"My Caught By The River moment of 2007 mainly came served in a pint sized glass. It was filled to the brim, gently foaming and always mildly intoxicating. It came in various hues, various strengths and was delivered in various locations up and down the country. It was drunk in lounge bars and living rooms; in gardens and fields; at weddings and funerals. At times, it was calming, relaxing and meditative. And other times, was the 28 Days Later rage virus in a glass. Yep, this year I was truly Caught By The Liver (copyright Andrew Walsh - genius). It was the year I finally made the transition from lager drinking gig going teenager to card carrying CAMRA member facing down rapidly approaching 5th decade; from nightclub goer to snug bar sitter - pipe, slippers, Guardian crossword and all.
It helped that I ended up spending pretty much the whole of 2007 landlocked due to a crippling fear of flying (no amount of valium can stun me these days, though I still give it a damn good go). This year, I got the chance to explore the British Isles for the first time since I was a kid. Family holidays in the 1970s saw myself, my brother and my Dad touring Wales in a tent. Usually we’d be joined by a few of my Dad’s mates (the most notorious of which being ‘Uncle Klaus’, 6 foot 6 high and wide, an Estonian refugee in World War 2, a man who had actually taken the time to work out how much his beer belly had cost him – over one hundred thousand quid - in old money). Those holidays were memorable for the fact that each time we moved on the tent would be pitched in the beer garden of a pub (note – familial theme emerging here). Me and my brother would be stuck under canvas as it inevitably pissed down outside. Dad, ‘Uncle Klaus’ and their mates would be inside, getting demented on ale in front of a roaring log fire. If we were lucky, Dad would remember we were there and bring us a bag of crisps every few hours. These were the days before kids were allowed to run free in public houses, also the days before these kinds of parental acts were labeled ‘child abuse’. Let’s call them the Good Old Days.
Anyway, back to the present, where 2007 saw me traipsing around the UK one beer at a time. Thankfully the tent in the beer garden had been traded in for train, hotel, holiday rent and guest house. By the middle of the year, outside the windows our green and pleasant land had become a rotten bog. Shit, even the Cotswolds flooded – The Daily Mail’s very own Hurricane Katrina proved that God wasn’t just on an anti-Glastonbury tip last Summer. Inside the various Lambs and Flags and Coaches and Horses and Dogs and Ducks and Queens and Kings, the weather was just fine.
So, this year, after deciding to swap the Med for the Medway towns, I travelled the UK in a pint glass. A trip to Adnams country in March took in Southwold and meant Broadside, Regatta, Explorer and their exemplary Bitter. Three separate jaunts to Cornwall meant Doom Bar, Tribute, Eden, Tinners and HSD. Hay On Wye? Hereford Pale Ale and Dorthy Goodbody’s. Glamorgan? Cwrw Haf, The Reverend James and the legendary Brains Skull Attack. Back home in the Smoke and the country seemed to come to town like a pissed up farmers market – London Pride sits alongside Summer Lightning, Exmoor Gold, Deuchars IPA, Caledonian XPA, Milton’s Sparta and Timothy Taylor’s Landlord. To a booze hound who these days is less Fear & Loathing and more Last Of The Summer Wine, this reads like a roll call of the greats. And the list grows yearly as breweries try out new combinations of water, yeast, hops and sugar. In a way it’s like something like stamp collecting – you’re constantly on the look out to try new things, trying to tick all the boxes and try everything but the breweries just keep on making new ones. It’s what keeps you interested. And also drunk.
Anyways, without trying to get too Whittingstall about the whole thing, there is a vaguely important point somewhere in this beery blur. These days, people in the know talk about seasonal foods and becoming more aware of and sensitive to your environment via the food it produces, about food miles and local distinctiveness. Real ale is one of Britain's finest homegrown products – seasonality and locality are key factors in production. It’s also unique to this country – it doesn’t get exported, it stays at home and waits patiently for you. People say beers don’t travel very well from their place of origin – where I’m from in Wales they say that the beers that Brains brew don’t really taste any good outside of Cardiff. Perhaps in a way they are intrinsically linked to where they are brewed, the ingredients they comprise of make sense when you’re breathing the air they grew in. This means that real ale can take a unique high and mighty pedestal in the boozer alongside Scottish and Irish whiskeys, like mud caked organic box next to the mange tout flown in from Kenya. The rest of the bar, from the keg lagers to the optics - well, it’s pretty much the same the world over.
I know I sound like a horrific alcoholic here. Probably I am one and possibly I’ll be writing a blog from The Priory in a year or two, evangelical about my newfound clarity after a healthy period smashed up, living the Snort By The River dream, all the while seething with boredom and milk eyed nostalgia at my former life. Until then, there’s a book to write (The Rough Pub Guide, something myself and Paul Moody have been working on for a few years, due out through Orion in the Autumn of 2008) and whole lot of beer to be drunk. If by any chance you do catch me by the river bank, make sure I don’t fall in – I’m bound to be somewhere well past half cut.
By the way, I’m not joking about being in CAMRA - my Dad got me membership for Christmas. Their monthly newsletter is called Beer, a name so brilliant it’s almost Gonzo in its simplicity. Check it out, it makes for a far better read than the NME these days.
Beer’s Morrissey piece was fucking fantastic too.
Other things that made me pause for thought this year – “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy, “Dandelion Gum” by Black Moth Super Rainbow, “Blades Of Glory”, Aussie tv show “Summer Heights High”, “Atlas” by Battles live at The Green Man festival, Barrafina on Frith Street. “The Wire” series 4 and “Beautiful Burnout” off of the new Underworld album".