This week our guest columnist is renowned journalist and entrepreneur Mr Lindsay Charlton
The Editor of this renowned organ, usually reserves Friday for his witty reflections on cocktails, but for this auspicious weekend, I wish to propose a vote for beer, and lots of it. On Monday, hard-pressed victuallers across the land, will at last be able to pull a pint and serve it to chilly customers, sitting in their garden, marquee, car park or specially designed boozing gazebo. The British pub has had a difficult time these past 20 years, magnified by the colossal assault on business caused by the pandemic. In 2000 there were 60,000 public houses across the UK, by 2020 that number had shrunk by 13,600 and according to The Morning Advertiser, the traditional publican’s bible, 2500 shut their doors last year alone.
Weary landlords have had to watch shoppers transport cut price beers from supermarkets to their homes, while being forbidden to sell takeaway pints themselves. And there is a tidal wave of the stuff ready to be unleashed. UK consumption totals 28 million barrels each year, produced by 2273 breweries Indeed, according to more research by The Morning Advertiser 8.5 billion glasses of beer were served across oaken bars and zinc tops in 2018 surpassing sales of wine that came in at 7.4 billion glasses.
But then it is more than beer that draws us to the pub. William Blake put it well: “A good local pub has much in common with a church except that a pub is warmer and there’s more conversation”. Also, much more alcohol. Dylan Thomas, who loved pubs almost as much as he loved woman and poetry said: “I’ve had 18 straight whiskies, I think that’s a record,” and died shortly afterwards.
Yes, simple human contact, chatter, laughter, dispute, humour, yelling at your football team on the TV above the optics, a chance to meet a stranger, sometimes planned, often not. The atmosphere oiled, usually improved and made convivial by a well pulled pint.
There’s another intangible quality about a wood panelled bar in a country pub, summed up by a young man in Shakespeare’s Henry V shortly before the Battle of Agincourt: “I would give all my fame for a pot of ale and safety”. He meant surviving the coming battle, but it hints at another fundamental attraction offered by pubs at their best. They provide a sanctuary, somewhere to feel protected, if only for a few fleeting hours. Blake had a point about pubs and churches.
The pub, the bar, the alehouse, have been foundation stones of British culture for more than a thousand years, and like me, I suspect you’ve missed them. But like other endangered species, their habitat and customers will be released and renewed on Monday. So visit your local, raise a glass and salute an institution which, unlike so much else in life, feels permanent. But do take a jumper, as you can’t go for inside until May 18!
About the Author
Lindsay Charlton, then a teenage baby boomer, drank his first pint of brown ale aged 14 in a pub somewhere in South London, in 1967. It was shared with three close mates, because they could only afford the one drink. These days he usually consumes a full pint on his own unless someone else is buying in which case he may have three or four.
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