Thursday 29 April 2021

Have vaccine - will travel

It can’t have escaped anyone’s notice that the concept of Covid-Passports has been very much in the news, during recent months. The idea has been mooted, as we come out of lock-down, as a possible way of opening up society quicker, whilst at the same time remaining safe and stopping the virus from spreading once again.

The multi-billion-pound travel, tourism, and hospitality sectors in particular, are crying out for a return to some semblance of normality, and Covid-Passports of some shape of form, could prove the way out of the current mess.

The idea behind such a document is it would certify that the holder has been fully vaccinated against Covid-19, and despite obvious concerns regarding civil liberties and discrimination, plans for such a scheme seem to be gaining traction.  It’s still largely theoretical at present, at least in the UK, but countries such as Denmark and Israel that have emerged from the pandemic relatively unscathed, are already piloting such documents.

The European Union is also working on its own scheme, although given the discrepancies between some of the member states in terms of Covid resilience and widely varying infection rates, the roll-out of such a document could still be some way off.  Britain too, seems to be testing the water, but without committing itself to anything definite at the moment.

This leads on nicely to two items of news which, whilst not intentionally related, are turning out to be very closely connected. I’ll deal with the imminent story first, before moving on to the second item which not only takes place in four and a half months’ time but is also an event which requires a lot more explanation.

News item number one: this afternoon (Thursday), Mrs PBT’s and I will be having our second shot of the Covid vaccination, so two to three weeks after that, we should expect maximum protection against this particular Coronavirus.

News item number two: the pair of us have booked a holiday for mid-September. So, what you might say, lots of people are looking ahead and booking themselves some much needed time away. But what if I told you the holiday, we’ve booked is a cruise?

You’d probably be thinking that we’re mad. After all, remember all those passengers trapped on board cruise ships, just over a year ago, when the Corona-virus pandemic was really starting to take hold. Confined to their cabins for days on end, passengers aboard these vessels quickly found their luxury accommodation had turned into floating prisons.

There is a subtle difference though between these traditional cruises and the one we have just moved, because our voyage aboard the Cunard Queen Elizabeth will not only be confined to British territorial waters, but passengers will be restricted to UK citizens and residents.

Given the uncertainty regarding the ending of all lock down restrictions and the present restrictions on foreign travel, this kind of makes sense, and our four night stay aboard the vessel, will see us cruising from Southampton to Liverpool and back, via the Irish Sea. We have a day ashore in Liverpool, and whilst I have made several visits to the city Mrs PBT’s has never been there.

In addition, the cruise hasn’t cost us a penny, as we had credit left from last year’s cancelled cruise to Hamburg; in fact, after booking this current cruise, we’ve still got sufficient credit left to pay the deposit on another one!

Another advantage of the cruise is not only is our accommodation paid for, but so are all our meals. We can even, if we wish – and Mrs PBT’s certainly will be wishing, opt for room service and have breakfast delivered to our cabin. Drink admittedly is extra, but with a fridge in the room, I will be bringing along a selection of tinnies so I can enjoy a cool beer whilst we’re sitting out on our balcony enjoying the sea air and as we sail along the Welsh coastline.

The accommodation aspect is important, as without wishing to appear smug, overnight stays anywhere in the UK are going to be at a premium, given the uncertainty surrounding foreign travel at the moment, and the fact that holidays on home soil will probably be the norm for 2021.

Several of my work colleagues are already bemoaning the exorbitant costs that many hotels are charging (double pre-pandemic prices in many instances), whist finding a cottage or apartment to rent, is as rare as the proverbial hen’s teeth.

There is, however, a sting in the tail, but one which, if I’m brutally honest, I was half expecting. I’m sure though, that many would just regard it as a sensible precaution, given what the world has just been through and what we are still experiencing.

You see, hidden away in the small print of the T&Cs of our booking confirmation, is a requirement for all passengers to have had both doses of their Covid vaccinations. This is because the voyage is for Covid-19 vaccinated UK residents only. The definition of vaccinated is a minimum of seven days from the second dose of the currently approved Covid-19 vaccine being administered.

