I’m not the greatest fan of summer especially the one that has just come to an end. Too hot, too clammy, too claustrophobic in the clamp of heat around the soul, too concentrated, a concertina of heat and humidity that made every day something to wade through as if it was a swamp.
However, there were bright moments, days and days of sunshine seen through a prism of pubs and breweries, a lovely trip to Belgium to see a friend as well as an excellent night in the Brussels bar Dynamo talking about British and Belgium beer and my current book United Kingdom of Beer.
There was the echo chamber of the Great British Beer Festival, once again in the company of friends, some for the first time in three years. For me the exemplary beers of Pivovar Matuška shone, especially Raptor, a Czech IPA I was told several years back by brewer Adam Matuška, because he used a decoction mash.
Now, it’s getting cooler and all we have to worry about is paying the heating bills (ineptness seems to be a cooking ring on which our current government sits), but there is beer to be drunk and pubs to be visited (while they still remain open). I’ve always been an optimist and in the words of Mr Micawber something will turn up, even if it’s only a Russian tank that’s lost its way en route to Ukraine.
Over a year after the pubs reopened, following the second and last lockdown, and the ‘keep your distance’, table service, and ‘shall we or shall we not’ nonsense, I am still enchanted when I go to the pub.
It is not just for the beer, even if that is a crucial thing for me, it’s also the to-and-fro of people, the voices all around, the life-and-soulfulness that being in a good pub can bring me. It could be the Topsham Tap on Exeter Quay, which I class as my local, where glasses of golden Czech-style lager or boisterous booming pints of well-hopped bitter are as much a friend as the stranger who sits at your table and engages you in conversation.
Or it might be a new discovery for me, The Poachers Inn at Ide, a small but rather handsome village just outside Exeter. The bar inside is where the locals gather, talking of the day just done or the one yet to come, while outside in the large garden the two pub dogs wander from table to table, as if they were both acting as a maitre d’ for the pub and making sure all was in order.
The beer I usually choose is Salcombe’s Island Street Porter, a ravishingly full-bodied and modern take on the style that has a creaminess and a bitterness, coffee, chocolate and a Carnation Cream-like smoothness before it finishes dry and bittersweet. As I sip outside I forget that the sunshine is cruel in its glare and that I have to cycle back as well.
Then there was the time when I was in a pub in London musing over the day that had ended and waiting for that despicable call, last orders, the most memorable and disappointing phrase in the language of the pub. This is the time when we are meant to go home, but let’s be fair it is also when the staff finally have the time to stop serving and go home as well.
The fragmented friendships made at the bar-top break apart, perhaps never to be brought together again, the staff go about their cleaning regime, clean glasses put in place, the football commentary switched off, they weren’t very good anyway, and lights dimmed. The last pints were pulled some time ago, and there is the scrape of chairs on the floors, the TV vanishing into a dark hole, the slight switch of cleaning behind the bar, the limited life of those who want to retain the romance that never was, the couple who gracefully clink glasses and go home, the Europeans or Americans who don’t understand the concept my friend, thank you, would you like a copy [of my latest book], I hope you enjoy your stay in England. Let’s go, thank you, good night, good night all, and we head off into the night.