Keeping it real … Real Ale
I was reading through Martin Oates blog today (Beer is the Answer) and I read a post I had somehow missed before when it was posted. It was a post about how he got to where he is now beer wise, it got me thinking, then got me stealing! So today’s Beer Blogging Advent is looking at a few events and memories of how I got here today doing this Beer Blogging Advent.
I guess it is easy to see how I ended up here really, my Dad has been an active member of CAMRA since he was younger. I remember him telling me once that he used to drink lager in one of the local pubs in Woodford Bridge where he grew up, till the night they all ditched the lager for real ale and they woke up hangover free, from there they didn’t look back. One of my earliest memories of beer was at a beer festival in the Station Arms in Southminster. They used to do these amazing pork and apple burgers on the BBQ, which must have been decent for me to still remember because I must have been younger than 10. I remember out back of the pub there was these stable like table cabins where we would all sit, me and my sister sipping on glass bottles of coca cola, one year I remember Dad having some beer which was bright green! That pint is my earliest memory of a beer, I may have tried a sip I can’t remember but I am guessing the tasting notes would have been along the lines of “tastes like sick”.
One of my Dad’s mates won the lottery and bought a pub, I can’t remember where but I know it was deep Essex country side as it seemed like a lifetime on the buses to get there. We used to go there for New Years Eve parties, I was possibly around 8 or 9 I think, but looking back on the memory it is a pub that now days I would love. There was a few real ale hand pumps and I remember finding the beer “Piddle in the Wind” hilarious, I think I May even remember a series of “Piddle in the…”. Obviously, the pub was shut and I was pouring for fun, I 100% wasn’t pouring for a local, but it is here I pulled my first pint, stocked up fridges and took out empties.
I was around 10 when my Dad had his 40th birthday party in the Wickford Railway Social Club. Another really early memory was my Dad receiving a special card from all his mates, they had all chipped in and got him a lifetime membership card for CAMRA. Although they were all rather excited I was more concerned about doing spins on my back on the dance floor.
I started drinking in my *cough* mid *cough* teens, we would all get what we could and sit in the dark corner of the huge park, not misbehaving just hanging out with a couple bottles of Fosters Ice. We all had a beer buddy (word to Dean North) who we would split the price of said beers with. I have a vague memory of a house party where my beer buddy and I both said “I don’t drink these beers to get fucked, I drink them because I actually like the taste of beer”, while drinking some of those stubby French battery acid beers, clearly I wasn’t fussy back then. But we did honestly move onto different beers fairly early, we would get big bottles of Sam Maguel (coz we thought we were drinking 40 bottles in the hood init) and Leffe.
I would like to say that my college years were a little bit more civilised, we were drinking better beer often but at times you might find a pint of £1 pint of Carling in one hand and a bottle of Smurnoff Ice in the other (big up The Alex pound a pint nights!). Southend was a bit of a desert for good beer (still is a bit) but there were a few memories of good beer. The first is popping in the shit hole pub that used to be in Southend train station, they had the old school Speckled Hen for £1.50 a pint and my mate Jack and I would quickly fit one in before the last train, almost missing it on a few occasions even if it was about 3 foot away from us! Another memory that sticks in my mind was one time in the Wetherspoons (we used to hang out here a lot and at the time they had Belgian beers like Leffe Brune and Duvel) on one lunch break, we only had half hour and it seemed a great idea to all have a pint of 8% Titanic Iceberg, these were downed before returning back to class, it is safe to say we must have stuck out a bit in the class room that day, I’ve been search for that beer ever since.
The most important beer related part of this period in my life was The Cork and Cheese pub. Down at the bottom of the Victoria shopping centre (the old crappy one by the train station) used to be hands down Southend’s best pub, The Cork and Cheese. There was loads of real ale, German lagers, Czech lager and bottles (including one time when we had a bottle of Special Brew for Jacks 18th but the least said about that the better!). There was also an excellent darts section, which we would always use. We loved the pub, but I’m not so sure they loved us, we would respect the pub but I think they felt we was too young to enjoy the beers. Sadly due to the shopping centre being bought out and redeveloped The Cork and Cheese was forced to shut, it was a sad day we popped down in the final week, it got emotional. The owner later went on to open the Old Trout bar which is still in Southend now.