Proof of vaccination, and dates given, will be required (approved forms of evidence to be confirmed prior to departure), and will need to be shown at the terminal, prior to boarding. In other words, a Covid-19 passport is required.

Finally, as our cruise will be one of Cunard’s first voyages, following the pause in their operations, the ship will have a significantly reduced number of guests on board, to “better enable a smooth return to sailing.” The wording is, “approved forms of evidence to be confirmed.” In other words, whatever HMG come up with. 

That’s fine with me, as there was never any way that either of us were not going to have the vaccine and, irrespective of cruising requirements, we will be fully vaccinated some considerable time ahead of scheduled departure, but for how long these types of Covid Passport will be necessary, in order to travel, remains to be seen.

So, if you’ve got more than a passing interest in this topic, then watch this space!

Sunday 25 April 2021

Still feeling the need to experiment

I came in for a spot of criticism from a correspondent, over my recent blog post about the reopening of the Nelson Arms, in Tonbridge. I mentioned how good the Harvey’s was but then, because I moved on to a few of the other beers the pub had on sale, I was questioned as to why I didn’t stay with Lewes’s finest, for the rest of the session. He went on to say, Why at your age do you still feel the need to experiment & having a Ruby with it, words fail me.”

The comment came from a character, who goes by the name of “Greengrass.” He occasionally posts comment on my blog, normally about local pubs of character and what the beer is like, and if he is the person, I think he is, then I know him, at least by sight. He is someone who used to come into my off-license, from time to time and I do know he is someone who knows and enjoys his beer.

Mildly chastised, and ignoring the remark about the curry I enjoyed, I replied that I was caught up in the moment, rather like "a kid in a sweet shop" and, as I admit to being a fan of dark beers, I wanted to try a couple that were on offer that afternoon. I said I was sure there would be plenty of other opportunities for a session on the Harvey’s.

His comment did get me thinking though, as to why we sometimes do opt for a range of beers, when there are good, honest, and reliable beers, such as Harvey’s on offer, and especially when that “safe” beer happens to be in tip-top condition? Could it be the fear here, of missing out on something amazing, or is it the kids in a sweet shop syndrome of being totally overwhelmed by what is on offer?

Variety is said to be the spice of life and I like to try different beers –
broaden my horizons, so to speak, but sometimes I come unstuck and choose one that turns out to be not to my liking. Admittedly this doesn’t happen often, as I can usually tell from the description on the pump clip, or from previous knowledge. There are also certain breweries whose beers I tend to avoid, again based on past experience. This doesn’t mean they are necessarily bad, it’s just that they do not appeal to me personally.

Sometimes though I have to be in a particular mood, for a particular style. For example, I might want a beer that is light and refreshing, at the start of a session, before finishing up with one that is dark, rich, and heavy. Alternatively, it’s the wrong time of year, as who really wants to be drinking heavy stouts and porters during a heat wave?

I have read about people attending a beer festival and then sticking with a single beer. I’ve even known people to do this themselves; although to be fair this usually happens after they’ve sampled a few that were not to their liking. I can understand when they do find one, they like, they then stick with it.

I recall a tale, from CAMRA’s Great British Beer Festival, about a group of drinkers who attended each year, and met up at the Shepherd Neame bar, which used to be housed in a distinctly decorated, double-decker bus. They would then spend the whole day there drinking nothing but Shepherd Neame beer. Each to their own, but it does seem rather obtuse behaviour given that sheer variety of beers available at this event.

This situation is not unique, of course, and more to the point it is British Beer Festivals, and their North American imitators that are different from most other parts of the world. Take Germany, for example, there festivals are more about enjoying beer in a social and convivial atmosphere, rather than attempting to “tick” as many new/different beers as possible.

