Tiny Pubs and Small Beers

They say there is never a good time to have a child, but more importantly, is there ever a bad time to open, as I have, a pub? In the midst of a global pandemic is perhaps not ideal, but add in an alcohol-induced gout attack and even the keenest would-be landlord could be given pause. 

To clarify, when I say pub, I mean a pub/garage, or ‘pubage’, not official licensed premises. Lady South had persuaded me that renting a garage was a good idea with the cunning phrase, ‘We could always open it as a pub,’ which left me helpless and reminded me why I moved in. 

It did make sense. Sometimes you can’t be bothered to walk 10 minutes to the pub (or run – 9 minutes). Perhaps you’re tired, lethargic, or sporting pyjamas. So a tinnie in a garage with a bag of nuts and an affable, or at least present, neighbour, has great appeal. 

Down tools

Word had got round that we were opening a boozerie and though we had yet to secure the radiogram, horseshoe-tossing and bikini-revealing Big D peanut board that we hoped to launch with, we were under pressure from thirsty punters. 

‘I’ve got some Nicaraguan shorts,’ one text declared. ‘How about opening the pub tonight?’

This was an unexpected turn. For some reason I pictured the teeny ’80s shorts-play of Diego Maradona and Glenn Hoddle and, though queasy, replied: ‘You’re on!’ Happily, it turns out Nicaraguan shorts are a kind of small cigar – an excellent start to the life of the pub. 

A few neighbours stopped by and a funny thing happened: The talk became quite indiscrete; different in tone to the barbeques, street parties, or doorstep distance drinks we occasionally attend on our road. Less guarded, funnier and ruder – like a pub. But while everyone was tucking in to the booze they’d brought, I was forced to explore small beer – ale around the 3% mark, lest I invite another painful crystals-forming-on-joints incident. 

Small miracles

Booze and bad diet are the main causes of gout, which is just my darned bad luck. All alcohol is bad for it but what seems to really trigger it is everyday drinking, all day drinking and massive hoppy Double IPAs, my three key hobbies. 

What could be done to allow me to still enjoy life, without beckoning agony to my bones? Clearly I had to cut down and have two or three days a week off the sauce. And on the assumption that on at least one drinking day, a no-limits rampage might occur, I’d best consider lower ABV beer for what was left of the drinking week. 

The UK Gout society states: ‘We are not aware of any specific studies with low alcohol beers but it seems probable that they are less likely to cause gout.’

My first reaction was – why the fuck haven’t there been studies? Surely the most crucial gout research should be focussed on how sufferers can enjoy the lightly-boozed fruits of nature’s bounty without torment?

Could there be other things that could be avoided instead, for instance? Other things that might reduce my intake of purines, the common compounds harmless to most but so menacing for the gout-sufferer? Well, yes, clocking in with a fearsome 444mg/dl of danger purines, I’d be wise to swerve ox’s spleen for lunch if at all possible. But that is dwarfed by the 1800mg in brewer’s yeast, which brings the scale of the problem into sharp focus. 

Some have suggested that cherries can ward off gout attacks, but I tried one and it did fuck all, so I’m not putting myself through that again. 

True, wine and cider don’t contain brewer’s yeast. But there’s a limit to how much I can drink of the stuff, unlike beer. Even many no alcohol beers contain it and I’m fucked if I’m going to risk a gout attack from a NA beer, no matter how good they are.  There was only one thing for it: I would consult some of South London’s oracles for the finest circa 3% boozes known to humanity. 

Little treasures

When questioned, Jen at Hop, Burns & Black, Peckham, produced Gipsy Hill’s Carver Micro IPA without hesitation or deviation. And it’s easy to see why. It’s 2.8% but drinks like a big hoppy NEIPA, a stunning achievement.

Adrian at Park Fever furnished me with Double-Barrelled Brewery’s Applause, a delightful dry-hopped table beer; fresh, light and fruity, a bit like Adrian. The applause is for our NHS and with £1 from every can being donated to NHS charities I can look after myself and others, in a delicious circle of virtue. 

And Toby at Hop Burns & Black, Deptford, had a few recommendations including Newbarns Table Beer, a mosaic single hopper. Newbarns have just opened their brewery in Leith but created this beauty at Kernel in Bermondsey. Like every drop that comes out of Arch 11, it’s superbly balanced and clean while filling your face full of flavour. It has already been described on Untappd as ‘unbelievable scran’.

All three were sensational, without kicking my arse. Add these to the perennial class of Kernel’s Table Beer, Northern Monk’s Striding Edge, Beak Brewery’s Lulla, Villages Gecko and Cloudwater Small Pale and there is a world of tasty possibilities out there that can ensure I get to sleep in my own bed, with no mystery bruising or dietary calamities. In fact, HB&B list 42 table beers in their online shop, though only a few are in stock at a time, which does make shopping easier.

Of course, it’s daily lockdown booze that led to my retreat, but never has demotion tasted so good. Clearly it’s not alcohol we’ve missed in these strange days – we’re getting plenty of that – but pubs, and people in pubs. Even seasoned landlords, like Con at the Blythe Hill Tavern and Ade at The Lamb, have been taken aback by how much we’ve missed them and how much they’ve missed us. 

I was determined to ‘save myself’ for a special pub for my first pint back in a real pub, like some kind of tremulous virgin. And I’m glad I did. My first pint back was a Hophead at the Blythe, accompanied by the kind of welcome only one of the greats could offer. 

Dinner is served

Our ‘pub’ could never match the splendour of the Blythe, though I should add that Scampi Fries, Bacon Bites and Pork Scratchings are now available. But it’s telling how this bastard virus has impacted on the life-affirming lubricated interactions that keep us sane and happy. 

Employers have belatedly discovered that people can work from home after years of stubborn denial. But while we are quite capable of drinking from home, nothing can replace talking and listening to other mortals as they discard their inhibitions and relax in the bloom of their glorious, flawed, shared nonsense. 

Social piss-tancing at pubs seems to be working pretty well. At least until closing time and all of a sudden everyone’s a hugger.

How we work in the future is not the fucking problem. It’s how we pub.

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