Original Gravity’s writers remember 2019

We asked some of our favourite Original Gravity writers (actually, all of our writers are favourites) to try and sum up their beer-flecked highlights of 2019, here is what they had to say (ok, write if you’re going to be pedantic about it)

 

Apparently — Jessica Mason

Whether a story is false or factual, once retold in a pub, it becomes an anecdote. But over time, recounted chronicles grow rich with embellishment. Fables become refreshed. Re-spun with more colour. The once apocryphal tale gains the authentication of becoming pub parable.

At least, this is what I gleaned during the start of the year in a pub known by some as The Bell in Ticehurst. A place famed for its storytelling and rumoured to have been Rudyard Kipling’s local. A pub that calls itself: The Bell, Apparently. 

Scribed upon the entrance is an explanation for why the pub’s name has been adapted. It is a simple nod to the art of a good yarn. Anything can be told and retold if the word ‘apparently’ is added. Say it and no one can question your statement. 

For example, apparently, Kipling wrote A Smuggler’s Song while sitting in his favourite chair at The Bell. It makes us look back around the pub with fond eyes, feeling very much like a part of history ourselves when we walk on the same stone floor or drink beer drawn from its cellar.

The word ‘apparently’ reminds us how pubs are places of folly. It reminds us the most tantalising revelations are rarely borne from phlegmatic fact, because people play the central role in public houses. Narrators of lore convene in bars and, with active minds and kind hearts, have a readiness to believe in more than the daily grind. In pubs we hear the voices of others. They can help bridge all sorts of social divides. They give us perspective.

As a nation gone asunder, we need to remember that we may all grasp different viewpoints, but we are all still people. And we care.

But let’s also remember that pubs aren’t just about stories and chatter. They’re also the absorbers of secrets. As much a witness to what we obsess about, cry over or oft reconsider. They retain the unrepeatable. They capture the whispers left unheard. They guide us while we quietly etch out a path for our future, setting the world to rights over glassware.

In the countless pubs I’ve visited — around 200 this year alone — I think of the adage: ‘If these walls could talk.’ And I think of all the people who unburden themselves in this way. Those who divulge all to those who they trust. Each confidential admission nullified or righted by the nod of a head or the unequivocal warmth of a friendly returned gaze. 

I won’t tell you any more about The Bell. In many ways I don’t need to do that. Just visit for yourself. Whether you share your viewpoint or reveal your secrets, I’m confident that the pub will honour both story and silence. 

And, I hear that there’s happiness found in both, apparently.

 

I Travel — Eoghan Walsh

I’ve done more beer-related travel this year than has been good for my health, but I’ve been rewarded with some fantastic memories. In June I made it to Amsterdam for the Carnivale Brettanomyces for the first time — a festival dedicated solely to the far-out world of wild fermented beers.

The whole weekend was an eye-opener, but sitting in the upstairs parish meeting room of a canalside French protestant church listening to Ulrike Genz of Berlin brewery Schneeeule and avid home-brewer Benedikt Koch guide a roomful of beer drinkers around the history of Berliner Weisse through their own beers was not somewhere I ever thought I would find myself. I think it most sticks in my mind because I was slumped asleep in my chair before even the first beers were passed around. No shade on the quality of their talk, but on my own overindulgence the night before.

2019 was also the year I finally made the pilgrimage to the home of Czech lager and drank Pilsner Urquell tapped directly from the barrel, underneath the brewery in the gargantuan den of cellar tunnels once used to store the beer. Czech beer was what brought me and my wife together when we were drunken students studying abroad in Czechia, and this would have been an even more resonant moment to savour had it not been for the 30 or so other tourists lining up behind me for their drop of unfiltered světlý ležák.

 

Bride ale — Kathie Mather

This year some of the best beer memories I made were in Cumbria. At our wedding in Grizedale in April I drank pints of Bluebird Bitter and Hawkshead Gold in my muddy wedding dress, poured from our own ramshackle bar put together by friends. We spent the following week or so in Grasmere, and visited as many brilliant Lakeland pubs as we could. Drinking dark ales looking out over the fells from The Kirkstone Pass Inn is always an afternoon well-spent. The best windows let you watch cyclists reach the top of The Struggle, and if you like, you can wave encouragement to them as they puff and blow their way past. We also travelled all the way to The White Swan in Cockermouth because we’d been told on some authority that they had Jarl. They did. It was perfect. It also had a landlord willing to tell us about local ghosts, and show us witch marks scratched into the ancient beams.