During all of this I was going to Orient every week. I was lucky as I drank/drink in the Leyton Orient Supporters Club, with 6 real ales (now 8) available I was presented with some of the best real ale from all around the country. I would drink it, in great quantities but I didn’t really take note of what I was drinking. LOSC educated me in real ale though, from the age of about 20 to now I was getting to know the beers I was drinking more and more. One of the most important factors to get me where I am now is that my best mate Glyn was also drinking the ale with me (as well as my mate Jack still and later my mate Paul who also joined the cask beer revolution!), if we wasn’t in the Supporters Club we would travel up to Liverpool Street and drink in Dirty Dicks, drinking pints of Youngs beers.
When I wasn’t at Orient I would be down on the coast in Brighton hanging out with my mate Bigz. I practically lived there at one point and had I moved there when I had the opportunity who knows where I would have ended up today! There is no better place to grow up through your 20’s than Brighton and for beer it was amazing. I personally think that Sussex make the best session pale ales in the country, and while hanging out in Brighton Bigz and myself got through our fair share of them. There was always cask ale around, more so than other places I remember growing up in. Trips to The Evening Star, drinking pints of Harveys and drinking lots of Belgian beer in the Bee’s Mouth also helped in my beer education.
By 22/23 I had ditched macro lagers almost completely, away days with Orient would be bottles of ale on the way up and cask beer where I could along with most of my mates now. I was going to beer festivals all around Essex, I kind of knew what I was talking about (I still don’t really know now!) and I had converted a good few of my close mates. It was all cask beer or Belgian beers, then one non-descript afternoon in The Alehouse, Chelmsford my mate Glyn and I had our eureka moment, well it was more of a Hadouken moment, we had our first “craft beer”, a bottle of Tiny Rebel Hadouken blew our mind! The hops smashed through us and just opened our eyes up to how exciting new beer could be. Soon after this I was in one of the most unlikely places when I got my second craft beer moment (although this is most people’s first moment), my good friend Blokey (my Jedi Master in the art of keeping it real) who works in the Cliff Pavilion, Southend poured a pint of Thornbridge Jaipur and put it in front of me. That was it I was sold I needed to explore these new breweries.
But I wasn’t blogging yet, the blogging really came around because of my girlfriend Michelle. All around this same time about 6 years ago me and Michelle first got together. It turned out that Michelle enjoyed different beers and together we would visit loads of the places I used to hang out in for good beer. It was our first trip to Belgium that really sparked the blogging, after seeing how much she had enjoyed the places we went and the beers we drank I wanted more people to find the same experiences. So I decided to start blogging about it, the first blog posts were pretty shit but as I wrote more I found what I liked to write about and just went with it.
I started reading lots of others blogs, then I started to see faces around the same breweries and drinking spots. I first met Matt Curtis at Beavertown Brewery taproom, we chatted and soon after Matt spoke about the British Guild of Beer Writers, encouraging me to join. So I did. This started opening different doors for me and events started to come in thick and fast. It took a bit of getting used to, I wasn’t really overly comfortable with all the free flowing beer to start. I found my feet and started to write about these events and beers. This year after meeting so many great writers I passed what Matt did to me to some others and encouraged them to join.
The rest as they say is history, Ales by Mail live twitter hosting, trip to Pilsner Urquell, this Beer Blogging advent, brewing a beer for the first time with Ben at 40FT then brewing another with Elephant School and Solvay Society on Brentwood’s brewery, all of it. The main reason I ended up here though is that I had my best mates to enjoy it with, Michelle, Glyn, Jack, Bigz and Paul, all enjoyed drinking different beers in different places with me, without them I would have been just visiting these places alone and that wouldn’t have been as much fun. Through my beer blogging I have met some amazing people who have turned into close mates and this really is the real magic of good beer right?
I wrote this after 5 pints of Punk IPA! Today is the first day that I struggled with getting the Beer Blogging Advent out in time! So photos will come later… But I am getting this online just before I fall at the hurdle!