that beer is that great insider thing, with great open arms, the all welcome here state of being. However, given the recent tales that initially trickled and then flooded out onto social media and national radio about the state of toxic play at various breweries and in the big tent of hospitality, maybe my unconscious was showing solidarity with all the comments of those who have found themselves on the outside due to appalling work environments and bullies in positions of power.
I’m thinking rampant sexism and bigotry and a sense of entitlement that I used to see amongst some breweries when I first started writing about beer. I had felt it had been receding steadily over the last few years, with the odd pool of venom left behind before it hopefully evaporated in the sunshine of inclusivity. Obviously I was wrong.
What has this theme to do about beer and travel you might ask? A lot, is the simple answer. The world of beer is an intoxicating environment. People get drunk, egos become inflamed and puff out like a cobra’s hood as it prepares to strike and things are said that should never be said. Cliques develop, anger is funnelled through the tunnel of social media, hurt caused and people find themselves on the outside when everyone should be on the inside. I can only hope that the recent revelations and what seems like a newfound and positive sense of purpose can bring everyone inside the world of beer.
Paradoxically enough there is another sense of being on the outside, which is much more positive and can bring forth a much more creative wellspring of being. It is that of travelling in another country, or just in a little known part of the British Isles, and walking into a strange bar and inspecting beers that you might have heard of (or never heard of), and just merging into this new and strange environment.
I like to walk without purpose (or be a flâneur) for I never know what I shall come across. I might think of a bar whose exterior appeals and invites and inside is as still as a sleeping child, alongside a cathedral-like reverence about the air in which you drink your beer. Perhaps it is early afternoon in somewhere like the Burton Bridge Tavern, home of the eponymous brewery, with its separate rooms and sense of solitude before those that have finished work come roistering in.
As I write I think of the pub’s three rooms, all comfortable in their own way with a traditional interior of wooden tables and stools, old scenes of Burton breweries and whisky ads on the walls, a sense of homeliness and of community. It is old style pub décor and no doubt the light brown colour of the ceiling appears on a pub fittings website somewhere as nicotine. In winter the coal fires will add to the comfort. As the afternoon lengthens people start to come in and the sense of being an outsider fades as they sit and chat, say hello to each other, and enjoy the beers on tap.
There are other places where I have enjoyed this sensation of being an outsider. I remember a basic bar at Vlašim railway station in southern Bohemia where I realised I had time for a beer. The beer was from Pivovar Ferdinand, a 12˚ pale lager, minerally and slightly herbal with its Saaz character emerging from the glass with the clarity of a peal of bells. Inside the bar one table was taken up by elderly folk who seemed to have been drinking rather deeply while outside I could see what looked like a dope deal being done by students, their baseball hats stuck on sideways. Then the reverie was broken as I realised I had to get my train to Pelhřimov and become an outsider in another town on another day.