Tuesday, 19 October 2021

Let the sunshine work its magic

In mid-September Pub Curmudgeon, (Mudge), published an interesting post about outdoor drinking, and how this pastime had increased in popularity over the years. Utilising a garden, courtyard, or other outdoor space, to take advantage of an all too rare spell of fine weather, was once viewed as a bonus, rather than a regular boost to trade, but times have changed.

These days, the lucrative appeal of alfresco drinking and dining, has become much more an essential, rather than a novel addition to pub life and the upsurge in this activity has been spurred on, over the past two decades, by a couple of unforeseen factors.

I am talking here of course, about the 2007 smoking ban and, most recently, the strictures associated with the UK government’s approach to dealing with Covid. Thinking back to the beginning of April, this year, when pubs were finally permitted to re-open, albeit in an outdoor capacity only, I recall sitting out, in a sunny, but freezing cold pub garden, insulated by several layers of clothing, whilst enjoying a pint.

I also remember, taking Mrs PBT’s along to meet up with a group of her friends; again, in an outdoor pub-garden setting. On that occasion they enjoyed an evening meal, whilst wrapped up warm against the cold of an early spring. The pub in question, had space heaters, but even so sitting outside in the freezing cold was not normal behaviour.

Whilst appearing extreme, these were necessary measures that enabled pubs, and restaurants, to begin trading again, and generate much needed income. But now, with a degree of normality having returned, such measures are thankfully, no longer necessary. There’s no harm though, in taking a look at outdoor drinking, and in particular one often overlooked aspect of the practice.

It might seem strange writing about this topic, when the clocks are set to change in a couple of weeks’ time, as for many, this ritual turning the clocks back an hour, heralds the approach of winter.  Perhaps then this piece should serve as a reminder of the fast-fading days of summer, and an inspiration to look forward to next spring, and the promise of what is to come, with the return of the warmer weather.

Before starting, I’m going to be brutally honest, and say we don’t really have the right climate for outdoor drinking, certainly not on an uninterrupted basis from April through to October. This is almost certainly why institutions like the beer gardens of Germany, and other central European countries, have never really caught on in the UK. That’s not to say we shouldn’t take advantage of spells of warm, dry, and sunny weather, when they do occur, but do so with a hint of caution and not allow ourselves to get too carried away.

Mudge’s article covered the rise of outdoor drinking, in rather more detail than I intend to do here. The impact of the smoking ban and of Covid, have both been major factors, and their importance should not be ignored. Neither should the different approaches of those who prefer to remain hidden away indoors, in the gloom of a dark and low-lit bar, and those outdoor types who are rolling up their sleeves, and heading into the pub garden, at the merest hint of a ray of sunshine.

What both of us are hinting at, is alfresco drinking tends to divide pub-goers up into two distinct camps, and whilst I fully appreciate the advantages, and the disadvantages of both situations, what I want to cover here, is a particularly enjoyable aspect of enjoying a pint outside in the warm weather.

I’m talking about a sensation that is often overlooked, but one which is associated not just with beer drinking, but with beer appreciation and enjoyment of the finest long drink in the world. To give you an idea of what I am talking about, I refer to the following words, that I wrote three years ago, following a particularly memorable lunchtime visit to a local pub.

“It was whilst sitting there, nursing my pint that I began to notice a wonderfully hoppy aroma emanating from the beer, which brought back pleasant memories of outdoor drinking, on a warm summer’s day.” The hoppy nose, and wonderful aroma I experienced, is most noticeable whilst drinking outside, when the sun is shining, and is due to the action of the sun's rays on some of the more volatile components present in the beer.

It seems that the presence of the sun, rather than just high temperatures, is required before this effect occurs, as the hoppy aroma is still noticeable in spring or autumn, when the thermometer can be struggling to register anything remotely respectable, providing the sun is shining.

These wonderful hop aromas enhance the overall drinking experience and are one of the many pleasures of beer drinking. This sense of anticipation given to the enjoyment of a well-crafted pint, is one of the bonuses of outdoor drinking. It is said that the sense of smell, perhaps more than any other of our senses, can invoke memories which have lain hidden for years, or perhaps expunged from our consciousness altogether; and that was certainly the case that day.

So, for me, sitting outside in a pub garden from early spring to late autumn, whenever the weather is kind, whilst enjoying a well-hopped pint of bitter is, one of life's great pleasures. Even at either end of this extended period it can be worthwhile finding a sheltered spot, away from the wind, in order to add that extra enhancement to a pint.

One final point to note, is the power of the sun to release these amazing aromas, seems far more evident with top-fermented ales and stouts, rather than bottom fermented lagers, so perhaps factors such as the variety of hops used, as well as the strain of yeast, all play their part.

Whatever the reason, there is still time before the onset of winter, to find that cosy corner, out of the wind and in the full glare of the sun and put what I am saying to the test.



retiredmartin said...

I'd have said your thoughts on the benefit of the sun on the drinking experience was nonsense, Paul, but I recall several times on my own travels when taking a beer out into the garden (and leaving it for a while) has improved it by 0.5 on the NBSS. And that may seem nerdy, but you'll know the difference between a 3 and a 3.5. Discuss.

Paul Bailey said...

I agree Martin, that taken at face value, my thoughts about the sun enhancing the whole drinking experience, are pretty nonsensical, but I swear they are far more than the result of over-indulgence.

I’ve been thinking quite a lot about this recently, mainly because it’s been a while since I last experienced this phenomenon. After much thought, and reflection, my conclusion is that “dry hopping” plays a significant role here, as following this process, the resins and oils from the hop petals, find their way into the drinker’s glass. They are then released as readily identifiable aromas, by the action of sunlight

Due to the decline in the number of brewers practising dry-hopping (for various reasons – cost, hygiene, unnecessary?), drinkers such as myself are not experiencing the “in your face” release of hop aromas, with anything like the frequency that was once the case.

As for GBG scores – I have to leave those for others, nowadays.

Curmudgeon said...

Is this the process that, beyond the first initial release of flavour, leads to beer becoming "light-struck"?

I don't think I'm very susceptible to this taint, but I have heard people say that the flavour of a pint noticeably deteriorates after being exposed to bright sunlight for as little as fifteen minutes.

Paul Bailey said...

You could well be right Mudge, and the same thought crossed my mind when writing this piece. Like you, I'm also not very susceptible to "light-struck" beer, in fact I've sometimes wondered if such a thing exists.

It obviously does, otherwise brewers wouldn't go to the trouble of filling their beers into brown bottles. I remain skeptical though, over sunlight causing such a significant deterioration in flavour, over such a short period of time.

retiredmartin said...

Blimey. All got very serious and beery very quickly !

Paul Bailey said...

Serious and beery, or beery and b*ll*cks?

Joking aside, I'm sure there's some scientific basis underlying this - otherwise it wouldn't be experienced, out in the field/pub garden!

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