Beer at Munich’s world-famous Oktoberfest is limited to the products of the city’s six large breweries, and even then, it is a special “Festbier” brewed to a stronger strength than the everyday “quaffing” beers. At the far less well-known Annafest, held each July in woods above the small Franconian town of Forchheim, the town’s four small breweries supply the bulk of the beer, although several of the Kellers (drinking areas), do stock beers brewed in some of the surrounding villages.

Again, having a good time (there is normally live music and other attractions, such as fairground rides, at these events), is the order of the day, and whilst the beer is nothing short of top notch, once ensconced in a particular tent (Oktoberfest) or Keller (Annafest), it does play second fiddle to the partying and good time feeling that characterises these festivals.

Quite a lengthy response then, to Greengrass’s probing question about me “still feeling the need to experiment,” but if you have read this far, you will understand now that there is no straight answer – at least not from me!  The truth is I can live with either the “let’s try several different beers,” approach or “I’m going to stick with just the one brew,” as they are both very dependent on my mood at the time and the situation, I find myself in.

Given the above, I can enjoy both, so my question to those of you reading this is, in situations when you come across a beer that is at the top of its game, or one that just happens to be your personal favourite, do you stick with it all evening, or do you still do a bit of mixing and matching?

And Greengrass, if after reading this, you happen to spot me in a pub, and I don't seem to recognise you, come over and say hello, and I'll buy you a pint - Harvey's or whatever takes your fancy!



Tuesday 20 April 2021

Long time coming

“It’s been a long time coming,” as Crosby, Stills & Nash sang at the end of the sixties. I know, as I remember the song, but as the famous quote says, If you can remember anything about the sixties, you weren't really there!”

I was there though on 14th of April 2021, there being the labyrinth-like garden/outdoor drinking area of the Nelson Arms, and the occasion was a reunion drink with friends to celebrate the return of pubs. Not quite the full return, as for the time being, patrons have to consume and enjoy their beer in the great outdoors of a pub garden.

It actually doesn’t have to be a garden, as any suitable outdoor space will do, even a car-park, as long as the social interaction that goes with the enjoyment of beer, other alcoholic drinks, or food, doesn’t take place in an indoor environment. Something about the virus potentially spreading much in the confinement of an indoor setting.

Now that spring is finally here, I really don’t mind being outside, as long as I can enjoy a beer in the company of friends and company. I’d even go further and say that is some settings I prefer being out in the fresh air. This is why Bavarian Biergartens have such appeal to me.

I digress, but the long-awaited meet-up of members of the WhatsApp Beer Socials Group – an offshoot of West Kent CAMRA was arranged some considerable time ago. In fact, the booking had been made by a friend, almost as soon as Prime Minister Johnson’s much vaunted “Roadmap out of Lockdown” plans were announced. Then, as word got around via the group, it became necessary to increase the booking to two tables.

I walked down to the Nelson with one of my near neighbours. He’d been tending his front garden when I walked back from the bus stop that morning, following my journey over to Tunbridge Wells. We hadn’t seen each other for quite some time, so got chatting, as you do. It turned out he’d been invited to the meet-up as well by a mutual friend, so I agreed to call round for him on my way down to the pub. Such was his eagerness that he was waiting for me when I stepped onto his drive.

We arrived shortly after the 3pm opening time and, after checking in, found several members of the group
already there. One of our allotted tables was already full, so we sat at the adjacent one, and it wasn’t long before that too, began filling up. The Nelson’s well-trained staff were able to set up individual tabs for each of us, meaning we could drink at our own pace, and in some cases eat as well, before settling up at the end of the session.

Beer was what we were there for, and cask beer at that! The pub had printed off a number of handy Beer Menus, complete with handy tasting notes. Eight beers were listed, but two of them had already finished. My first choice was a no-brainer, as it was the cask ale, I have missed the most during the long months of lock-down. It was Harvey’s Sussex Best Bitter – one of the finest, traditional bitters available, and was a beer to both savour and enjoy.

