Tuesday, August 8, 2023

Taking Up the Alworth #MyDreamBrewery Baton

We've all done it I am sure, dreamt about what our ideal brewery or pub would look like. I have done it many times, whether sat in a taproom with a drink or sat at a desk letting the mind wander, I may even have written about it once or twice in various media. Jeff Alworth over at Beervana wrote a great post a few days ago about his dream brewery, which in a stunning turn of events turned into a dream pub - his dream after all. The thing with dreams, even the nighttime type, is that they evolve and change with new inputs from our waking lives, and so while I recognise much of my dream pub in 2016, I have an additional 7 years of lived experience to integrate.

In keeping with Jeff's post, I am not going to attempt to name my pub, though in the various business plans I have written over the years (yes, I have got to the point of writing business plans several times) there have been names, but they all seem cheesy to me now.


Given this is, now, my dream I find that as I grow steadily older, the grey in my beard is migrating beyond just my chin, I have a deep longing to "go home". That's not to say that I am unhappy in central Virginia, far from it, I love living here and it would genuinely grieve me to leave behind the couple of acres of land that I have planted fruit trees on. However, my family holiday to Iceland earlier this summer reminded me of the deeper magic. I am not Icelandic, obviously, but I am a child of the North Atlantic. I grew up mostly in the Hebrides, my ancestry is overwhelmingly from the coastal communities that ring the North Sea, and this summer again I remembered just how much that world resonates with me. I am not talking here about being a beach bum, I hate sand with a passion, but being by the North Atlantic for an extended period of time again just made me feel reconnected in a way that is hard to explain.

One afternoon in Iceland we were sat at the local cafe, watching the twins play among the rocks and pools of the inlet, much like my little brother and I did when we were their age, when a group of Icelandic women joined us at our table as we had space and they needed it - I love that aspect of European social life. We got speaking with them, Mrs V about knitting, me about mythology and the shared worldview of Northern Atlantic people - one where we don't see a barrier in the ocean but a highway, we share stories, the names may be different but the themes are common, much like the stories of the Carpathian Mountains as they wend their way through Central Europe.

So my dream pub would be by the North Atlantic ocean, whether clinging to a vík or sitting just off the machair, the ocean is an all pervading presence, the smell of the sea permeating everything, the cry of sea birds echoing, low clouds scuttling across the gun metal sea, both broody in its darkness, and enervating in its lightness.

As to the building itself, the apostate in me loves the simple architecture of churches, whether presbyterian of some degree of freeness, continuity, or associatedness (IYKYK) or Lutheran. Simple, solid, battered by storms, defiant, a comfort, seemingly hewn from the very rock of the islands themselves, reminders of the great halls of old. My pub is a place of community, a place where all are welcome, and welcomed, my pub is not truly mine, it is the community's, I am the custodian.

This will no doubt come to the horror of many, but kids will be fine, assuming that they have parents who are responsible and considerate of the place they are in. In my experience the problem is rarely the children but invariably the parents deciding to use the pub as a nursery with booze for the adults. So, your kids will be welcome, they are part of the community after all, and how will they learn how to behave in a pub if they are excluded? However, you will be asked to leave if you are not managing them well, and if it becomes a regular thing, you will be asked to only come without them in future.

In the 2016 post on this theme, I mentioned that I would want my pub to have rooms so that people could find a place that suits them. Given my great hall style architecture though, discrete spaces would be created through furniture and furnishings rather than walls. You will be able to find a place to hide as much as a place to be seen. I also mentioned that the day's newspapers would be available, which is something I would maintain, but expand to have a wall of books available for reading, many of my favourite drinking sessions have involved me losing myself in a book. I would hand pick many of the authors on the shelves, Seamus Heaney, Tolkien, Neil Gaiman, Umberto Eco, Iain Banks, there would be non-fiction as well as novels, poetry, and sagas.

There will be no television.

Did I mention the fireplace? It will be large, and when the weather requires it will be roaring, fed a steady stream of wood and peat - you will have to love the smell of peat smoke to really enjoy the place in winter when the North Atlantic roils and crashes on the rocks. I imagine the Scottish deerhound of my dreams (he'd be called Wulver) stretched out on the stone hearth.

