Safe

SAFE

We love the comfort and care that a pub provides, but not all of them are equal in the welcome they provide. By Emma Inch

I’ve pushed open a lot of pub doors. The flush of warm air, the growing babble of chatter, and the scent of beer-tainted wood have rushed towards me many thousands of times. But, as I stand on the threshold of an unfamiliar venue, even before my eyes adjust to the yellowed light, even before I lift my palm away from the door handle, the feeling that most engulfs me is often not one of comfort, but one of ‘will I be safe here?’

Some people achieve immediate contentment, even in a pub they’ve never previously entered.

They find relief in an anonymous corner where they can muse over a solo pint, or they boldly claim space in which to celebrate successes with friends, or share quiet intimacies with lovers. But the privilege of never having to wonder whether what makes you different will also make you the target of abuse, harassment or violence is a luxury not always afforded to everyone.

Throughout my drinking life I’ve been asked to leave a pub on the grounds that it’s a ‘family friendly venue’; I’ve witnessed a friend being ejected for giving his male partner a dry peck on the cheek; I’ve had a fellow customer shout homophobic abuse in my ear whilst the bartender calmly continued to ask me to pay for my pint.

Once, I had to shield my face from flying glass as the pub windows were kicked in by bigots outside, and I still remember the sharp, breathless fear in the days following the Admiral Duncan pub bombing, not knowing if it was all over, or who and where would be targeted next.

I’ve encountered whispered disapproval, open mockery and the saliva-spraying, salacious questioning that forms the threatening precursor to abuse should any query be left unanswered. Pubs have not always been safe spaces for me, and many — including, I’m saddened to say, a few of the pubs closest to my own home — remain places that I am simply too afraid to enter.

But, that’s not to say that all pubs are sites of fear for me. At times, the pub has also been a source of enormous strength. When I first came out as lesbian in the early 1990s, gay venues were places of great wonder to me. When I entered them, I found people who looked just like me — and people who looked like no one I’d ever seen in my life — and the pub became a location in which anything might happen: a meeting of minds, a brushing of arms and the promise of a beer-drenched kiss. I met many of my best friends and most of my partners in pubs, and I learned the importance of those spaces for bringing people together, offering validation, and creating resistance.

For a while I only drank in gay venues, always seeking them out if I went somewhere new. I could plot my way across the country, from city to city, via my mental map of the best gay pubs. Even in other countries, some in which homosexuality was barely legal, I sought out subterranean gay bars, sometimes ringing the bells on unmarked doors in order to be snapped into dark alcoves where my authenticity was appraised before I was allowed passage into the pleasures below.

In much the same way that we drew on music to comfort, unite and coalesce, those of us who were excluded also used those hot, dark, beer-sweaty spaces to gain some sort of affirmation. And, all these years later, as I enter gay venues, that feeling of strength is still there. As the beer pours into my glass, I feel the good humour, and, just sometimes, the anger that has protected me from the hostility of the world, and I understand that it’s not by chance that Stonewall — perhaps the best-known symbol of resistance to prejudice and hatred — is a New York bar.

Of course, I no longer drink exclusively in gay venues. Many have disappeared, victims in part perhaps of our new ways of interacting with the world. And, in common with many other beer lovers, I am forever chasing that feted brewery, the brand new beer, the brew that will make my taste buds dance outside my mouth.

And, as I re-draw my mental map of the country, I’m back to pausing at the door, considering my safety. I anticipate the shared glances between other drinkers, the trivial hesitation of the bartender’s hand, the almost imperceptible smirk, and the just-too-slow welcome. I jump at the soft shove as someone passes by me on their way to the bathroom, and at the visceral roar that goes up each time a goal is scored or a glass is smashed.

But, somehow, the worst of it is that even though in the vast majority of pubs I am not abused, and no one ignores, insults or ridicules me, as I leave I still sometimes feel like I’ve narrowly escaped something, as if just this once, I was permitted to experience that unequivocally benign harbour that draws other people in and holds them safe.