Good as the Harvey’s was, I wanted to try a few of the other beers on the menu, whilst at the same time remaining mindful that I had work in the morning and a report to present at our monthly management meeting. Pacing myself was the obvious answer, and the next beer I chose was a dark one, in the form of a 4.3% Old Ale from Iron Pier Brewery. I have enjoyed other beers in the past from this Gravesend-based brewery, and this smooth, dark, and malty ale, with its chocolate and coffee undertones, didn’t disappoint.

Before going any further, it’s worth describing the lengths that the Nelson's landlord Matt and his team have gone to in order to provide a sheltered and secluded outdoor area that meets government guidelines, whilst at the same time providing a convivial and safe drinking environment. The section nearest the pub is more covered in, whereas the part where we were seated is more open, with just some rather flimsy looking gazebos for shelter. Matt apparently had to sacrifice his much-prized, off-road parking area which, given the scarcity of parking spaces in the immediate vicinity, must have come hard.

Although we had two tables, several other friends and acquaintances also tuned up, but fortunately there was another vacant table available close by. It was really good seeing familiar faces and just catching up with people again, especially as most of us hadn’t seen one another for the best part of five months.

I think to a man, and a woman (branch secretary Carole was there as well), we have all had our first Covid vaccinations, but even so we had the courtesy to mask up when walking over for a chat with occupants of the other tables.

As the afternoon stretched on towards evening, temperatures inevitably began to drop. Fortunately, I’d packed an additional fleece plus a wooly hat in my small rucksack, and after the sun went down and dusk started to gather, I was mighty glad that I did.

I switched back to a paler beer for my third pint, a 5% house beer called NIPA (Nelson IPA), produced for the pub by Rother Valley Brewery.  Me drinking it might come across as rather hypocritical, given my recent article about “house beers,” but it was getting a favourable reception from those who had tried it, and Rother Valley do brew some good beers.

My final beer of the evening was Brickfield Brown from Five Points Brewing. It is the brewery’s take on traditional brown ale and weighs in at 5.4%. It was on the sweet side, and somewhat stronger than a typical brown ale, but did grow on me after a while.

Before starting on that last beer, I treated myself to a bite to eat. The Nelson’s Ruby Murray chicken curry, which came in an enameled bowl, minus the rice, but with plenty of naan bread was both warming and satisfying, and the perfect way to end the day’s drinking and also soak up some of the beer.

By the time I left the pub, the temperature has dropped to something close on freezing, so the brisk walk home provided a chance to warm up a little. A few hardened drinkers remained, but I felt I’d had just the right amount, without feeling worse for wear the following morning.

So all in all, a good way to welcome back the return of pubs, and to catch up with old friends..

Sunday 18 April 2021

New boots - new beginning?

I splashed out and treated myself on Wednesday to that long promised new pair of walking boots. I’d waited patiently before replacing the trusty pair of Trespass boots, I’d purchased from their shop in London’s Covent Garden, eleven years ago, but despite a valiant attempt to re-affix the Vibram rubber soles that had parted company with the leather uppers, (the repair lasted for just two days walking along the NDW), it was definitely time for a new pair.

The patience part came into play because I wanted to ensure that any new boots I acquired would fit snugly and correctly, which is why I booked an appointment at Cotswold Outdoor’s Tunbridge Wells store as soon as "non-essential retail" was allowed to reopen.

The morning of Wednesday 14th April was the day of appointment, which suited me fine as it fitted into my plans to attend a pre-booked, afternoon session in the garden of the Nelson Arms, in Tonbridge. This booking had been made by a friend, almost as soon as Johnson’s much vaunted “Roadmap out of Lockdown” plans were announced, and as word got around via the WhatsApp Beer Socials Group that many of us belong to, it became necessary to increase the booking to two tables.

There will be more about the boozy afternoon that followed, in a separate article, so continuing with this one, I decided to make full use of my recently acquired Concessionary Travel Pass and take the bus over to Tunbridge Wells for my 10.30am “Outdoor Footwear” appointment.

It’s true to say that I’d been waiting for this travel pass for some years, as originally, they were handed out when one reached 60 years of age. A few years before I reached this milestone, the government moved the goalpost and recipients must now reach state retirement age in order to qualify. 

