Are you really gonna talk about timing in times like these?
And let all your damage damage me
It can't possibly be March. It is possibly around the second week of January, which is still too late for a round-up of the previous year. However, closure helps one move on and progression sometimes require the closing of a door. Please accept that most of this was written in the first week of January though, before life became too busy again and time too short.
There was a time when the notion of sitting in a cold, wooden shed on your own, to enjoy a few cans of beer, was the subject of ridicule. Notionally it was possibly deserved. But thanks to the 2021 acceptance of ludicrous conceptions - such as only drinking with a massive snack, sitting exclusively outside or not being allowed to go near the bar - sitting in a shed was one of the more normal ways to enjoy beer this year.
We can’t part ways with 2021 without flicking through the diary to the key points. It was a year when almost nothing happened and yet so much was unforgettable. It was a year when March and November were moved next to each other on the calendar, Manchester relocated to the southern hemisphere for the summer months and pubs were open indoors for less than 65% of it all.
I've had too much to drink
How did I go from growing up to breaking down
And I wake up in the middle of the night
It's like I can feel time moving
January began dry - not outside, as the delightful inches of snow that occurred several times over the month ensured some joy - but for the first 14 days with alcohol. A minor milestone to some but a huge one in this household. It was necessary to allow a break from the clouds that gathered over a hospitality-less Christmas, that were accompanied by far too many empty bottles of double-figure-ABV liquid. Fourteen days was a little internal reprieve with an unexpected positive effect on the tastebuds.
When beer was reintroduced to life again, everything tasted fantastic. This wasn’t through an insatiable desire for the taste again but because the fortnight’s pause had heightened the sensory reactions. Every little nugget of tasting note was apparent in every beer. For the first time, individual hop varieties were easy to pick out of low-alcohol pale ales and all styles had a more pronounced vitality to them. The first night included the brilliant Elusive Brewing’s Oregon Trail and Rivington Brewing Co’s As the Rain Falls. The month ended with Burnt Mill Brwery’s Great Bitter Falls that was simply sensational, as many of their West Coast IPAs are.
February came and the pubs remained closed. The mini-kegs came back into their own as did the online beer ordering. The sight of a Black IPA collaboration with Elusive had me ordering a lot with Siren Brew Co. Not only did Zombies Ate My Neighbours live up to expectations but there was the return of the gorgeous Hefeweizen Nacken; an old favourite from 2013/2014. Add to that the barleywine Scattered Light, one of my favourite of the style from the year, and Siren were back amongst my favourite breweries of the calendar year.
The hoppy hefeweizens continued this month in Cloudwater’s 6th birthday beers. ‘Can You See My Screen?’ lived up to their high standards for the style and was easily the best of these annual specials. The name is reminiscent of the hours spent in the back bedroom for numerous events hosted by Salford Beer Fest. February saw the turn of Red Willow Brewery and the fabulous Smoked Lager and the ageless Ageless. There may have not been any on screen dozing during this particular event, although there would be at nearly every other Zoom get together that followed.
That old familiar body ache
The snaps from the same little breaks in your soul
Then came the Spring grief through March. The solemn get-togethers. The silent drinks. The restricted funeral day. Life had adapted to a world without pubs but they were never missed more than during this period. Where do we go when there is nowhere to go?
The West Coast IPAs were happily tasting fantastic during this sad period. There was the rediscovery of just how good Cromarty’s AKA IPA is; worth revisiting to any that haven’t had it in a while. Cloudwater’s Crystallography returned for another batch and was even better. North Riding really dialed it in with their West Coast IPA V2. And we laughed along with the name, but also appreciated the taste, in Torrside Brewery’s And You Will Know the Beer is Craft by the Length of its Name.
It wasn’t just the Westie’s though. Some other favourite styles were perfectly represented here. Black IPA – in the form of Penny Black IPA from Thirst Class. India Porter – with Elusive Brewery’s incredible Ravenwood. American Brown Ale – from Burning Sky and their Snap Decision. All beers at their bitter best.