And I feel gratitude.

And I wish that I didn’t.


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


Of Belgian beer and mystique

OF BELGIAN BEER AND MYSTIQUE

Ardent Belgo-phile Joe Stange muses on the magic and fantasy that runs through Belgian beer

As a longtime atheist — sceptic, realist, whatever you prefer — the only ‘magic’ I know lies in those parts of the mind we have yet to understand. These can be uncomfortable areas to explore. They occasionally manifest in the real world, often through the creations of the right-brained or the intoxicated — or, in the case of the Belgians, both.

I’ve walked into hundreds of different Belgian cafés. They lean more eccentric than most pubs, to put it lightly, so we could fairly describe many as odd but charming. Beyond those, things can get really weird. A select few are more like sweaty obsessions than cafés. Upon entering you get a palpable sense that you’ve walked into a dark corner of someone else’s brain; you obviously don’t belong there and must immediately choose whether to turn around and walk out before committing to the experience any further.

The Velootje in Ghent is one of those, a thick, dusty hoard of junk and memories, with just a bit of space cleared for a few people to sit. It’s a work of art, in its way, a mishmash of cobwebbed antique bicycles, candelabras and Jesus busts in party hats. Authorities have closed it four times for sanitary reasons, though it serves no food whatsoever. The owner Lieven De Vos keeps several different beers in his fridge, but the only brand you get is whatever he chooses to serve you. The whole experience is as unsettling as it is entertaining. To say I recommend it would be an exaggeration. It’s not for everyone.

Another of these obsessions, less well known, is the Bezemsteeltje in Antwerp. This is on the Varkensmarkt, about 10 minutes walk northwest of the Cathedral. The café’s whole interior is layered in witches — mannequins, toys, masks, statuettes. They gaze into crystal balls and seem to cackle from the rafters. It is not a destination beer bar, though they tend to stock a few witch-themed ales. It’s worth the detour if you collect that sort of experience.

Belgium excels at fantasy. They know better than us that life is too short for the mundane, just as it’s too short for boring glassware, dull-looking beer, or a Sunday without a visit to the café. Thus fantasy finds its way into all sorts of beers and associated marketing. There are witches and elves and trolls and things all over the artwork — the labels, the breweriana, and in the brand names.

Many of these legends spring from local folklore, like the witches of Ellezelles, in the hill country of north Hainaut. The Quintine brewery there has long embraced the witch theme (I once visited to find an ad out front for a used broom — ‘only 600 flight hours’). The Quintine ales got their name from a 17th-century woman burnt at the stake for ‘witchcraft’ along with four other women; the real evil, of course, was superstition and those who used it to manipulate fools. Inevitably there is a medieval, horror-themed knees-up every year in Ellezelles to commemorate this grisly event. Meanwhile the town’s answer to Brussels’ Manneken Pis is a charming fountain named Eul Pichoûre. She is a squatting witch who relieves herself at a shocking velocity.

Mind you, Ellezelles is the same town (pop. 5,000) that decided — entirely on its own, since Agatha Christie never specified — that it was the birthplace of Hercule Poirot. To state the obvious, we are referring to a fictional character. Yet the local authorities can produce a birth certificate. It says he was born on April 1.

That’s the sort of nonsense that keeps me toiling happily in the mines here, in the decidedly un-lucrative field of Belgo-philia — part drunkard, part foreign ethnographer and cultural appropriator. I share this self-awareness to prepare you for what comes next: some dubious notions about Belgian art.

My impression is that the Belgians would be more into magical realism, but it’s just too realistic for them. Fantasy is their thing, and by fantasy I don’t mean wizards and dragons (although they like that stuff too).

I mean they are into the fantastic — anything goes, as long as it’s out there and detaches from the mundane. In Brussels there is even a Museum of Fantastic Art — full of weird and surreal objects — right next to the Horta Museum, a temple of Art Nouveau. Speaking of which, the very best of Art Nouveau architecture — born in Brussels, mind you — tends to look rather elvish. One of the best places to admire the style is the swooping interior of the brasserie Porteuse d’Eau (perhaps with a bottle of Lindemans Oude Gueuze, its own label drawn in Art Nouveau style). The fact that the place is an imitation only reinforces the theme. It doesn’t have to be real; it’s better if it isn’t.

