A place at the table

A PLACE AT THE TABLE

First there were three chairs, and then there were two — a powerful and moving tale of these extraordinary times by Emma Inch  

A few days ago, my partner put away one of our kitchen chairs. She didn’t tell me she was doing it, and I wasn’t there to see it happen, but the next time I went into the kitchen I realised there were only two chairs at the table. I stared at the space where a third should be and cried.

We bought our kitchen table when our daughter was still in a highchair. She didn’t need to sit with us as her tray provided plenty of room for her chubby, yoghurt-covered hands. We only added the third chair later, as she grew bigger. The table is small, too small for three really. Whenever we sit together for a weekend breakfast our elbows nudge with each spread of the butter, and our hands bump together whenever we reach for the salt. My partner complains there is never enough room for the marmalade, but for the past few years three chairs have sat at that table and we’ve made the best of it. But now there are only two chairs once more. 

There are still three people living in our house — me, my partner and our now seven-year-old daughter — it’s just that one of us can no longer join the others at the table. Since lockdown began back in March, I have been ‘shielding’. I don’t have COVID-19.  I’m not infectious; I’m not even sick. But unfortunately I have an underlying condition requiring the use of daily medication that lowers my immunity, meaning I could become seriously ill if I do get infected. 

As a result of shielding, I’m unable to leave the house, even for a short walk. I now sleep in the spare room, use a separate bathroom and prepare my food alone. Such is my apparent vulnerability, I mustn’t go within two metres of the people I live with. No hugs. No kisses. No tickling my daughter until tears of laughter run down her face. No holding my partner when things all get too much. 

And no sitting at the same table.

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The last time I was in a pub I sat at a table with only two chairs. 

I arrived with three friends late on a Saturday afternoon. It was bone cold outside but as we opened the door to the pub we were met by a damp rush of heat and noise. England were playing Wales in the Six Nations rugby tournament that day and the match was flashing away on television sets positioned all around the room. Lots of people were stood at the bar, their heads raised to the TV screens, in places two or three deep, and we had to squeeze sideways past the door to fight our way inside.

None of us were particularly interested in the match, so we briefly considered moving on somewhere else. However, the pub served great beer — brewed only a mile or so across town — and we were more than ready for a pint. We stayed and were surprised to quickly find an empty table by an open window, the only place in the venue without a clear view of the television. It was very nearly perfect apart from the fact that there were four of us and only two chairs.

Being pub friends, the answer was simple: we would swap in and out of the chairs — two sitting first and then the other two taking a turn — until the match ended and more seats became available. It was a tall table meaning that sitting or standing, we were all at the same eye level and could chat together easily. So, with the rhythm set by the buying of each round, two of us sat for the first beer, then stood for the second, sat for the third, and so on.

The ebb and flow of the rugby match caused intermittent surges of people, their heads tilted back, and faces lit by the screens, willing their team to get the ball across the line. At our table, arms sometimes touched arms, backs were brushed by strangers on their way to the bar, and at times we had to lean in close, almost grazing cheeks to hear each other’s words. On the table our glasses became muddled in front of us. We took sips of each other’s drinks and shared a bag of peanuts. Occasionally I felt the breath from someone else’s speech or snorted laughter against my face. I kissed acquaintances hello and hugged loved ones goodbye. All the time, standing — then sitting — in a seat warmed by another person’s body heat, in that endless dance of the chairs. Because, in a pub, even when there are not enough seats, there is always enough room for friends.

+++

Due to the restrictions of shielding, I’ve been unable to leave my own house for so long that I’ve not actually seen the empty streets. I’ve not witnessed the supermarket queues or the unfilled shelves. I’ve not seen people in masks, or the grey-empty trains and buses. And I’ve not seen the closed down, boarded-up pubs standing empty on street corners. 

And in a way that makes me lucky. Because as I mourn for what we have lost, and grow fearful of what is to come, I know there is still one table left by an open window where two chairs will always be enough.