 

 

Where brewers drink — Joe Stange

In mid-summer, visiting the Schönramer brewery — which, over the decades, has been dialling in its beautiful beers in its beautiful sub-Alpine setting — and heading with the brewers after their shifts to a nearby lakeside watering hole, to drink more cool Pils and watch the locals swim.

 

Still waters — Lottie Gross

I drank a lot of beer this year, but one of the finest was sipped in Rwanda on the terrace of my lodge, overlooking Virunga National Park and the various volcanic peaks that spread out before me. I asked for whatever the local brew was and, just my luck, I got a 6.5% dark ale called Virunga Mist. Glorious. Elsewhere, I sipped American craft beers in the sweltering sun at Flying Dog Brewery in Maryland, USA, and Dutch booze brewed by Brouwerij ‘t IJ inside a windmill in Amsterdam. There’s nothing quite as gratifying, though, as cracking open a trusty Old Speckled Hen just after lunch while in the proverbial driver’s seat of a canal boat. My dog, my dad and I went cruising on the Kennet and Avon on his 38-foot narrowboat on the hottest weekend of the year and the promise of pints at the end of the canal kept us moving. No one else in the family loves it quite like we do, so beer and boats are our bonding mechanisms.

 

Friedenfelser Zoigl, drunk at the Blockhütte Waldnaabtal, a beer garden in the Oberpfalz, Germany — Will Hawkes

In the middle of the Waldnaabtal, a nature reserve built around a winding, rock-strewn stretch of the Waldnaab river, is the Blockhütte, a log cabin with a large shaded beer garden. I arrived at just after 3pm on a hot June day, having walked 15 miles with a pack on my back. It was almost comically tranquil. A young woman served me as her children played on the steps of the hut; the river gurgled gently in the background; a few cyclists rode up; a few others left. Half-an-hour of absolute calm. The beer was quite nice, too.

 

Harvey’s Sussex Best — Adrian Tierney-Jones

Lots of memories from this year: the trip to BrewDog’s new brewery in Ohio, Indie Beer Feast, finally visiting Magic Rock and Brasserie de L’Abbaye des Rocs (not at the same time obviously), the staggering immensity of the Guinness brewery in Dublin, craft beer bar hopping with my son in Seville, Prague (twice) and several small breweries in south and north Bohemia and organising the Exeter Beer Weekend. However, what stands out in such a sharp focus that it makes me catch my breath is a couple of pints of Harvey’s Sussex Best one quiet Saturday lunchtime in the Hourglass in Exeter, an old corner pub, one of whose windows still has the ‘City Brewery Ales’ slogan of the long-gone Norman & Pring Brewery etched into its fabric. I sat on a stool, around the corner from the bar, book in hand, mesmerised by the pub’s stillness, but it was the beer that turned my world upside down. Over two pints, I forgot my book and drank deeply of this unyielding interplay between English hops and English barley. There was a pungency, an urgency in the flavours, a muskiness, a maturity, a bittersweetness and the bitter finish collaborated with my palate in demanding more. Two pints was enough, I was sated, the glass was empty, I said cheers to the bartender and went out as if in a dream. 

 

Birmingham vs Leicester, a cautionary tale — Laura Hadland

2019 has been a unique year in my beer journey. Having spent some 90% of the year pregnant (long story), this has been the year that I have really got to know alcohol free beer well. What was borne out of necessity apparently couldn’t have come at a better time.

Breweries around the world have really got to grips with low and no alcohol products that are full of flavour and character. I tip my cap in particular to Adnams, Krombacher and Brooklyn Lager here. They have produced booze-free beers that I would happily choose over their ‘full fat’ cousins.

However my beer experience of the year is an event that took place in the short window when I fell off the wagon. It was the day of the CAMRA Good Beer Guide Launch and it sticks in my memory because great beer is made so much better by great company.