Once the last drop of rain has
dried off the pavement
Shouldn't I find a stain, but I never do
There will be a time in the years to come that we look back on late April/early May 2021 with incredulous eyes. Some will still hail the necessity of it all but most will shake their heads in confuddled wonderment. We were sat outside, on cool Spring evenings, staring at the pubs that we wanted to sit in and often drinking beers we wouldn’t normally choose.
It is enough to forcefully change any biological desires and actually have children, just to experience the day when they are old enough to come home from school, on a day they’ve been learning about the pandemic of the 2020s, and ask, “Daddy, were you one of the clowns who sat in hastily revamped car parks in the middle of April, just to have a beer?”
It was another month before we were welcomed indoors and a week long holiday was taken to experience pub interiors. Fyne Ales Jarl was enjoyed in Tapped Leeds. Track Brew Co’s Sonoma was had in City Arms, Manchester and The Magnet, Stockport.
The next few months were for sitting in pubs, skillfully perfecting the art of choosing the best seat to always be in the bar staff's eyeline so that doubling up on pints wasn't necessary. There was a spectacular failure at this on a trip to Southport, where sitting in a snug in The Guest House proved stupid. Thirty-five minutes to get a pint of Oakham Citra, even if it was tasting fantastic. Some clearly perfected it better than others.
The next two months flew by, interspersed with England doing well at a football tournament. Large dents were made in the home beer stash during games but none were drunk quite as quickly as Elusive's Mars on Life - an Earl Grey Black IPA. England reached the final of a major football tournament - one that happened to be held on an odd numbered year. They lost on penalties though, to bring some reassurance to people convinced that the multiverse had opened.
July also saw the recording of the most significant podcast episode ever created by anyone. Ever. If you haven't listened to it then it is about time your entire life changed by tuning in to a depressed northerner speak endless drivel for nearly three hours. The beers included an extra outing of Torrside's Borderlines. More Smoked Dunkels please.
I pull at every thread, trying to solve the puzzles
in his head
Live my life scared to death, (that) he'll decide to leave instead
Summer ended and the metaphorical storm clouds arrived. The best friend that anybody had ever had slowed down. The weeks were an empty void of hoping for the best. But the best never seems to be achievable and so it came to be. No more happy greetings. No more sharing food. No more careful nighttime steps. Just abandoned garden tennis balls and a silent home.
October recovered with the only Beer Festival of the year - Rivington's excellent Farm Trip. A first visit to the space in any capacity did not disappoint. Nor did the comforting sense of being around beer people in a welcoming environment, important when the empty spaces at home cause sorrow. Whilst the clamour of people dodging in crowded indoor venues doesn't appeal yet, a return to friendly faces in spacious areas does
The month ended with this year's reiteration of one of 2020's Beer of the Year - Cloudwater’s Modern Barleywine - this year named Duck!
Grief took a stranglehold of the year's final months and it was tiptoed through in a formulaic route. The pubs were there but could never guarantee whether they would be the following week. The friends were around but full of understandable caution. The house was still waiting but missing a huge part of its homeliness. It existed and the world coped but with anger and fear rife throughout.
Moments of joy were found in Brew York's Big Eagle 2021, which was even more superior to the excellent 2020 version. The Thornbridge and Saint Mars of the Desert Quadrupel collaboration Secret World was... wait for it... out of this wo.... oh forget it.
And North Riding took the crown in my Beer Advent Calendar, as their Barleywine in a 500ml bottle was finally opened. Sensational stuff.
It will take a few more years - maybe 5 or 6 - before a nostalgic fool looks back on 2021 as a special time. It was unique when so much of adulthood is repetitive. Life is full of greetings and partings but they are remembered because the souls meant something in the first place. If that first place can include a special beer to recall alongside it then this hobby isn't so bad.
Happy New Year.