Why be real, after all, when you can be surreal? Many of the surrealists, incidentally, subscribed to a method called automatism. The idea is to lose conscious control of what you are creating, and submit to the creations of your subconscious mind. Altered states of consciousness fascinated them. How often, do you reckon, were they sober?

The Belgian painter René Magritte didn’t embrace that method. His deliberate creations were more like visual poems, meant to create mystery. He said he did not intend them to ‘mean’ anything; they were supposed to be unknowable.

In Brussels, Magritte drank sometimes with other surrealists in the Fleur en Papier Doré, perhaps 10 minutes’ walk from the art museum that now bears his name. You can enjoy a tumbler of draught Oud Beersel lambic there and admire all sorts of odd things on the walls. My favourite is this scrawled bit of wisdom: Nul ne m’est étranger comme moi-même. No one is as foreign to me as I am to myself.

——————

Along with Tim Webb, Joe is the co-author of the latest (and 8th) edition of CAMRA’s Good Beer Guide Belgium which is now available, £14.99. We think it’s rather essential if you’re catching the Eurostar to Midi.


Ritual

RITUAL

‘It is like saying grace. In the wine cellars of Baron Bachofen von Echt, under his schloss at Nussdorf, on the edge of the Vienna Woods, I have raised a glass of “Sir Henry’s” dry stout, brewed on the premises, and said a silent prayer of thanks to the Campaign for Real Ale.’

Called to the Bar — an account of the first 21 years of CAMRA, published 1992

By Adrian Tierney-Jones

If we define ritual as an act that is always repeated, as an act of devotion, sometimes as an act of exaggeration, often as a sense of belonging and being in the vanguard of something with its own quirks and language and a heightened sense of its own reality, then brewing and beer is as ritualistic as say the Tridentine Mass or the fulsome applause whenever Kim Jong-un utters some proclamation. Think smells and bells, chants, Gregorian or otherwise, gestures or fingers crossed in the air, prayer and meditation, the unknown and, when it comes to working with mixed fermentation and barrels of various denominations, an act of blind faith.

Like many a writer and brewer, I have heard the tale of a head brewer at Guinness’ former Park Royal plant in west London, who at the start of the brewing day would sit on a chair (or a throne even) overlooking the brewing kit, and, at the appropriate time, fob-watch in hand, boom out ‘let the mash begin’. Whether true or not, the very existence of the story (or myth, another important part of ritual) seems to suggest that ritualistic practices have their place in the world of beer. On a personal level, I’m reminded of my experience at St Austell about 10 years ago during the first brew of the day — it was customary to taste the runnings of the wort from the first mash. It was horribly sweet, but at least it didn’t have a raw egg in it, an experience Roger Protz wrote about in The Ale Trail.

So how is brewing ritualistic? The same procedures are adhered to for each brew of a certain beer (unless of course you have split away, hammered your theses on the door and work with the uncertainties of wild yeast); the correct amount of salts are added to the liquor; the same temperatures for the mash and the boil; the same time given to the length of the brew. Meanwhile, hop varieties — Citra, Cascade, Centennial and Eukanot, perhaps — are intoned with the dedication of a prayer, an evocation that these hops will make the beer that beguiles drinkers, batch after batch after batch. And finally, the quiet slumber of fermentation and conditioning, head bowed, thought cowed, the mediation on the ritual taken.

There is also ritualistic behaviour in the pub. We buy rounds for each other, we say, ‘cheers’, ‘good health’ or (in my case) ‘long legs to the squadron leader’s baby’. A multitude of Maß brimming with gold-flecked Oktoberfest beer is clinked with gusto at Munich in the autumn. Smartphones are tapped and glasses snapped with metronomic passion and Instagrammable aptness at beer bars up and down the country, companions to those for whom beer festival programmes and spiral bound notebooks are chapbooks for the faith when face to face with new ales.