Pils-thrills and ferry aches

PILS-THRILLS AND FERRY ACHES

The holiday beer is a moment to savour, but recreating it at home is the challenge. Step 1, writes Katie Mather, is: get a lager.

 

It’s after 12 o’clock somewhere in the world, and where we are right now is exactly what time it is. The sun has risen to a glorious peak in an impeccable sky and under a Perrier parasol you’re relaxed and shaded. The heat of the day warms you through to the bones. Breathing deep, there’s an ozonic scent of salt and sardines in the air, lifting the gentle hum of hot terracotta, coconut suncream and charred seafood — calamari? — being grilling somewhere out of sight. On the table in front of you, bathed in the sunlit glare of whitewashed walls, is a stemmed and frosty half-glass of local lager, bubbling with the anticipation of being your first holiday beer.

Welcome to one of my happy places. I escape there during the cruel wastelands of January and February and on the darkest days I cling to the memory of it like a lilo swept out in a riptide. When the nights grasp tight, squeezing winter’s weak, grey-white days into a desperate four or five hours, strong, blinding sunlight becomes mythical. I keep my happy reserve of it safe in my head until summer comes back around, and against all odds, it always does. But you never know. Seasonal Affective Disorder is no joke.

Recreating the happy place at home requires a few specific ingredients. You need a rare afternoon when the English clouds part for a few hours, heating up the patio to accommodate bare feet. When swallows appear between the rooftops and you start feeling peckish, throw an appropriate glass in the freezer and dawdle to the shops. Pick up the beers that most suit your appetite. ‘Holiday beer’ can be any lager, as long as its underwhelming taste is totally compensated for by the joyful scenes of beaches and olive groves and legs of ibérico ham it beams directly into your head. Pick food to suit the beer you’ve chosen. Return home, light a barbecue, and pour. Ignore the chilly breeze. Those were not spots of rain. Pour another. Relax.

Dorada, Birra Moretti, Cruzcampo, Tropical, Sagres, Mythos… These beers represent something special to me that’s about much more than how they taste. Their colour reminds me of how whole the world feels when the sun comes out again. How time slows while you watch their tiny bubbles rise, and how everything starts making sense again.

But let’s get back to the happy place. The café table and the parasol, the glass of beer. Beside it, a bowl of torn focaccia, or crumbling cubes of cheese. Perhaps chicharones, if you’re lucky. The sun is shining through your little beer, and you can hear bells from an ancient cathedral clanging in the distance. Maybe you’re with somebody, or maybe you’re contentedly alone with your thoughts. There might be a plaza to watch the world pass by, or the horizon to contemplate out at sea but the beer, at least for me, will be the same. Local lager, poured foamy and cold. A glowing glass of sunshine. 

First printed in Original Gravity #18, spring 2018


Solidarity for Hospitality

SOLIDARITY FOR HOSPITALITY

Your local might be shut, but there are things we can do argues Jessica Mason 


It has been a tricky few days with so much conflicting advice, uncertainty and frustration. But in times of crisis, we have to plan and pull together in any way we can. For the hospitality sector there has been no reassurances and no show of solidarity and I know that this has left so many of us gobsmacked about what the new recommendations mean for each person and business. Most are terrified that everything they have built will be crushed by the latest government hints on safety measures meaning to avoid going out to eat and drink or socialise.

Advising and recommending people to stay away from pubs and restaurants, but without the government forcing them to close puts the entire hospitality industry at risk of, not just infection, but with no way to claim insurance or pay their staff. This means that, without customer support, many venues will fold within the coming months and not return. 

I don’t know an MP that hasn’t had their picture inside a pub to support their campaign when it suited them, but now they’ve been completely sacrificed without considering the people who work within them.  

