The Session: Quarantine Edition

The Session, a.k.a. Beer Blogging Friday, is an opportunity once a month for beer bloggers from around the world to get together and write from their own unique perspective on a single topic.
I've only ever contributed to The Session a couple of times, for the simple reason that my (short-lived) blogging career began just a few months before the plug was pulled on Beer Blogging Friday. In these 'unprecedented times' (I hope you've all got your Covid-19 Catchphrase bingo cards ready) I had been toying with the idea of blogging again, so when Alistair Reece announced that the Session was being relaunched (albeit possibly as a one off) I thought I really should bite the bullet.

In his launch blog, Alistair asked:
"In these unprecedented times, what has become your new drinking normal? Are you drinking more? Less? Have you raided the cellar regularly? Is there a particular brewery whose beer is keeping you company while you are confined to barracks? Has there been a beer revelation in these times?
Thinking about my 'new normal' probably only really makes sense in relation to what my old normal had been.

Going to the pub

For a number of years I have been in the habit of working on my New Brew Thursday badge on Untappd. Then there are, of course, weekend beers on Friday and Saturday. All of these are generally drunk at home - unless there is a gig at the pub, or a party, to go to. My regular pub visit is to The Sweffling White Horse* on a Sunday evening after morris dance practice. Since the pub is seven miles from home in rural Suffolk, either my wife or I has to drive.
Of course, nobody is going to the pub during lockdown - 'we're all in the same boat' in that regard! Instead though we have seen the rise of the virtual pub. I have become quite a regular at the 'Lockdown Lockin', hosted by Steve of The Beer OClock Show podcast, and at the #Utopi_Inn, hosted by Ruth of Utopian Brewing, a lager specialist brewery from Devon.

Both of these have given me the opportunity to socialise with friends that I rarely see due to them living miles away, to meet people that have previously only been a Twitter handle, and to make new acquaintances. In fact I have to admit to having had to suppress my inner fanboy on one occasion; although I won't embarrass myself, or the person in question, by namedropping here.

What am I drinking?

At home a lot of my drinking has, in the past, been my homebrewed beer. No doubt some would describe me as a bit tight. In my defence my frugal spending stems from a period of redundancy induced debt. Either way, I have tended to save my appreciation of 'craft' beer for special occasions - or for those moments when I realise that some of those beers I have been saving for special occasions are actually getting uncomfortably close to their BBE dates.

Three of my recent homebrews

I have drunk my homebrew at the virtual pub, but (probably at least partly due to peer pressure) I have been drinking more commercial beer than I used to. I have also made a point of buying beer direct from breweries - so far this has been Utopian and also Bruha, a brewery local to me in Suffolk. In keeping with my frugal nature I have chosen to buy from breweries that offer good value for money.

The mixed case of Utopian beers

A mixed case of Bruha beers, including one with the old Station 119 branding

I have always been a cask ale fan and, of course, this is something that can't really be replicated at home. Fortunately, The Sweffling White Horse has been offering off sales of cask beer in refillable containers. At first, this suffered from a lack of carbonation as the beer was poured from cask to jug and then into my bottles. However, I have started taking my auto-syphon and bottling wand with me and using these to fill my flip top beer bottles. After 24 hours in the bottle the residual yeast in the beer has re-carbonated the beer for me and I am enjoying top quality real ale at home.

The front door of the White Horse with the handwashing station set up just before the pub closure notice

The Same But Different

As I mentioned earlier my old drinking habits essentially amounted to a four day weekend of indulgence. In defence of my reputation, I have to say that most of those drinking sessions consisted of just one or two beers. Since lockdown my virtual pub sessions have been more boozy, but I have pretty much just drunk on those two occasions each week. Overall I would say that I'm drinking about the same amount as I ever have done. The real revelation though is that I feel I am being much more sociable in my drinking than I have been in the past. 

Revelations: Beery and Otherwise

The real revelation though has been my shifting mood over these last few weeks. With my 50+ hour working week as a teacher the Read Later list on my Feedly often gets quite long until I am able to whittle it down during the holidays. Although I was working form home during the first couple of weeks of lockdown, I soon found that I had run out of blogs to read. Then came the Easter holiday and I had very little work to do, but I found that my Read Later list was growing. To judge from Jeff Alworth's post You're Not Reading Blogs I can't be alone in this.

Jeff suggests that this is because we are not able to enjoy the community element that makes our appreciation of beer so special to us:

"We still have access to good beer, but we’re now lacking that community element, the shared experiences that lead to recognition."

I'm not at all sure that that is the issue for me. I live in a small town in the countryside with little access to 'craft' beer, and even less access to people with whom to appreciate it. The cause of the malaise that has kept me from reading blogs, much less writing anything other than this piece, is actually right there in Jeff's next paragraph:

"Then there’s the weight of this unknown future pushing down on
our chests. How bad is it going to get? Will someone close to me die? Will I die?"

I have often said that it is spending time with people, much more than the beer that we drink, which is what I actually enjoy the most in my appreciation of beer. That seems to be even more so now. I need to talk to people to take me out of the sense of numbness that I seem to be living in right now. Hopefully, I will soon be back to spending my days surrounded by thirty 6 year olds and then I migth appreciate taking some quiet time to read some beery blogs.

* I wrote about the Sweffling White Horse almost two years ago here.


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