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The Happy World of Sabro and Other Stories....

It has not been a happy few weeks with the country under another lockdown, but I continue to search for those little things that make life more bearable....

This latest lockdown has been a miserable time, really. The sun that seemed to shine through Lockdown #1 has been replaced by almost incessant gloomy weather which means the picture I took above on a local walk the other week is the brightest I have been able to take in the last few weeks! So yes it's been gloom and very much a sense of doom as in the dash to Save Christmas the move out of lockdown from December 3rd has given most of us no positive change to look forward to. Well, you can get your hair cut and, should you want to shop in a non-essential shop, you can fill your boots. For those of us allocated to Tier 3 though you can't even get a substantial meal to pick through with your pint as you could have done in the old days of the tier's previous pre-lockdown incarnation. Many people are unhappy and indeed, "34 million people worse off than before lockdown" thundered the headline on the front page of that normally-Conservative supporting publication The Daily Telegraph the other day. Clear inconsistencies around the differences in the rates of infection and regional R numbers fan the fuel that fires the perceived North-South divide, us and them. Ironically it may be that a spike around the more deprived towns on the north coast of Kent, which has seen the whole of the county lumped into Tier 3, could lead to a more careful review in the next couple of weeks to stave off the threat of a potential backbench revolt from neighbouring Tory MPs with much smaller case numbers in their well-heeled constituencies, and from elsewhere.

But in the absence of anything really positive, the government, whose trademark over-promise, under-deliver strategy (motto: 'super libera, sub promissione' ) means you may be promised the equivalent of an all-expenses luxury holiday in Barbados, but end up instead with a one-night stopover in a noisy, draughty, B'n'B in the backstreets of Scarbados where on one side the guy is snoring for England and on the other side the worse-for-wear couple have a blazing row, things are thrown, tears are shed, and then for the rest of the night they express their undying lurve for each other as noisily as they can.

As has been frequently pointed out, the hospitality sector has done more than many other businesses and organisations to make their businesses as Covid-19 secure as possible. Money has been spent doing this, the sector has had a very difficult, disrupted year, and now that the hope of re-opening for the majority has been taken away at what is traditionally their busiest time of year it is a crushing blow not to be able at least claw a proportion of their normal turnover back over the festive period. The rate of infection attributed to the hospitality sector has been very low in comparison to other settings and it hardly seems fair or logical that they aren't able to trade. Recently, TV chef Tom Kerridge has been highlighting the plight of Britain's pubs in a short series Saving Britain's Pubs and it has been a sobering, realistic assessment of how difficult it can be for the people running our pubs to make a decent living in normal circumstances, let alone when there is a pandemic to contend with. Kerridge, who runs his own food-led pubs, including the Michelin-starred Hand and Flowers in Marlow in Buckinghamshire, does come over as someone who cares deeply about this essential British institution in all its different guises as he suggests ways that the people running the pubs featured in the series could make changes to help them survive and then grow their businesses.

Tom Kerridge (picture by Christian Barnett)

And for those of us who miss the chance for a catch-up with friends, the warm embrace of community, the crazy chatter, the characters, the home from home, the buzz of conversation from surrounding tables, I could go on, we are confined to our garretts save for the odd excursion to the supermarket, a walk, a visit to care for dependant family members, or a socially-distanced catch up outside in the afore-mentioned gloom with a friend. Covid has put the kibosh on the spontaneity that so many of us who love the pub have missed so much over the past few months. Even when the first lockdown eased the randomness and chance to change your plans at the last minute, to go with the flow, was severely compromised but it was better than nothing. But the question has to be asked - is it better to grin and bear it for a bit longer and abandon this contrived attempt at Christmas with the almost inevitable spikes in the infection rate that will arise from the cross-country journeys and enlarged social bubbles? But, if you are going down that route would the opening up of Covid-secure premises like pubs make the situation any worse?

But away from all that debate I have found a few things to be positive about over the past couple of weeks. From a beer point of view I have been very happy with the mini kegs I have had - Neepsend Blonde, Fyne Jarl, Bristol Beer Factory Independence, and Vocation Heart and Soul, all bought direct from the breweries concerned so at least in my own small way I am supporting small local businesses. But the beer that has stopped me in my tracks was unexpectedly a can from the New Bristol Brewery called The Happy World of Sabro, a name I liked so much I decided to include it in the title for this blog! Now Sabro is a pretty new American hop variety, but is one with bags of flavour. Hints of cedar, mint, cream, with distinct coconut and stone fruit aromas jump out and grab you and it certainly stopped me in my tracks. This well-crafted beer, a 4.5% single hop IPA is from the husband and wife brewing team at New Bristol Brewery who, I think it is fair to say are not as well-known as other Bristolian breweries such as Bristol Beer Factory, Arbor, Left Handed Giant, and Wiper and True. This  just underlines the excellent depth and quality of the beer scene in that city. Once we can travel again without restrictions and things are open again I look forward to being able to visit that city again, as I did back in 2018. Read my thoughts from that trip here. 

That can, like most I have bought recently, came from the Crafty Fox in Brighouse where Baz has reverted to his lockdown business model of home deliveries, and he is continuing to source beers from all over and has some cracking beers in the range. And keeping on with the local news, I noticed the other week as I drove past the much-missed Red Rooster at Brookfoot that there were lights on and there appeared to be people working in there. It turns out that a private offer was accepted just before the pub, which closed in early 2019, was due to go up for auction. The people who have bought it - who apparently have run pubs before - were hoping to have it open for Christmas although that seems highly unlikely now given that as a wet-led pub it wouldn't be able to open unless it was in Tier 1. But it is good news that a popular and iconic local pub is due to come back to life at some point after its chances of doing so had been virtually written off, and is some desperately needed good news at this difficult time.
The Red Rooster, Brookfoot...signs of life

And I suppose, another thing to be positive about as we adapt to life in Tier 3 is that we will be spared the inevitable Christmas beers about which I moaned in this piece from a few years ago. But should we be able to get promoted to the next tier, one Government minister has suggested today that for those pubs in Tier 2 a scotch egg may count as a substantial meal. Really?!! Although to be fair, he may well have been thinking of the beasts they used to sell at the Buffet Bar in Stalybridge, which were indeed substantial, nay gargantuan! But it just goes to show the general confusion and uncertainty out there, even amongst the ones making it up as they go along the rules.

Welcome to the Festive period, 2020-style!

Follow me on twitter: @realalemusic


  1. Things are pretty much the same here in Tier 3 Kent, and with rates still rising, albeit more slowly now, in some parts of the county, the situation is unlikely to change this side of Christmas.

    It’s not all bad, as plenty of breweries are doing mini-kegs and bottle shops have some interesting beers on offer, but it still doesn’t beat that spontaneous nipping into the pub for a natter and a couple of pints.

    I agree the absence of Christmas beers is a blessing; especially those that were just the brewery’s bog-standard best bitter, re-badged with a fancy name, but it’s very sad driving home from work past pubs that are shuttered and dark during what should be their busiest time of the year.

    Let’s see what 2021 brings.

    1. Hi, Paul, hope you are well, many thanks for taking the time to comment. It certainly is gloomy at the moment but as you say, let's see what 2021 brings along. Hopefully we'll have more pubs re-opening and things springing back to life.


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