At this time of year, there’s no place that I would rather spend my time than a proper pub, enjoying one or two (or three or four) sociable pints of cask bitter, and maybe a pork pie if I’m lucky. As we are all too aware now, 2020 isn’t the year for socialising, and we have had to witness pubs closing twice. As I sit at home pondering what’s in the fridge, my mind drifts to thoughts of what it will be like to once again experience that glorious first gulp of hand pulled cask bitter (through a sparkler of course).
Dear reader, though I don’t know when my next pub pint of bitter will be, I can share with you my last first pint experience.
By the start of July, I had been working from home for just over three months and it was time to use up my first annual leave days of the year. At this point, the furthest I had travelled away from my home in Walsall was Birmingham city centre, a journey that I would make on most weekends in normal circumstances. I needed to escape for a day.
On Friday the 10th July (six days after pubs had been allowed to re-open), I chucked my walking shoes in the boot of my biscuit tin on wheels and drove up to Bakewell in the Peak District. I’d made plans to meet up with my old friend Tom Whitehead, back from living overseas for the last few years, and as I pulled into the Monsal Trail car park, he was there waiting for me.
We walked along the old Midland Railway line from Bakewell, towards Blackwell Mill, venting about the frustrating year we had experienced so far, sporadically singing Grandmaster Melle Mel songs, and looking forward to the midway pint we were going to enjoy later.
Around six or seven miles in, we saw a sign for the Angler’s Rest, Millerdale, up ahead. It was time.
We hand sanitised up, signed in and stepped towards the bar to study the cask pump clips. After a short deliberation, we both opted for pints of Chatsworth Gold from Peak Ales.
There were ominous black clouds outside, but it was absolutely boiling inside, so we took our beers and headed to an empty bench next to the river. Absentmindedly I lifted my glass to my lips and took a sip, followed by a gulp, then another. Oh boy! This was the experience I had been missing so much since March. I was drinking cask bitter again and it was amazing.
“You’re enjoying that, aren’t you?” asked Whitehead, putting down his own ¾ full pint glass on the table.
“Oh man, you wouldn’t believe it. So good.”
For the next few minutes, I drank deeply, marvelling at the balance of sweetness from the malted barley and added honey, and the earthy bitterness of the Goldings and Fuggles hops. It was delicious, no doubt, but all the more delicious from the sense of location and occasion. My first proper pint, post-lockdown.
What I love most about beer is that even the most simple pint of local bitter can be the most wonderful drink in the right context. There are few things I am looking forward to as much as enjoying a few beers with friends in or outside a pub when we can safely do so.
Let’s stick together folks. Hopefully see you in the pub soon.