With all this in mind, it makes me think: are the rituals that run rife through beer and brewing a case of making the ordinary extraordinary? For after all, it does seem that the fermented juice of the barley has had the power to cast a spell on men and women ever since the first brewer stood up and said (for all I know) ‘what has happened here is magic’? Or are they, as could be ascribed to any ritual, a nervous tic of behaviour, an itch that needs to be scratched, a way of celebration that leads to ecstasy? Is this the real magic of beer: the unknowable?

——————

First published in Issue 17 of Original Gravity. Click here to read Magic & Loss by Pete Brown and Brand, Myth and Magic by Daniel Neilson here.  


Brand, myth & magic

BRAND, MYTH & MAGIC

Daniel Neilson plots barstool stories from the very first trademark to the new age of label legends

Labels sell beer; we know that. On New Year’s Day 1876, under registration code UK00000000001, a red triangle, known in the file as the Bass Triangle, became the first registered trademark in the Intellectual Property Office. Under the List of Goods, it reads Pale Ale. It was first used in an advert in the same year. It worked.

The logo appears in a Manet painting, and more than 40 Picasso drawings. James Joyce wrote about it in Ulysses. It distinguished Bass from other beers ‘many years before 1855’. The Guinness Harp, based on Ireland’s oldest surviving harp dating back to the 14th century, was registered not long after the Bass Triangle. It’s a better logo.

Why? There’s an emotional connection: it was designed to appeal to a renewed interest in Gaelic art and music, but also to appeal to homesick Irish workers in London. The harp is a symbol of their homeland. It tugged heartstrings as well as thirst. Other early labels are a nod to the city or country: Amstel’s lions are from Amsterdam’s crest, and Beck’s key is on Bremen’s coat of arms.

Others are symbolic: the chimerical creature of the kirin, appearing on Kirin Beer, is a harbinger of good luck. Some are even politely mocking: the goat on bottles of German bock comes from the accent of Bavarians, who apparently when asking for Einbeck, sounded like ‘ein Bock’ or ‘a Billy Goat’. Labels sell. But so does myth; everyone likes a good story. No matter how authentic the origins, however, having a good story is also Marketing 101.
Take another classic logo: the red star of Heineken. Even the brewery’s own historians haven’t unearthed a definitive answer, but a favourite is that it was a symbol of European brewers in the Middle Ages, ‘who believed it to have mystical powers to protect their brew’. Cool.

More modern breweries also look at myth and legend for inspiration. Beavertown’s cans tell a story of something, though I’m not entirely sure of what: Star Wars viewed through the prism of Futurama perhaps? Take a browse of Magic Rock cans.
There’s a story there, an intrigue that allows you to draw your conclusions.

Designs on Burning Sky and Cloudwater all invoke something other than mere brand recognition. Sierra Nevada has an imperial stout called Bigfoot while Great Divide’s is called Yeti.
By latching on to existing myths, a brewery can set out a stall of enticing curios of which the beer inside is just one of them.

Allegory and myth have carried the human story since man first traced a handprint on a cave wall in somewhere like France and said here I am. The fear in stories where Prometheus ends up chained to a rock or Oedipus descends to the underworld warns us mere humans, against moral failure or mortal danger. Except, that is, in beer. In beer it means one thing: drink me, I’m interesting.
You hope.

——————

First published in Issue 17 of Original Gravity. Click here to read Magic & Loss by Pete Brown and Ritual by Adrian Tierney-Jones here.  


Magic & Loss

MAGIC AND LOSS

If you go back far enough, magic, superstition, religion and science are all essentially the same: observing phenomena in the world and forming the best theory you can about why they happen. By Pete Brown

I know someone who once wore a pair of gloves to a football game and his team won, so he now wears the gloves to every game, even in summer. Even though his team often loses, he still believes the gloves play a part in their victories.

