There’s an empty spot in front of me where a beer could be. Even if there was a beer there it would be out of place. I’m at work, and as such unable to have a pint. Not that I need one of course, and after last week, this three day break is probably very welcome for my body.
In place of the low murmur of conversation, there is the quiet cacophony of multiple fans, and air conditioning, and electrical hum. There is no one in the room except for me. No one to talk to. No one to avoid being talked to by.
I begin to think of the weekend. My weekend off. Providing my ticket actually arrives, I’ll be spending Sunday afternoon at the Etihad Stadium, watching Saints first game back in the Premiership since 2005. If it doesn’t arrive, I’ll be walking around Manchester, seeing its sights, and drinking its beer.
I’ll be drinking its beer anyway. I’ve booked a hotel room so I can do so after the match, and also on the Monday afternoon. I have been to Manchester before, and found a pub selling Robinson’s beers. I drank the range before moving on to the Marble Arch, where I regretted drinking as much as I did in the Robinson’s pub.
This time, I’m assigning most of Monday afternoon to drinking in the Marble Arch, and spending Sunday in Port Street (what with it being closed on Mondays, this seems like a reasonably good idea).
In writing about beer, I begin to want a beer. There are quaffing days and sipping days, and today is a sipping day. At least, in here it is. Outside earlier it was hot and sunny, far too hot for the sort of high strength imperial stout or barley wine I’d like to savour, slowly sipped from my favourite glass.
In reality, I’m longing for winter. I’m longing for the long cold dark winter nights which make imperial stouts and barley wines just a bit more satisfying. The long cold dark winter night that make a rustic pub, with a real log fire, and a dog, seem even more welcoming. I’m longing for something that doesn’t really exist, except in the romantic writings of beer writers.
When those cold dark winter nights actually come, the last thing I think of is going to the pub. Especially when it’s bitterly cold, with patches of ice on the paths, and I’m already warm in my room. Those pubs exist, but they’re rarely within easy walking distance of most people, especially when it’s cold, dark, and potentially dangerous underfoot.
Most of us have to make do with The Local, or if that won’t do, The Regular. The beer choice won’t be exotic, but it will have “Old Reliable”. The beer we’ve drunk the most over our lives. It’s the beer we go to when we “need a beer”. It’s not challenging, but it’s more satisfying than most other beers we’ve drunk. It holds memories.
Generally, The Local (or The Regular) won’t have the same atmosphere that the romantic ideal pub has. There will be a fire, but this will often be for show, with heat coming from behind the radiator, in front of which are three bar stools, on which are sat regulars with pints in their hands, which never seem to be drunk. They are always talking, yet never seen drinking.
In some places, there will be a TV. Some will switch it on only for special occasions. Big sporting matches and royal weddings and the like. Others will have it on all the time, tuned into a news channel on mute, with some eyes fixed to the scrolling stream of headlines as they consume their beers.
Music will be provided by a jukebox, that sits on the wall unnoticed, along with the music it plays through speakers that have their volume set so it can be heard by people who want to hear it, but not heard by people who don’t. For atmosphere, some places will turn up the volume of the jukebox at certain times.
Behind the bar there will be a selection of crisps, nuts, and either boards of Cheese Moments or Pork Scratchings, or if you’re lucky, both. All are priced at slightly more than you’re happy to pay for such things, but you end up doing so anyway, in an attempt to stave off the inevitable feeling of drunkeness that is to come.
Some people you will know by name, some people will know you by name, but you’ll only seem to ever know them by face. Some people you’ll never know at all. It’s people that make The Local, and sometimes, there are too many of them. On some nights, the bar at The Local is two, maybe three deep. The Local draws people together. It makes friendships, it reunites friendships, it breaks them up with a fight and the sound of a young woman shouting “Leave him, he ain’t worth it”
If you look around The Local, you’ll begin to notice little characteristics, small things that differentiate it from The Pub Down The Road. Picture frames on the walls, little knick knacks on shelves surrounding the room, patterned carpet from the 70s with wallpaper to match.
I’m not sure if such a place really exists either, yet a place like “The Local” is much more likely to be encountered by beer writers than their romantic ideal. Location is important though, as is circumstance, and company. Some might say this is nothing compared to the actual beer, but consider this.
You have a beer. In one situation you are on your own, drinking the beer, and either enjoying it or not enjoying it. In the other situation, you are with friends, or family. Each of you has a different opinion of the beer. Which seems more satisfying and rewarding?
Even the worst beer can have its purpose in the best company.