Beer Travels with Adrian Tierney-Jones

Let us take ourselves to the pub, for it is autumn and the leaves are falling and there are both hints of summer and winter on different days. In the pub, though, there is a generosity of spirit and a softness of light and on the late September Monday afternoon I was in one in a capital city where the mood was relaxed and laidback, the murmur of conversation the soundtrack while outside it was pouring with rain and my old Timberland boots had started to leak.

Inside though it was warm and relaxing, young and restful, modern but also possessed of a sense of agelessness. This pub became a place of eternal possibilities, of romance, of creativity, of intoxication, of autumn’s storms and the safety we crave in public spaces.

I am in another pub on an autumnal day, the kind of country pub that when you walk into the front bar, even when there is no fire lit, you can smell autumn and winter and the ghosts of the fires that kept drinkers warm and will continue to do so during the coming months. In this pub, I stood waiting to be served at the solid, wooden-walls-of-old-England bar, as immovable as a Guardsman on parade, an obstacle and also a gateway that engulfed one side of the room.

Island Street Porter inside the pub.

As I took the first sip of a pint of Island Street Porter and prepared to return to the battered Chesterfield sofa at which I was sitting, I noticed the well-polished brass hooks hanging below the counter. Nothing too spectacular but a sign of how this pub which I visit now and again thinks of the little things as well as the beer.

There was a stillness on this mid-afternoon occasion of a beer in this quiet, sombre solace of the front bar, a sense of calm, a timelessness, a getting away from it all amid the sleep of brown furniture and cream walls. The wood, the cosiness I felt and the joy of watching the two pub dogs wandering about were like the familiars of the pub, the spirits looking over it. And while they wandered about, I noticed that there was another room to my left past the bar, and in there was a grandfather clock, a venerable, chaste, well-caressed-by-time clock. It reminded me of how much time I have spent in pubs since they first became part of my life at the age of 16.

In another pub it was a late Thursday afternoon and I had just cycled five miles down green lanes with the hills of Devon in the distance. I hadn’t been to this pub for a long time, a pioneering brewpub of what we used to call the micro brewing movement, and as I sat down with my pint of a beer brewed in the cellar, I noticed a man at the bar sitting on a stool and looking at his phone, playing a computer game perhaps or checking his Tinder account. His empty glass, with the Sandford Orchards branding on it, marked him out as a cider drinker.

An elderly couple entered with whom I guess is their grandson, perhaps at the university, and I overheard that they were flying from Bristol tomorrow but using a coach from Exeter to get there. Another couple at the end of the bar sat on their stools close to each other, he in his late 60s perhaps, she in her early 60s maybe. There was an intimacy about them that was heartening to see, smiles and an easy hand on the knee, the lovebirds as someone who knew them laughed.

Autumn leaves outside the pub.

I heard tales of fishing, a question about the barman’s new motorbike, and the words ‘I’d sooner regret doing something than not doing something if you get my drift’. ‘You on Piston Bitter?’ asked the barman, referencing another beer brewed below. ‘Story of my life, pissed and bitter,’ came the reply with a guffaw.

The fire has been lit by the licensee using a bellows and a Chihuahua sitting on the lap of a woman in a corner, yips briefly, high pitched, a small dog’s sense of disapproval or just plain boredom. The decor of the main bar is stone and wood, black wooden beams, wooden floor, banquette seating lining the walls, while people come in and exchange greetings, all of which is the essence of a local.

Like the other two pubs I visited, there was an autumnal tranquility about this place, something that was strengthened even more as the licensee went from table to table lighting a candle, while outside the day’s light was starting to fall.

Adrian Tierney-Jones