If you know nothing about the rotation of planets, or much else outside your local valley, and you sacrifice a goat in mid-December, it makes some kind of sense that you’d sacrifice a goat every December, and when the days start getting longer each time you do, it’s not unreasonable to conclude that your poor departed goat had something to do with it.

For thousands of years, we’ve observed fermentation happening and exercised some degree of apparent control over it. But we’ve known the truth of how it actually happens for less than 150 years. And let’s be honest: from a standing start, the notion that alcohol is created by invisible fungi eating sugar, pissing booze and farting CO2 sounds, if anything, less plausible than alcohol being a gift from the gods, or a function of magic.

Go back to the first appearances of the magical stave in myth and legend — the forerunners of Harry Potter’s wand or Gandalf’s staff — and it always appears as an instrument specifically of transformation. In ancient brewing cultures from Norway to Africa, a stick or staff was stirred through the wort to start brewing. In traditional South African villages, prayers are still said to the ancestors as the wand stirs. We now know that yeast cultures that have lain dormant in the wood since the last brew are introduced to the fresh wort by this practice and start the fermentation once again. Without microbiology, repeated practice and observation make it seems obvious that the waving of the magic wand is transforming grain and water into alcoholic beer.

In the middle ages beer was mostly brewed by women, known as brewsters, ale-wives or — sometimes — ale-witches. In surviving engravings, these ale-witches are pictured in tall, conical hats. When a brew was ready they would sometimes mount long poles or even broomsticks outside their doors to show that the beer was ready.

Wise women, accumulating the knowledge of the poisonous, healing and transformative powers of various plants and passing it on through generations, had knowledge that sat outside the patriarchal pyramid of the church. Monasteries gradually took control of brewing away from ale-witches who were eventually, inevitably, persecuted as evil.

Science was born as the conjoined twin of alchemy, with both conducting experiments to discover how the world worked, and magic — such as the transformation of lead into gold — not yet discounted. The foamy cap atop a fermentation vessel was known as ‘godisgoode’, a substance that seemingly appeared from nowhere to create beer.

But gradually science progressed, with chemistry disproving the spontaneous creation of matter in the 18th century, and biochemistry proving that microorganisms were responsible for both fermentation and beer spoilage in the late 19th. Finally, we understood the fundamentals of brewing. But as in many aspects of life, detailed, rational knowledge killed some of the magic around us.

——————

Pete Brown’s book, Miracle Brew, is out now. 

Illustrations by Sam Marsh @sam_marsh_illustration 

First published in Issue 17 of Original Gravity. Click here to read Ritual by Adrian Tierney-Jones and Brand, Myth and Magic by Daniel Neilson here.  


Q&A: Adam Matuška, head brewer, Pivovar Matuška

Q&A: ADAM MATUSKA, HEAD BREWER, PIVOVAR MATUSKA

On a beer journey to the Czech Republic, Adrian Tierney-Jones

I was a very bad student in elementary school…

…in everything, then when I was thinking about going to high school, my father, who has been a brewer all his life, said maybe you can try this chemistry degree as you learn a bit about brewing. I told him that I was bad at chemistry, but he taught me enough so that I was prepared for the exams. The course was four years, and the first two years it wasn’t about brewing, just chemistry and physics and bullshit and I played baseball.

Then I met Jamie Hawksworth…

…(founder of Pivovar pub company), who was visiting my father with the intention of learning how to brew Czech beer. The three of us went to a beer competition in České Budějovice and Jamie was a judge there. I was 16 I think and on the way back I told Jamie that I wanted to go to the UK and learn about brewing. He said that he had a small pub Pivni in York and I could come and work there.

I had no English and I had to learn it…

…but in this bar there were 20 beers on tap and hundreds in bottle. At that time in the Czech Republic there wasn’t anything like this, and it changed my thinking. Before that I had just thought about brewing beer, but now I wanted to brew an IPA and other styles. I was shown a new world of beer.