I had received an invitation from one of CAMRA’s National Directors, Ash Corbett-Collins, to celebrate the book’s publication in Birmingham. We’d chatted a bit on Twitter, but never met in person so I thought it would be a great opportunity to put a face to the tweets. What I hadn’t realised was that all of the CAMRA regions were celebrating the Good Beer Guide at the same time.

This meant that I was put in a bit of a quandary when I received an invitation to the East Midlands launch from my friends at Leicester CAMRA. Not wanting to let anyone down, I decided to go to both. After all, Birmingham and Leicester are only separated by a 50 minute train journey. Admittedly that tiny, packed, sweaty Cross Country Train can be uncomfortably akin to Dante’s Seventh Circle of Hell (Violence). But still, only for 50 minutes.

The West Midlands crew had assembled in the cavernous Head of Steam, conveniently located at literal spitting distance from Birmingham New Street. CAMRA members, branch committees, brewers, publicans, National Executive and more gathered to shoot the breeze. In particular, I was delighted to meet Cy Day – West Midlands Regional Co-ordinator. A more amiable, humorous and generally genial person I have not met in a long time. My chat with him was accompanied by the nicely balanced Ground Patrol NZ IPA from Maldon’s Bad Seed Brewery, an easy going beer with a skilfully blended hop profile.

After a couple of hours of friendly banter, it was back on the Hades Express and a quick scout of some of Leicester’s finest real ale pubs to find the East Midland contingent on their more active celebration. Discovering them in the Rutland & Derby, before moving to the Two Tailed Lion followed by the Blue Boar I was in plenty of time to discover my home crowd in good spirits. They had been joined by the great Gillian Hough (above), another CAMRA National Executive member and notable champion of cider and perry. Gillian was another Beer Twitter pal who I had not had the pleasure of meeting IRL before — the magic of social media!

I enjoyed a few good halves over the rest of the evening, but Northern Monk’s Eternal stood out for me. I loved the session IPA so much that ‘Tasty shit!’ was the only note I made. But when you’ve got fantastic pubs, beers and wonderful people to share it all with, who needs notebooks?

 

I Travel, part II — Pete Brown

2019 was a year of unexpected and largely unplanned travel. It’s the kind of concentrated, turbo-charged year that has never happened to me before and is extremely unlikely to happen again. I haven’t been to so many countries in one year since I wrote Three Sheets to the Wind back in 2006. 

The world has changed a great deal: back then I had an amazing procession of fantastic beer experiences, most of which consisted of drinking mainstream, commercial lager brands because there wasn’t much else available, although the beer-drinking cultures I explored were no worse for that.

These days the availability of a wide range of beer styles is simply unbelievable from an early noughties point of view, but the unwelcome side effect of this is a sort of global blanding out of craft beer: you can get a hazy IPA anywhere in any big city in the world now. Great. But the quirkiness and local character I used to enjoy seems to be under threat as a result. 

It was great then, to go on a number of different trips that reconnected me with the joy to be had drinking beer around the world. 

Grimbergen may not be best Abbey beer to have come out of Belgium, but in the café behind the big clock-face in the Musée D’Orsay in Paris, it was enough to turn a cheese plate into the most memorable lunch of the year. Accidentally booking an AirBandB opposite the Monk Café in Brussels gave me a new favourite place in a city full of them, the Spag Bol threatening to eclipse the range of ‘social’ beer bottles. And £20 for a bottle of Westverletern 12 is not a rip off if you’re spending the money knowingly to create the perfect interlude to the sparking Christmas markets in an ancient, fire-lit pub. The most relaxed, blissful afternoon of the year was spent chilling with At Hops End, a new brewpub in a national park on the outskirts of Johannesburg. Two weeks later I was presenting to a roomful of craft brewers in Melbourne at BrewCon 2019, the annual conference of Australia’s independent brewers, and judging their beers. Three weeks after that, it was Lagunitas in Kerouac’s favourite San Francisco Bar, and Pliny the Elder at the new Russian River brewery. Jackhammer IPA at BrewDog’s amazing Doghouse Hotel in Ohio, and a range of special brews to commemorate International Stout Day with Guinness in Dublin, all added up to a year spent rediscovering the perfect beer moment: micro or micro, old or new, mainstream or weird – all that matters is sharing good beer with good people.