I listened to Emmanuel Macron in France, enforcing rules for safety, protecting all businesses so that lives and livelihoods are not under threat throughout the spread of the pandemic. But, so far, all we have from our UK government are a lot of vague recommendations. Boris Johnson has done nothing to help people get through this — he has offered no leadership, no compassion and, even in his delivery, he offers no support or empathy. There is just a lot of bumbling; no understanding of people; no perception of mounting anxieties; no true plan to protect others in the wake of such global uncertainty. I still cannot believe how someone can show such detachment from humanity. He offers no firm guidance while in the seat of power and he is the one person who can. To be so out of touch and uncaring about the knock-on effect of the constraints is shame inducing. And if it isn’t ignorance, but a calculated approach to reduce pay-outs, then it’s worse. Much worse.

I want to help the industry I love. I’ve supported the hospitality industry for over 10 years throughout my career and yet I feel staggeringly paralysed between wanting to be of use and support my local and needing to adhere to the WHO advice and keep my family safe using distancing measures. However, my silence would be deafening right now if I said nothing about the quandary this places me in. Would I be safe by not carrying the virus onto others more vulnerable if I diligently washed my hands, but still ventured out to pubs and restaurants? Would I be helping? Or is the only helpful thing to do right now distancing myself? The answer is that I don’t know.

But while I don’t know, I don’t intend to sit indoors and do nothing. I intend to make some kind of a difference, or at least try to.

We hear quite a lot of conflicting opinions about COVID-19 and how we can limit its spread. If we try to support local indie businesses, are we selfishly putting others at risk? My feeling is that it will be a personal decision and everyone is simply trying to do all they can. Everyone is just trying to do the right thing and support the people and businesses around them.

So, here are my plans, let’s do what little we can to support others, but stay safe.

  • For the places that were once drinking and dining destinations that are feeling the reduced custom and no government support, if you are turning your outdoor spaces into drive-by bottle shops then I will buy from you. I will collect drinks. My money will continue to go into your tills. PLEASE TELL YOUR LOCAL COMMUNITY VIA SOCIAL MEDIA IF YOU PLAN TO DO THIS. People want to support those who have given them a community space for so many years.
  • For the places offering takeaway or adapting to set up a delivery service for local residents so we can all still support your business, I will buy from you. I will feel sad to not be visiting and clinking glasses in your establishment, but you have my unwavering support.
  • For the many places offering gift vouchers to buy for a meal for the future. I will purchase these and continue to support you from afar. Keep alerting people on how to buy them and where. When we return in the future, I am happy for just a portion of the voucher amount to be removed from the bill and the new voucher amount updated. There is no way I expect the knock on effect of a scheme designed to help you to become something that puts you out of business once you do open. I want to pay something each time — that’s the gratitude I feel for all of the good times we have shared.
  • We want an industry to return to in the future. Even if our government doesn’t show its support, we need to show solidarity ourselves. Stay in touch and share learnings for what is working to keep things afloat without putting anyone at risk.

I’m hugely passionate about how people and pubs can foster communities. And for so many years you have helped me, even if you haven’t realised it. Socially isolating may be better for our lungs, but it will have a knock-on effect on our emotional and mental wellbeing over the approaching months. I plan to write a lot more letters to friends and family, but also stay in contact with as many people as I can across the industry to make sure that if anyone needs an ear, I am here for them. 

Sometimes, when we don’t know what to say, we avoid saying anything because we fear the awkwardness of broaching conversation in adversity. I just want to suggest we grow a little braver for others, not just ourselves, by keeping the lines of communication open, even when the pubs are closed.


Review: Utopian Brewery, Dark Lager

Tasting Notes: Utopian Brewery, DARK LAGER [5.4%]

Let’s think about the Roman god Janus — and lager

Beer is like the Roman god Janus in the face it shows to the world. On the one hand, when you enter the brewery forest of stainless steel it is tough and urban, but when you consider the ingredients that merge together to make beer, it is rustic. Lager, all too readily, can be seen to be urban, street-wise, the soundtrack to a thousand nocturnal adventures, a hard-edged soul that is best at home in an overly chromed bar on a busy city street, where the nights are fringed with noise and frigid when caught in the limelight that every drinker brings with them. It is tough, street smart, go-ahead in its brewing kit, that towers like a minor cathedral close to a Welsh motorway. Yet, there is another more benevolent, less gritty, bucolic side to lager (think small villages with their own breweries in the Franconian countryside for instance). To me, Utopian also show this penchant for a Janus-like face. Based in the depths of the Devon countryside where rolling hills reach out for the granite hardness of Dartmoor, I feel these rural, rustic nature when I consider where their beers are made, but when I drink this rich and full-bodied riff on a Dunkel I am then reminded of times dodging the cycles and tourists of Munich. I drank deeply of this in an Exeter pub and felt happy with my lot. I hope others feel the same. ATJ