I have a motto in brewing…

…every beer that I brew you have to drink 1/2 litre of it, and then you have to be thirsty for another 1/2 litre, even if it is 9%, you don’t have to drink it but you would like to. This is my credo. The first time I said to my father I will try brewing an IPA beer he replied you have to sell it, he said that people need to drink it. I learnt everything from my father.

California is not a pale ale style…

…it is a highly drinkable beer style. I didn’t want to have it as a sipper, I wanted to develop an ale like Pilsner Urquell, with high drinkability. The thinking behind California was that we wanted to brew the beer like a typical Czech lager, very balanced.

When I brew a new beer…

…I always try and pair with food at one of my favourite restaurants Krystal (krystal-bistro.cz), which also sells four of my beers. The chef has the same thinking as me, new things within tradition. For instance, a Czech style goulash which is different. What I don’t want to do is mystify people, so with the beer Ella, which is a lager with the Australian hop Ella, I mix three things I love, my daughter Ella, the decoction style and the hop.

ATJ / pivovarmatuska.cz

Read Adrian’s Beer Traveller’s guide to Prague here (http://www.originalgravitymag.com/beer-travellers-prague/)


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.


Beer Travellers: Prague

BEER TRAVELLERS: PRAGUE

Adrian Tierney-Jones explores the Czech capital and discovers simple pleasures

I am in Prague, a city that I fall in and out of love with, a city that brings joy, but can also frustrate, but on this Sunday morning it is a city with which I am very much smitten. And when the stars come out and the planets strive to influence my moods, I love to walk the streets of Prague without purpose, to stroll with no ambition of arrival, to be a flâneur, to be an observer, to vanish into the beauty of its cityscape. The joy of this urban-based wandervogel is that I never know what I will find but I do know that I always build up a thirst, and so on this grey Sunday morning the end result of my aimless amble in the Holešovice district on the north bank of the Vltava is Klášterní Pivnice.

I had heard its name before, old school, smoky, an authentic corner pub and an antidote to the city’s craft beer joints that look like coffee shops and where IPA is the lingua franca (not that there is anything bad about this, I love Zlý časy, Pivovarský klub, Illegal and Ale! Bar, for instance, but sometimes I just want to drink a Saaz-ravished světlý ležák — and lots of it). So there I was, taking time out from my travels, outside the pub, along with a couple of smokers, a thirst continuing to build up like an array of buses stuck on Oxford Street. Before I went through the door, I played a little game and tried to imagine Klášterní Pivnice as a person — perhaps a gruffly-spoken, take-no-nonsense bar tender, male or female, the kind of person that turns even the biggest of mouths into timid people-pleasers.

After all, it’s an unremarkable looking place, located on the ground floor of an apartment block, maybe built under the communists and tarted up in the last few years, but then I noted the three windows, each of which was stuffed with odds and sods such as old typewriters, empty bottles and a lone laptop from the age of steam. Instead of being unbearably quirky (like children’s TV presenters who shout out that they are ‘WHACKY!’), this felt more like a let’s-put-some-old-tat-in-the-window-for-a-laugh kind of thing, which I rather liked (though I could be wrong and maybe the typewriters represent some kind of literary crusade).

Inside, there was a silence reminiscent of a church before the service begins — the odd laugh, the murmur of conversation, and a sense of tranquility. It was 11am but there were only a few drinkers about. In the back room where I took my pint of Klášter Ležák (crisp and refreshing, an ideal companion for this first sip of the day), there was an harmonious balance between the silence of several drinkers reading their newspapers and the occasional clunk of glass mugs as a group of four guys toasted the morning once more (though I did wonder if they had been to bed yet, as a couple had the look of the swiped, slack faced pot-valiant about them). Meanwhile the bar tender was unceasing as he roved the back room looking for who wanted their glass replenished.

