Monday 19 February 2024

Bryan Betts - Beer Viking 1962 - 2024

They say that only the good die young, and this was definitely the case with the recent sad passing of Bryan Betts aka Beer Viking. Bryan left this world, unexpectedly, and far too soon, following a brief, but particularly virulent illness on 2nd February. He was just a few months short of his 62nd birthday. He leaves behind a loving wife, two children, various other family members, colleagues plus his many friends from both the world of brewing, as well as Viking re-enactment.

I first met Bryan back in 2014, whilst attending my first European Beer Writers Conference, which took place in Dublin. Bryan was staying at the same centrally-located accommodation as me, an establishment called the Gate Hotel, just off O'Connell Street right in the heart of Dublin. The Gate was ideally situated for the conference and, as well as being reasonably priced, served up an excellent full-Irish breakfast each morning. It was whilst getting stuck into one of these amazing breakfasts, on my first morning in Ireland, that Bryan and I first met.

It didn’t take long for the two of us to gel, which wasn’t surprising, as Bryan had a real ability to engage with people, and to share his passions about beer and brewing. His inquisitive nature was apparent from the start and, given his journalistic background, he was a prolific note-taker, stopping often to write things down. You can see Bryan’s note-taking in action, in the photo above, taken at the Dublin Conference. 

 Over the years, I quite often bumped into Bryan at other beer-related events, primarily the summer and Christmas parties organised by the British Guild of Beer Writers, of which we were both members. Unlike me, Bryan played an active role in the Guild’s activities, and formed an integral part of the membership committee. His dedication to the post was evident in his in the way he welcomed new members, and helped foster connections, in order to ensure the Guild thrived as a vibrant community of brewers and beer enthusiasts.

I always looked out for Bryan at Guild events, welcoming his presence, and appreciating him introducing me to other members. Due to clashes with holidays or other events, I missed out on a couple of Christmas dinners, as well as last year’s summer party. Because of this, the last time I saw Bryan was in August 2022, when I received an invite from UK Brewery Tours, to have a look at hops growing in the fields, with Hukins Hops at their farm near Bethersden

Bryan was on the tour, accompanied by his daughter, who particularly enjoyed the part where we were all given a glass jar, and told to pick sufficient hops to fill it. We could then take the hop-filled jar home with us, as a souvenir of our visit. I have fond memories of that day, enjoying the sights and aromas of the extensive hop gardens, whilst soaking up the warm, late August sunshine, in the beautiful Kent countryside.

It was therefore a great shock to learn of Bryan’s passing when, almost by accident, I clicked on an email from the British Guild of Beer Writers. I don’t always open communications from the Guild, as they are rather frequent at times, but fortunately I did with this one, learning the sad news last Monday, and discovering that the funeral would take place at the end of that week.

The memorial funeral service in Bryan’s honour, took place at Mortlake Crematorium on 16th February. It was a typically dull and overcast mid-February afternoon, but the chapel was packed full, packed with family, relatives, colleagues, and Bryan’s many friends. Music from AC/DC, Pink Floyd, Hawkwind, Guns & Roses, plus Led Zeppelin formed the background to the event. There were touching tributes from Bryan’s widow, Helma, his sister Jaqui, and one from Peter, an old friend from childhood who had grown up with Bryan, attended the same school and shared many of his interests. Bryan’s children also brought Toast, the family dog along to the service.

There was a wake afterwards at the Griffin, a charming, back-street Fuller’s pub, close to the site of the former Brentford FC football ground. As with the service, the event was packed, and people were able to exchange cherished moments and favourite memories of Bryan. His warm personality, quick wit, and genuine interest in others created a welcoming atmosphere, and helped put people at ease.

Like me, Bryan hosted his own beer blog, called BeerViking. The Viking part referred to his other hobby of Viking re-enactment, and it was at such an event, in northern Germany, that he first met his wife to be, Helma. Helma recounted the story during the funeral service, as part of a tribute to her late husband.  Bryan was obviously a loving family man, as well as a thoughtful friend. I feel privileged to have known him, even though our shared experiences were, at times, rather brief. I extend my deepest sympathies to Helma, plus their children Elfie and Roric.


Tandleman said...

Nice piece Paul

Paul Bailey said...

Thanks Peter. I remember you writing a similar tribute to Dave Bailey, another real character from the world of beer and brewing, after he too passed away, just over two years ago.

Stafford Paul said...

Two days ago I was at the funeral of a friend from the 1980s and into the '90s, a chance to pay respects and meet up with old acquaintances for probably the last time, the surprise for me being his coffin arriving at Stafford Crem in his VW camper van.