www.utopianbrewing.com


Review: Ramsgate Brewery, Gadds’ She Sells Seashells

Tasting Notes: Ramsgate Brewery, GADDS’ SHE SELLS SEASHELLS [4.7%]

Eddie Gadd makes great beer — this is one of them

I like this beer a lot. I found it in a pub and drank four pints of it but it’s also in cans. I loved its pristine golden sheen, making the beer as clear as a mountain stream. I loved its twirl of citrus on the nose, reminiscent of lemon curd, something that also spread onto the palate before an assertive bitterness balanced any drift to over-sweetness. This gorgeous bitter finish continued with a lovely embrace of dryness, the kind of bitterness that hooks you into a beer and makes it difficult for you to let go. Its sweet malt and earthy citrus Kentish hop nose and bittersweetness makes me think of the Kentish coast as the English Channel goes on its way and another pint is called for. ATJ 

www.ramsgatebrewery.co.uk


Review: Wiper and True, Old Twelfth Night Orchard Ale

Tasting Notes: Wiper & True, OLD TWELFTH NIGHT ORCHARD ALE, 2017 VINTAGE [6%]

Apple pressings meet farmhouse ale and time with this unique beer

Here’s a lovely, luscious idea for a beer: back in 2017, Michael Wiper mixed the pressings from apples picked from his own orchard with a wort made from a traditional farmhouse malt mash overseen by Jonny Mills of the eponymous brewery. After the boil, to which Wai-iti and Simcoe were added, the result was divided between two French oak barrels and time did the rest. This was released at the start of the year and if you are lucky you might still be able to get one from the brewery as it is a gorgeous beer. Bruised gold in colour, limpid and lightly carbonated, it has the earthiness of an old barn on the nose, alongside an apple-like sweetness. It is dry and still on the palate, medium bodied, gripped by a grapefruit-like tartness and on the verge of a bounteous juiciness. The finish is soft and quenching and yes it is a bit like a cider but also has a depth and body you don’t even get in the best ciders. Fabulous. ATJ 

wiperandtrue.teemill.com

Available: honestbrew.co.uk/shop/wiper-and-true-old-twelfth-night-orchard-ale


Review: 8 Wired, Tall Poppy

Tasting Notes: 8 Wired, TALL POPPY [7%]

New Zealand brewers have created a modern classic

When I was looking at starting Original Gravity% a couple of years ago, I had an enlightening trip to Aberdeen to research the idea. I toured BrewDog, and walking out of a brewery full of friendly young folk utterly obsessed by beer I made my mind up. I pondered the future while sat in BrewDog Aberdeen, and grabbed a take-out recommended by bar staff. Without hesitation, a bottle of Tall Poppy appeared. Back at the hotel, I popped it open, and it practically knocked me over. I laughed like a loon, jumped up and down on the bed, and took long wondrous gulps. It astonished me – its tropical swell and liquorice bite, its caramel sweetness – oh, enough from me. It’s beers like this why this magazine exists. DN / 8wired.co.nz

Buy it from Beer Hawk here.


