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A Beer With No Pub....

I often do a summary at the end of the year covering the best beers I have drunk and the best pubs I have visited during the previous 12 months. But what can I say about 2020? A very disrupted year with many disappointments and setbacks. Here's some thoughts....

Back in the 1950's, an Australian singer, Slim Dusty, had a big hit with a song called A Pub With No Beer, which told of the misery facing drinkers when they turned up at their local pub to find that there was no beer on sale. For much of this year, beset by lockdowns and the restrictions of the tier system it has been a case of no pubs open in which to have a beer. And so for regular pub goers like myself it has been a big change of lifestyle. Early on in the first lockdown, I dug out and dusted down an old tall stool and positioned it in my kitchen so I could replicate sitting at the bar as I had an after-work beer, with work now located a short commute away up a flight of stairs. Wasn't the same as the Stalybridge Buffet Bar though, where, since the first lockdown in March, I managed just one visit in September after a rare day in the office, with the place now closed as part of the area's Tier 3 restrictions.

The year had begun promisingly enough. There was the Toon on Tour Beer Festival held at the Grayston Unity and Meandering Bear in Halifax in early February, which brought a selection of beers from the North East to the town, curated by yours truly. And it seemed to go down well, with beers including some from breweries rarely seen in these parts like Two By Two, Northern Alchemy, and Cullercoats alongside more familiar names like Wylam and Anarchy. Sadly, I only managed one trip to the North East this year, at the end of July, and many pubs were still shut, including personal favourites the Free Trade Inn, the Cumberland Arms, and the Crown Posada.
Cumberland Arms, Ouseburn, Newcastle

I had a most enjoyable trip in February courtesy of Halifax and Calderdale CAMRA to visit two breweries in North Yorkshire, Brass Castle in Malton, and North Riding in Snainton, a few miles inland from Scarborough. Both had won awards at the 2019 Halifax and Calderdale Beer Festival and they were to be presented with certificates by John Hartley, the Festival Organiser. Two brewers of quality beers, both of which I've enjoyed at home during lockdown, both of whom made us welcome on our visit, with some good beer on offer at both. We then headed over to the coast and had an hour or two in Filey, a small East Coast resort with plenty of pubs, a fact that I was totally unaware of when I used to go there on family holidays as a small boy!
Stuart from North Riding being presented with his certificates by John

Talking of beer festivals, I made it as usual with my mate Rob to Manchester at the back end of January. We had a good day, but it didn't quite hit the heights of previous years this time around, but we managed to get another one in just before lockdown when Rob, Jay, and I took advantage of a new direct service from Brighouse and caught the train over to Wigan. We had a cracking time at both the festival and visiting a number of the town's pubs, with Wigan Central, run by the local Prospect Brewery, a particular standout.
Wigan Central

Less than a fortnight later, the pubs were closed, not allowed to open their doors again until July. Some didn't open until later, some still haven't opened, and some, sadly, have had to close for good, the loss of income being too severe a blow to enable them to survive. And even when the pubs re-opened, it was not quite as it had been with screens, hand sanitisers, social-distancing, and checking in, as well as restrictions on group sizes. Early closing was brought in, more recently requirements to have a 'substantial' meal, and as pubs wrestled with having to deal with all this, there was an overwhelming belief that hospitality was being unfairly targeted by a government whose most consistent behaviours have been to over-promise, under-deliver, and perform u-turns. Analysis showed that hospitality was one of the safest places with very low rates of transmission, not surprising considering the time and money invested making their establishments safe. Sadly, the days of wandering into a pub on a whim, staying as long as you want, engaging in conversation with whom you want, or just sitting quietly in your own world with your own thoughts and the pub as a background seem but a distant memory. The spontaneity has gone, sacrificed as our lives have become more regulated. No more sitting at the bar, no more stopping off to chat with an old friend you see on your way back from the loo - return to your seat and sit down!
The magnificent Cardigan Arms, Leeds

And so, it was beer at home for much of the year. And so many breweries rose to the challenge. They set up web shops so you could order online. The excitement in the first week when I managed to get hold of 10 litres of Amarillo from local brewers Stod Fold in bag-in-box, sadly too much for me, and I gradually settled on 5 Litre Mini Kegs due to their more consistent quality augmented by cans and bottles. More breweries all the time were adding online shops and the sense of achievement I felt when a delivery of Jarl from Fyne brewery in Argyll landed on my doorstep two days after placing my order was fantastic. It was also one of the best beers I had at home during this year. Subsequently, I had beers delivered from the likes of Marble, Tempest, Abbeydale, Track, Salopian, and Bristol Beer Factory. There were unexpected highlights from more unsung breweries like Neepsend and Durham, but I can honestly say the mini kegs were all good, some more so. And whilst I tended to order my cans from Baz at the Crafty Fox in Brighouse, I did strike out my own from time to time. The first can I had of Simple Pleasure, a 4% hazy pale from Almasty was probably my beer highlight of the year given the context of lockdown, whilst I was that impressed by The Happy World of Sabro from the New Bristol Brewery that I named a blog after it! The deliveries were by and large very good, the carriers, notably APC, settling comfortably into this pretty new stream of business very quickly.
Great beer, but better in the pub

But all that said, it really was making the most of the situation we were facing. A couple of beers early evening sat on a stool in your kitchen while listening to 6 Music and reading a paper or tapping on your phone does not make up for the loss of banter with your mates, the laughter, the theatre, and the escape of the pub. And it is this, and the fact that the pub is a hub for the community, part of the fabric of the country, a refuge for the sad and the lonely, a neutral space, a place to celebrate good news, a place to relax, a place to be entertained, a place to learn, and much, much, more, that is the significant point. A place where friendships are made, alliances forged, deals done, scores settled, problems solved. Drinking sat at home just cannot compete with the rounded experience that can be provided by the pub. 

And so, as 2020 draws to a close, with many pubs and bars facing an existential threat, I make no apologies for once again quoting the words of Hillaire Belloc: 'When you have lost your inns, drown your empty selves, for you will have lost the last of England'. 

Never have those words seemed more chillingly prescient than they feel right now....

Peveril of the Peak, Manchester

Opening picture: The Swan, Delph, Saddleworth

Follow me on twitter: @realalemusic


  1. A pleasure to read your posts as always. You really capture the joys of going to the pub and of drinking beer, as well as some of the frustrations we have all felt this year due to Covid and the government.

    1. Thank you very much for the kind words, Kirk, glad you like the posts.


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