This weekend I’m going to a Beer Festival at my old pub. The current owners run an astonishingly well organised Festival every August Bank Holiday, which put my own amateur attempts to shame.
They rig up a long outside bar with cask, keg and cider available, all cooled to temperature perfection; a variety of bands play continuously throughout the 3 day event; a street food tent serves hog roast, gourmet burgers and ribs from dawn until dusk. What’s more, I can’t remember a time when the weather cast a dampener on the event – the sun always manages to come out. Whilst arranging the date with friends, I realised this weekend marks twenty years since I left this pub to explore pastures new.
I frequently get asked: Do you miss running a pub? Well, yes and no. I tend to look back through rose tinted spectacles and remember the good bits: the banter, the dancing, the regulars. Ah yes, the regulars: no one was ever known by their actual full name, they all had monikers: Financial Jon, Stoker Felton, Banana Man John, Stevie Shorts, Doberman Tony. I hope some of them are reading this, because they still frequent the pub today.
And then there are the bits I bury in the back of my mind, the minor irritations which now seem so trivial, but caused steam to come out of my ears. How many of the following do you recognise…?
- On hearing a glass smash, the wag who shouts “Sack the juggler!” and thinks it’s the most bloody HILARIOUS statement ever uttered. Even though you’ve heard it, oo, at least 24 times that week
- The sales reps in swanky cars who swanned in unannounced on a busy Friday lunchtime wanting to “sit down somewhere quiet and have a chat”. And the black looks I got from them when I told them to come back on Sunday morning
- The irate phone calls from spouses asking me to relay the message “Your dinner’s in the dog” to their husbands. Yes, it was always wife to husband, never the other way round
- Occasional punters tapping their empty glass on the bar, or waving notes under your nose, when needing a refill…the equivalent of clicking your fingers for a waiter
- The individual who stokes up the real fires on the hottest of days, chucks a load of logs on, and then leaves. That’s Stoker Felton for you.
But do you know what, for all these minor quibbles, if I hadn’t experienced all of this, I wouldn’t have stories to tell today. Similarly, I wouldn’t have memories of some of the excellent beers I drank, and I do remember very clearly one beer that was on the pumps the night I left, a beer which still excels today.
It was Exmoor Gold, from Wiveliscombe in Somerset. One of the first beers to emerge in the ‘blonde’ category, it is produced with a single malt, and has a lovely honeyed maltiness, almost buttery, like the glorious accent from ‘Zomerzet’. It’s counterbalanced with a sprightly, floral fruitiness. For my leaving do, the owner of the pub who was a brilliant cook, made a selection of ethnic food – Indian curries, Thai curries, and Chinese Dim Sum. I clearly recall sinking a few pints of Exmoor Gold with this food and wistfully wondering whether I’d made the right decision to leave.
Just at that moment, someone dropped a glass, and as a shout went up, I realised it was time to move on.