Review: Fyne Ales, The Mystic

Tasting Notes: Fyne Ales, THE MYSTIC [9.7%]

The kind of barley wine that turns every sip into an occasion and a moment to remember

This is a lightly smoked barley wine, potent and muscular, complex and quite content to be sipped as the sun goes down. A winter beer yes but also ideal for drinking in the spring to remind yourself that winter has thankfully just passed. Light amber in colour, pulsating with a Bakewell tart aroma and a secondary note of Isley-like iodine smokiness, the carbonation is gentle, the mouth creamy, with a variety of toffees, chocolates, fudge and dark candied fruit being handed around by a much loved great aunt. There’s a power and intensity about the beer, a heft and a weight, yet it’s easy going in the way it delivers. A masterpiece of a beer and definitely one to age to see how the mystery of beer changes through time.

ATJ / fyneales.com


Beer Meets Love

Beer Meets Love

We’re getting all mushy in this feature, when beer meets, love. Ahhh

Love is in the air or has the neighbourhood prankster popped a St Val’s card through the post-box? Whatever, spring is also around the corner and our thoughts turn with the sure steadiness of a merry-go-round to love and romance and also a glass of beer at the bar. And just like love, beer comes in all shapes and sizes, in all kinds of moods and mazes, but whoever or whatever you’ve found to fall in love with, why not celebrate this sense of gladness with this trio of tempestuous romantics. ATJ

/ Siren Craft Brew, I Love You Honey Bunny, 6.3%

Love is the only answer when you’re faced with Siren’s self-proclaimed honey smoothie IPA (blossom honey and oats have gone into the mix), and you know what it’s rather good – lemon-yellow in colour, blessed with a juicy fruity nose. I took a gulp and uncovered more fruit, a smooth hint of sweetness in the background and a dry and bitter finish. / sirencraftbrew.com

/ Thornbridge, I Love You Will You Marry Me, 4.5%

Named after a well-known well known piece of graffiti in Sheffield, this blonde-hued beer has a subtle aroma of strawberry sweetness on the nose (real strawberries) alongside a hint of citrus, while there’s more strawberry on the palate alongside citrus, a refreshing tartness and a creamy mouth feel. An elegant thirst-quencher and a passionate pint. / thornbridgebrewery.co.uk

/ Marble/Fuller’s Gale Prize Old Ale, 10.9%

There’s a romance about Gale’s Prize Old Ale, a beer that used to be regular but then became a special occurrence when Fuller’s bought the brewery. With this expression, Marble has brewed the beer and left it to sleep in four separate barrels. This one has a kiss of Brett, dark fruit and the deep vinuousness of the barrel. / marblebeers.com


Beer meets the devil

BEER MEETS THE DEVIL

Adrian Tierney-Jones travels to the dark side to taste the demon brews

The Devil has the best tunes, but does he also have the best beers? With Duvel (devil in Flemish), he certainly has one of the most exceptional Belgium beers to keep him company as he puts another hapless soul in the toaster. On the other hand you could argue that he is promiscuous in his drinking habits: if you go to Auerbachs Keller in Leipzig, you’ll see a dummy Dr Faustus sitting on a massive wine barrel. Whatever the truth, here are three beers with a sympathetic shine for the Devil (we’re only joking, he said, as he spotted a cloven hoof beneath the pub table).

/ Duvel Barrel-aged 2017 (Bourbon), 11.5%

Legends attach themselves to Belgian beer like barnacles to a sea-battered galleon and Duvel is no exception, apparently getting its name when a brewer exclaimed that it was the beer of the Devil on first tasting it. With this barrel-aged expression, firm and eloquent, the gates of Hell are well and truly opened (in the nicest possible way).

/ Unibroue Maudite, 8%

This potent Abbey-style beer with its panoply of spices, alcohol warmth and bittersweetness on both nose and palate is named after a Quebecois legend in which a bunch of lumberjacks, in their eagerness to get home in time for Christmas, made a deal with Lucifer, who then arranged for them to fly home in their canoes. Wonder what happened after Christmas?

/ Thornbridge Lukas, 4.2%

Lukas sounds like the sort of spooky name given to a small boy who is really the Devil in disguise, isn’t it? No? Ok, how about a gulp of this finely made Helles from Derbyshire instead — it’s as blonde as a sunlit smile, light and sparkling on the palate and an elegant and uplifting contrast to all this talk about supping with the Devil.