The summer is a good time to join the British Guild of beer writers. Because almost immediately you get to meet a lot of the members. At a party. In a brewery. ‘Should be my sort of thing’ I am thinking to myself as I amble down Coldharbour Lane towards Brixton Brewery.
I’m early. I always am. Mr Contingency, me. However, the festivities are clearly underway already when I arrive. This lot are dedicated. I should find out more, but first things first. I must get a beer right away, lest I be considered an impostor. There is much of interest on offer, but I plump for one of my favourites, Dark Star’s ‘Hophead’. Not only is it a fine beer, it is only 3.8%. This night could well be quite a session, so demands a session beer, especially when in a roomful of strangers. Or maybe I should call them ‘people I haven’t been drunk with yet’. I suspect that this will be a somewhat temporary status.
As I fill my glass, I see that everything here looks brand new, and remember that Brixton Brewery have opened these new premises as their second site recently, as an addition to their original site on Brixton Station Road, where they still do brewery tours. It sure looks like an might impressive outfit. I hope I don’t spill anything, as it’s going to properly stand out here if I do. Beer in hand, I get down to the serious business of introducing myself. There is a fascinating mix of people here who make beer, study beer, review beer or review pubs. I’m now thinking that I may well be the only novelist here, the ‘sole purveyor of Pub Fiction’. Oh dear, I’m using alliteration and words like ‘purveyor’ already – early signs of verbosity. (‘Verbosity’ is also one of my favourite fictional beers, from my book ‘Another English Civil War’. It’s a bit strong, that one.)
I’m soon introduced to Pete Brown, the Chair of the guild, and am informed that it is indeed that Pete Brown, the author of ‘Man Walk into a Pub’ amongst many others. Now I should tell you, I love this book, which is a hugely engaging social history of pubs in Britain, and I’ve bought it for a few people who are interested in that sort of thing, so it’s a real pleasure to meet him. If you want a copy you could grab one here, for example.
I try and keep my cool but I just need to get the ‘I love your books’ thing out of the way first, before just settling down to some proper pub chat. That’s me loving Pete’s books by the way, in case you weren’t sure. I’m not expecting him to have read mine – he’s only just met me two minutes ago. After a short while and a request for a photo (me again), I can see that my pint is getting dangerously low, as you may already have noticed, so I head off to fix that.
Which brings me to the corner of the room that is, for the evening, the Brixton base of the Lickinghole Creek Brewery (real name, I would never have been brave enough to make up that one) where I hear there is a fabled Imperial Stout on offer. I say hello to the very enthusiastic Lisa Pumphrey, who is only able to provide me with a tiny taste of said brew, as it has almost ran out, due to its distinct popularity so far this evening. I must be quicker next time! Lisa tells me that it is 9.3%. This is not that strong for an Imperial Stout but strong enough for this evening I daresay! Not easily deterred, I do try another one of their beers and for some reason ask for a photo of their stout meeting my book. Lisa photo-bombed the meeting too!
It was great to hear from Lisa, and co-owner Min, about what these dedicated people are doing in their Virginia brewery and the ambition they have. I urge you to find out more about these great people here.
I continue around and proceed to participate in a good deal more chat, now effortlessly for some reason. I meet a historian, a lecturer, a brewer and a new Dad. All with a speciality in beer of course. Well, the new Dad is a little off his game, he tells me, but I can forgive him for that. “Don’t worry, mate”, I assure him, “one day you will get to the pub and one day you will get to sleep again”. I’m not sure how helpful that was. This is, of course all just marvellous. But are there any other novelists here? Not so far, but the quest continues, and I then bump into a literary-looking chap called Mike Clarke.
Mike is a beer and pub writer and likes to put a bit of humour in his work, he tells me. I nod approvingly. Or at least I hope that’s how it looks. It’s now getting to that time of the night where a mirror is best avoided. Anyway, you can read one of Mike’s articles here, to get a flavour of what he means. Once I’ve yakked on a bit about what I do, Mike then tells me that I am, in fact, not alone in writing Pub Fiction. He, in fact wrote a novel set in a pub when he was at University! We chink glasses, and I tell him that I will now use the hashtag #pubfiction with more vigour from now on, now that it is ‘a thing’. Mike then offers to review both my books in his local CAMRA magazine, which is great news, and then tells me about The Gravediggers Arms.
The Gravediggers Arms is a collection of short stories set in a truly dismal fictional pub of the same name, serving questionable beers such as ‘Old Septic Tank’, ‘Undescended Gonad’ and ‘Ferret’s Liver Liquorice Stout’. I’d rather have another Hophead, or a Brixton Brewery or Lickinghole Brewery brew but the book sounds smashing, and I promise to check it out.
(I am, in fact reading this now, have chortled greatly at the first tale, and will write up a review in due course…)
The night is going swimmingly. I may have gone back to the bar, and possibly the toilet, a few more times than I have mentioned so far. However, I am all too aware that it is a long way home and I need to go while I still vaguely know which direction it is in. But before I take my leave, I feel I should at least introduce myself to the Guild’s Board Director, Joanna Dring, while I still have a small chance of talking some sense. As it turns out, we are both exceptionally talkative by this point so it doesn’t take long to find out that, among other things, she and I share an interest in promoting the pub specifically as an asset to mental health within communities. This is a running theme in the ‘Tales from the Red Lion’ series, and the article ‘A Safe Place’ on this site. I have sometimes wondered if it was just me thinking that, and that I was possibly overestimating the feelings of society at large on this subject, so it is good to hear that others feel the same way too. Jo pointed me in the direction of a couple of videos that Heineken have made on the subject so I’m sharing them with you here too, as they are both well worth a look. This one is with Frank Bruno, and this one with poet Solomon O.B.
Perhaps you can watch them as I reluctantly leave to try and find Herne Hill station. Thanks for a great night everyone!