If you’re interested in such trifles, there were four draft beers on (none of them an IPA): as well as the one I was drinking, there were beers from Chotěboř, Primátor and one other, whose name I couldn’t be bothered to record. I think the mood of the pub affected me, got me to forget my constant rattling around the taxonomy of beer and join in the sheer joy of this unpretentious boozer, where time seemed to stretch and turn in on itself. As I gulped my beer (it started as sips, but it was soon apparent that this was a beer to gulp), an elderly man came in and sat at a table, his face like a map of a distant fabulous land. Up sprung the bar tender once more with a pint and a chaser, and the man with the face of a world we shall never see sat with his magazine, silent and still, each gulp (the gulping was infectious) of the beer like a soliloquy to his place in the world of this pub.

The back room had the feel of a hideaway, a cave perhaps, a wooden, panelled cave, painted green, while the tables and chairs were brutalist brown. As if to demonstrate the room’s communal aspect, a bench travelled along the three walls. Old faded prints of local football teams lined the wall alongside scarves and – curiously – a pennant for West Ham. Once more the sense of local was emphasised.

A dog (a French Bulldog called Rocky), who’d come in the company of the four revellers, roamed the room and settled beneath a table where a man in reflective clothes, his night shift finished perhaps, sat with a friend and ate his lunch (a robust, meaty menu, old school). The man surreptitiously slipped the dog scraps and I continued diving deeper into my beer (24 crowns for a pint if you’re interested in that sort of thing, which makes it about 90p). It wasn’t the best beer in the world but it was perhaps the best beer in the best pub in the world at that moment in time. There was an informality and a homeliness about the place even if I didn’t share the language and the life choices on display.

If you want to see the Czech love for beer before craft took over or away from the PU, Staro and Budvar pubs, then somewhere like this is an essential place to visit. It’s a boozer’s paradise, a hiding place, an easy place to write and a lair where enough time might make you part of the crowd. Which is sometimes what beer and pubs are all about: belonging.

Meanwhile Rocky continued to scout across the room and the bar in search of fallen titbits and his human companions kept carousing.


Q&A: Georgina Young, Head Brewer, Fullers

Q&A: GEORGINA YOUNG, HEAD BREWER, FULLERS

We quiz the Head Brewer of Fullers about the future… and the past

There’s been brewing on this site since the 17th century (though brewing took place at Bedford House in the late 16th century), it’s a historic site, a brewery rooted in its place, do you ever feel a sense of kinship with what went before, how do you feel about the link with those who have made beer down the centuries?

I think the way that we have brewed beer has been passed down. If you look at the old mash tuns and copper. We are connected to the previous generation of brewers here. We promote from within, having just become the head brewer. Passing down of the baton is normal here.

If London Pride was just one moment in London, what would it be?

It would be the Olympics. We were so proud to be Londoners, winning lots of gold. We took the world by storm and it was a really amazing day. It was an iconic moment.

Do you dream about brewing and beer or do you manage to switch off when leaving the brewery?

I don’t think as a brewer you ever switch off. One of the wonderful things is that you can do your job even when out with your friends. Inspiration comes from all sorts of unusual places.

What did you feel on your first day as Fuller’s head brewer?

We had a lovely evening when John Keeling announced I was going to be the next head brewer. I’m usually quite chatty, but I was actually lost for words. It was quite emotional and I’m extremely proud to have the title. We want to maintain quality as well as making new and exciting beers.

What can we expect from you and Fuller’s in the future, what kind of beers, projects, inspirations and aspirations?

We’re doing an exciting collaboration project with a range of different beers that will be in a mixed pack in Waitrose. We were in touch with some of our friends and we’re brewing a lager with Fourpure, New England IPA with Cloudwater, ESB with Moor in Bristol, a saison with Marble, a rye ale with Thornbridge and a smoked porter with Hardknott. I haven’t created any of the recipes, instead, we paired each of our six brewers with six breweries and they have brewed a beer. What’s been lovely is seeing how my team have blossomed with the project.

I’ve also been busy with preparing to install a ten-barrel pilot brewery. It will enable us to try out new malts, new hop varieties, different yeast strains and be a bit more adventurous with our beer styles.

/ fullers.co.uk