I did have a slight concern that our penny-pinching government would abolish this well-earned “privilege” altogether, but fortunately they did not, and I now have pass that is valid until the end of March 2026. It entitles me to concessionary (free) travel on local bus services throughout England, between 9.30am and 11pm Monday to Friday, and at all times at weekends and on public holidays.

So, on Wednesday morning, I timed my walk down into Tonbridge, in order to arrive at the bus stop shortly after 9.30am.  I must have just missed the Tunbridge Wells bus, as I had a wait of around 20 minutes. A wise man would have checked the times online, prior to leaving the house, but frustrated at the wait, and eager to partake of my first free bus ride, I used my phone to check whilst standing at the bus stop.

Service bus 77 duly arrived, having battled its way through the road works that seem to be blighting many local roads at the moment. I boarded the bus, mask in place of course, and offered my pass card up to the card reader, close to the driver. Naturally, I made my way upstairs, in order to enjoy the ride and, more importantly, the view.

There was a reasonable number of passengers on the bus, but still plenty of room for people to spread out. The journey and the scenery were both enjoyable, although it was sad to see that the row of trees, along the ridge that looks towards North Farm, has been cut down. It might improve the view, but I’m not sure about the motive behind the removal of these trees; some of which were quite substantial. (They were affected by ash die-back disease, apparently).

I arrived in plenty of time for my appointment, the bus having dropped me off about five minutes’ walk away. Cotswold Outdoor in Mount Pleasant, is housed in the town's former Congregational Church, built out of local stone. For a while, the building was home to the local branch of Habitat – whatever happened to them? But for quite some time now it is the place to go for all things outdoors.

I had booked my appointment online, so after heading upstairs to the footwear section and announcing myself to one of the assistants, I was escorted to the fitting area at the rear of the store. Following considerable research I’d already decided that Meindl was the brand I was after, and that leather, rather than fabric, would be my material of choice.

The company’s Bhutan design was the one that I’d more or less decided on, but before trying a few pairs on, I had to have my feet measured. The last time anyone measured my feet was when I was a child, as buying a new pair of shoes wasn’t just a case of trying a few pairs on, it was the Full Monty as far as my parents were concerned. 

This meant my feet had to be measured, as apparently, I had rather wide feet. Mum and dad were also rather choosy when it came to brand of shoe, and for them, that make had to be Clarks. At a time when money was tight, they were both content to splash out on an upmarket brand of shoe, with a good reputation. As Mrs PBT’s would say – you get what you pay for!

The assistant duly measured my feet, and after removing the footbed from one of the boots was able to assess the most appropriate size. In the end I tried on a couple of sizes as Meindl, in common with other reputable boot manufacturers, offer half sizes within their range.

I walked around the store several times, and also had a ramp to climb and descend, in order to establish how the boots, feel on sloping surfaces. Once both parties were satisfied as to the fit and comfort, I decided I would purchase the boots – after all I had been waiting a long time for this moment.

I also knew that whilst I might have been able to purchase that particular brand and style slightly cheaper, elsewhere, I’d tried this pair on, they fitted and were comfortable. I am now the proud owner of a brand-new pair of Meindl Bhutan boots, and I am itching to try them out in the field – literally!

Pleased with my purchase, and double pleased that I’d taken the effort to be measured and have my boots properly fitted, I walked along to the bus stop and waited for the bus back to Tonbridge. There was an afternoon in the pub beer garden, and after all, that was something else to look forward to, .

Tuesday 13 April 2021

Life begins anew

It’s Tuesday 13th April, and I’m celebrating a significant birthday – one which will allow me to enjoy free bus travel on buses up and down the length of England. I’m also entitled to claim a state pension, although I’ve deferred that for the time being.

I was at work today, as the real celebration takes place tomorrow (Weds). It’s a long-standing booking made by a friend on behalf of the Tonbridge-based members of our WhatsApp Beer Socials group. So, this eagerly awaited get together is just a coincidence, and nothing to do with my birthday. There should still be beers a plenty, although not too much, as one or two of us will be back at work the following morning.