The Offer

This is my pub, so what will be on the taps? In common with the last time I pondered on my dream pub, I will not be having a bank of dozens of taps lined up on the wall. For a long time now I have thought that the optimum number of taps is 6, pure coincidence I am sure that 6 taps is how many there are at Pivovarský klub...

Of those 6 taps I would be keeping 4 within defined characteristics, not given over to any particular brewery, my pub is resolutely a free house. The remaining pair of taps would be split between a seasonal style and whatever special one-offs I feel like putting on. With this being a pub in dreamland, there are no dumbass three tier distribution systems in play, I can buy directly from the brewery, oh and the notion of tariffs and import customs have been consigned to the dung heap of history, so I can get exactly what I want, when I want it.

My pub is primarily a session pub, a fact reflected in the 4 regular taps, with strong beers being reserved for seasonals, specialties, or the range of bottled beers. Tap 1 is pale lagers with starting gravities below 14°, so an ABV of 5.5% or less. Tap 2 is for bitter, regardless of colour or strength, so a rotating tap of ordinary, best, and extra special. Tap 3 again sticks to an ABV below 5.5%, but this time features amber, red, or brown beers, top or bottom fermented, it will have the most range, sometimes with Vienna lager, sometimes mild, sometimes Oud Bruin. The 4th tap is for the truly dark beers, and here the ABV ceiling is a bit higher at 6.5%, get ready for tmavé pivo, American porter, Export Stout, night cap beers.

My bottle cellar would be well stocked in the rarer and stronger beers, Fullers Vintage Ale would feature, as would North Coast Old Stock Ale, Samichlaus, and Sierra Nevada's Narwahl. It would be fun to find a local brewery to contract specialty brews specifically for the pub, my current fascination, as a result of an article by Lars Marius Garshol, is Danish skibsøl, or "ship's beer", a low gravity smoked beer that was an essential part of the daily ration in the 19th century Danish navy. 

Cider would also feature, though here I get particularly snooty as my preferences in cider veer very strongly to the traditional. I would keep a healthy stock of Albemarle Ciderworks, Big Fish Cider, and Castle Hill Cider products in the cellar. Cider has long been my summer booze of choice, going back to my early drinking days when I wanted something lighter and more refreshing than beer. Traditional, artisanal, cider and perry will always find a place in my offerings, and in the case of Albemarle Ciderworks, I would be buying as much of their Harrison and Dabinett blend as I can lay hands upon.

This will likely sound contradictory given the stated aim of tap 1 and the previous paragraph, but my pub will always give precedence to local products, not just those made locally, but those using local inputs in their creations. If I were able to source a great pilsner, made with locally grown barley that was malted locally, and then hopped with locally grown hops, then I will have that on tap regularly as supporting fellow local businesses would be important to me.

It is in this spirit that I would be sourcing food for the pub. My interest is in booze, I have no ambition to own and run a restaurant, but brought in pub grub, sure. Fun fact, my first ever paying job was making hot water crust pie shells for the bakery in the village I lived in. Said cases were filled with minced lamb to form the traditional Scottish meat pie, but also chicken curry, and the ever popular sausage, beans, and mash. Assuming such a place was within striking distance of the pub, I'd be selling a range of hot water crust pies, sausage rolls, and pasties. I might consider a daily pot of soup or stew, bringing in fresh bread from the bakery as well. You might see a bit of a theme here, I like simple hearty food, nothing fancy with juliennes of this or gastriques of that, peasant food. I once had this daft notion that a peasant focused restaurant called "The Hearty Peasant" would be fun, but then remembered I have no ambition to run a restaurant.

My hope is that my pub would be a place of solace, a place of joy, a place of intellectual stimulation, a place of discovery, a place where people of good faith find community. And in the heart of it all, you will find me, behind the bar serving great beer.

* Yes that is me in the last picture, my youngest son was messing with my phone in a restaurant in Arnarstapi, Iceland while I was lost in thought. I think he has a good eye for one so wee.

1 comment:

  1. Let me know when you build this homage to church pubs. I'll be first in line!


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