As forecast in my previous post, I made a beeline towards the Greyhound at Charcott, for that highly anticipated first, post-lockdown pint. Today’s weather was an improvement on Monday’s, but there was still quite a chill in the air, as I made my way along the backroad from Chiddingstone Causeway.

Despite the chill, many of the trees are just starting to come into leaf, and there were also some quite spectacular displays of white May flower forming a contrast against the still mainly dark colours of the woody hedgerows.

Today rather than Monday, was the Greyhound’s first day of resumed trading, and as they were planning on drinks only, until the following day, I was expecting things to be on the quiet side. The sound of laughter that I heard, coming from the side garden, as I rounded the corner towards the pub, was a welcome one indeed, and a sign that people were once again enjoying each other’s company.

I waited at the entrance, as instructed, for a member of staff to “book me in.” I hadn’t made a pre-booking, and I knew that as a casual drinker there was no need, but PHE guidelines stipulate that all visits should be registered. There was a prominent sign asking visitors to scan the NHS Track & Trace QR Code, but not having or indeed wanting this particular App on my phone, I was requested to take a seat at one of the tables close to the entrance.

It was landlady Fran who then appeared, and after taking my name and contact details manually, asked me what I wanted to drink. She reeled off a list of cask ales, but I only caught two of them. I’d already decided to go for pub staple, Larkin’s Traditional, which was brought out to me shortly afterwards.  I asked if I could pay for it, there and then, as I needed to be back at my desk by 2pm.

Fran said she’d go and get the card machine, so I asked if cash was OK instead. With my pint coming in at £3.80, I gave her four one-pound coins, and told her to keep the change. The pint of Trad I was presented with was worth every penny, being cool, clear, and extremely well-conditioned (as Larkin’s invariably is). It also tasted superb, the perfect blend of malt and hops, packed into a beer that weighs in at just 3.4% ABV. Boy how I’d missed a pint of cask!

I sat there savouring my pint, watching the comings and goings at the pub. There was a party of ramblers in the side garden, and two separate couples sat in the new, partly enclosed verandah behind me. Apart from that it was fairly quiet, although the pub staff still seemed pleased with the turnout. Food service was due to resume the following day, but for now they were just pleased to be finding their feet.

After finishing my pint, I made my way back to work, shouting thank-you across the hedge to Fran, as I left. For me, that one excellent pint, enjoyed in the quiet rural surroundings of the English countryside, was the perfect way to welcome back the return of pubs. It was also a good way to be welcoming in a significant birthday!

Monday 12 April 2021

The Glorious Twelfth

As I’m sure you all know, something big was taking place today, something which many people had waited a long time for. Today, Monday 12th April, hereafter known as the “Glorious Twelfth,” public houses will finally be able to trade again, albeit in a limited capacity with drinking and eating allowed in outdoor situations only.

Small beer, some might say, but perhaps we should all be thankful for small mercies, coming as it does after nearly six months, when pubs have been unable to trade. If anyone had said to you, 18 months ago that the nations’ public houses would be closed for lengthy periods of time, you would have thought them crazy.

A truly ludicrous situation for legally constituted businesses to find themselves in, but now is not the time or the place to be debating the merits or otherwise of lock-down. Instead, let us make use of our newfound “freedom,” even though it only half-heartedly permits us to do something we wouldn’t have thought twice about, a couple of years ago.,

So, whilst the event itself marks the return to some semblance of normality, following what must be the strangest 13 months that any of us have ever experienced, how did I celebrate this small step along the long road to freedom?

Strange as it may seem, I didn’t set foot in a pub garden. I had some important papers, connected with the settlement of my late fathers’ estate to deliver to the family solicitor. This will enable him to apply to the court for a grant of probate which, when granted, will allow the estate to be settled. I’ve been busy working on this since mid-January, so I’m sure you will understand why this had to take precedent over a lunchtime pint – despite the lengthy wait, and however well-deserved.

Tuesday though, is different, and I fully intend to call in for a swift one at the Greyhound, Charcott, in celebration of my birthday and the fact I will have reached state retirement age. I have my bus pass as well, now and will be using it on Wednesday morning, to journey over to Tunbridge Wells, where I have an appointment at Cotswold Outdoors.

This is for my feet to be measured for "outdoor footwear," so I can choose and purchase my long, overdue new walking boots.  I have booked the day off from work, not just for my boot fitting, but because a crowd of us, from the WhatsApp Beer Socials group, will be gathering in the garden of the Nelson Arms in Tonbridge, where two tables have been reserved for us.

I am really looking forward to meeting up with friends and acquaintances after what seems like an age. Looking back, the last time we gathered as a group was at the start of last October, and then there were only six of us. Remember Boy Hancock’s absurd “Rule of Six,” well there will be two times six this time around – but no mingling (like that’s not going to happen!), and come rain come shine it will be SO good to enjoy a well-kept and freshly pulled pint of cask beer, in the company of friends.

Before heading off to the solicitors today, I took a brief walk up as far as Chiddingstone Causeway church. The nearby Little Brown Jug pub was doing a roaring trade, with the car park full and people queuing up waiting to be admitted to the garden. There were groups sat at garden benches, huddled against the cold (there had been a couple of inches of snow earlier), or inside the large marquee, and I couldn’t help feeling more than a little bit envious.

My time will come tomorrow, so on that positive note, I’ll end this piece now, with a full report to come in due course.

Saturday 10 April 2021

A year of lock-down beers

The beers that I have enjoyed over the three periods of lock-down that the country has experienced so far, have covered the whole gamut of what is available. By that I mean cask - in take-home containers and mini-kegs, plus other beers in both bottles and cans.

Prior to the start of the first lock-down towards the end of March 2020, I’d already accumulated quite a stash of bottles and was busy stocking up on cans. The bottles were a result of me over-stocking at Christmas, whilst the cans had been purchased primarily to take on the North Sea cruise to Hamburg, that Mrs PBT’s and I had booked for last May.

 As you can probably imagine,beer is expensive on cruise ships,  and whilst wine connoisseurs are well catered for, those of us who enjoy the juice of the barley, have to make do with big name “international brands.” Not my thing, and with a fridge in the cabin, why not stock it full of better and more enjoyable beers, to drink whilst sitting out on deck or on the balcony of the cabin?

This not only assumed the weather would be kind, but also didn’t take into account that nasty little piece of RNA that arrived, unwanted, from the Far East. In addition, at the start of that first lock-down, we rather naively thought things would be back to normal by May, and would be setting sail for Hamburg, as planned.

Talk about being blown completely off course, and with panic buying stripping supermarket shelves bare – mainly of toilet rolls and pasta, the thought crossed my mind that beer too might fall victim to problems in the supply chain.

 I needn’t have panicked, especially as my good lady wife came the rescue by including several consignments of Budvar and Pilsner Urquell cans with a home delivery from Tesco. These were augmented by bottles of a beer that has since become a lockdown staple. The beer I’m talking about is St Austell Proper Job – an aptly named beer if ever there was one, and I shall be referring to this excellent beer again, before the end of this article.

 A few weeks into lock-down I became aware of “Flavourly;” the craft beer, gourmet food and snacks subscription club. I was tipped off about this company, by a fellow member of the WhatsApp Beer Socials Group that I’m a member of. The tip was, Flavourly were running a promotion on beers from Gun Brewery. I signed up, paid for my case of 24 beers and waited for the consignment to arrive. They arrived in good order and I soon got stuck into them. 

Another case followed, this time the Moor Beer Company. This is the brewery who claim that their canned beer qualifies as “real ale” because it undergoes secondary fermentation in the can.  I’m still not convinced about this, especially as, unlike bottles where you can watch the sediment closely, as you carefully pour the beer, cans are opaque meaning a hazy pint is far more likely than a clear one.

On the whole I managed to pour a reasonably clear glass of beer, but the temptation is always there to carry on pouring, whilst gazing in horror as the yeasty dregs plop in undoing, in an instant, the care and attention you just put in.

Another case followed, this time the Moor Beer Company. This is the brewery who claim that their canned beer qualifies as “real ale” because it undergoes secondary fermentation in the can.  I’m still not convinced about this, especially as, unlike bottles where you can watch the sediment closely, as you carefully pour the beer, cans are opaque meaning a hazy pint is far more likely than a clear one.

On the whole I managed to pour a reasonably clear glass of beer, but the temptation is always there to carry on pouring, whilst gazing in horror as the yeasty dregs plop in undoing, in an instant, the care and attention you just put in.

I was on a bit of a roll, so opted for a third case, this time ostensibly from Wild Beer, but quite a few of the offerings were rather off-beat, collaboration brews involving the addition of various fruits to the beer. Fine if limes, mangoes, passion fruit or guava float your boat, but not so good if you like your beer to taste of malt and hops.

I wrote a post about Flavourly, halfway through lock-down, and looking back I’ve still got mixed feelings, about some of their collaboration and crowd-funded brews, especially when they get that little bit too experimental – as detailed above.

 A month or so into lock-down one, I started buying cask beer in either two- or four-pint milk containers from the Nelson Arms in Tonbridge. These were pre-ordered and paid for by phone, prior to collection, and over the course of last summer, I purchased several of these.

Despite being quite fussy with my choice of brews, I found that beer purchased in these containers doesn’t
keep well, as it quickly loses condition and ends up going flat. I moved onto five litre mini kegs, finding these a much better idea.

Five litres though are equivalent to nearly nine pints, which is quite a lot of beer to get through, especially if you end up choosing a brew you subsequently decide you’re not particularly keen on. I had several of these, mainly Larkin’s Best Bitter and Porter, that I pre-ordered and paid for over the phone, before picking them up direct from the brewery.

At the beginning of December, local beer café Fuggles re-styled themselves
as a beer shop, because they were not allowed to operate as a pub. This was due to Kent being in placed in one of those confusing tiers that the government toyed with during the final quarter of 2020.

For me, this was a good opportunity to call in and pick up a few bottles, and I took advantage of Fuggles excellent selection of German bottles, which included my favorite Rauchbier from Bamberg – Aecht Schlenkerla Märzen.

Shortly after, in a move that was regarded as little more than sheer spite, rather than actually doing anything to stop the rise in Corona infections, the government banned the collection of draught beer from pubs. This was followed at the beginning of January by the imposition of the third and, as it turned out, the longest national lock-down.

Haven’t mentioned my other “go-to” beer, Pilsner Urquell, often seen on offer in six-packs of 330 ml cans at just £5 a pop. I’ve always got a few cans of this world classic beer chilling away in the fridge, and it’s not unknown especially at weekends for me to crack one open to enjoy with my evening meal – especially the Sunday roast.

The beer has an ABV of just 4.4%, but drinks like one of a much higher strength. A peppery hop bitterness, derived from the prize Saaz hops, is to the fore, and this overlies a solid base of delectable toffee maltiness. The malt gives body to the beer, and this prominent maltiness is a direct result of the triple-decoction mashing regime still practiced at Pilsner Urquell. With this sort of combination, it really is one of the most satisfying and thirst –quenching beers around.

Proper Job is in a similar league This pale-coloured and powerfully hopped, IPA, is packed full of citrusy and resinous hops, set against a background of chewy, Maris Otter malt. Along with Pilsner Urquell, it has become my other “go to” lock-down beer.  As mentioned above, both beers are often on special offer in supermarkets, and today I found 500 ml bottles of Proper Job on sale in Sainsbury’s for just £1.49 each.

Right now though, and despite the quality of these beers, more than anything else I am looking forward to a pint or three of a well-kept cask beer.