2020 has been a funny year. I had so much planned that I didn’t do. I had lots of reviews to write, lots of places to go, lots of people to meet. In January it seemed like an exciting year ahead. As it turned out I went to just about none of the places I intended to, mostly met other people at a 2m distance, and to cap it all I lost a good friend to cancer. I did have plans about writing reviews of how well the pubs were adapting, but it seemed to change every week and it just didn’t make sense to in the end. Surprisingly though, I did publish four reviews somehow, which seems amazing look back on it.
2020 did do one thing for me though, which was to make me think about what I value most. I don’t normally do New Year’s resolutions, but this year has changed that, and this article is in part a way of helping me stick to those resolutions. Hopefully it’s worth a read too.
Resolution 1 – support my local
I am sure that no-one reading this is surprised to hear that COVID has been unbelievably tough on the hospitality industry. Every pub and restaurant I have visited has spent a huge amount of time and money making themselves as safe as possible to be in – spacing people out, screens between tables, screens at the till, table service only, lots of handwash, staff all in masks. I have not been out to a pub or restaurant once this year and felt unsafe. By contrast, the supermarkets seem to be adopting a policy of “as long as most customers wear a mask somewhere on their head, everyone can do what they like”. Which is ironic, because I don’t need to go to the pub, but I do need to buy food. We have it back to front – the worst protection in the most essential places.
Now, I’m not advocating that even with these excellent measures pubs and restaurants should be open today. Given the rate of infections, I think the government are right to close hospitality venues at the moment. However, the way they have handled the hospitality industry in general has been shambolic. Stay open but don’t go to the pub, close the pub, open again, go and eat lots of food (but don’t get overweight), drink beer but have a scotch egg with it, close again with no takeaway. OK, do takeaway. And every change at just 24 hours notice, causing thousands of pounds in stock wastage each time. Our pubs are on their knees, and it’s likely that some will not re-open after this disastrous Christmas period.
Despite all of the shambolic things that the government have done, there is one thing that stands out to me as clever, and that’s Eat Out To Help Out. I can hear the people shouting at the screen in fury as they read this, but let me explain why I think this was clever. First of all, it encouraged a reluctant public to start going out again while it was relatively safe. Everyone was scared to go out in July (e.g. OpenTable bookings were down 53% year on year), but when EOTHO was introduced in August it was back up to normal. It kick-started the hospitality industry again. But more importantly than that, it was smart in the distribution of support. Because rather than just throwing money at all pubs and restaurants regardless of their quality, it allowed the public to vote with their stomachs for which venues they wanted to support. If you liked a restaurant or pub, you ate there and they benefited from your subsidised custom. The public were subsidising the places they liked to eat.
Eat out to help out is not my resolution, but it is a very long-winded introduction for me to say that my top resolution is to make sure I consciously support the businesses that I value the most. For me, that means my beer only comes from local pubs, taprooms and bottle shops. Someone suggested to me that’s because I want to see companies like Tesco, Wetherspoons and AB InBev go out of business. That’s absolutely not true. However, I know they will do fine without me buying beer from there, but the local businesses won’t. I want to make sure there is good beer in a good pub to go back to when things recover. So my first resolution is to spend my money on supporting the local businesses I still want to see still there in 2021 and beyond.
Resolution 2 – no to Dryanuary
During lockdown 2, I decided to not have any booze. Double Barrelled’s 2nd birthday party meant one night when I didn’t stick to that, but otherwise I was alcohol-free for all of November. And the whole experience was decidedly meh. What it did make me realise though was that being dry in November, catching up in December, dry in January and so on is just a silly way to live.
Instead of that, my second resolution is to stick to about 14 units a week (the UK recommended limit), but more importantly to spread it out over the week rather than binging it all on a couple of nights. That means no going down the pub and blowing it all in one night, which in turn means that I need to find good non-alcoholic beer to drink in the pubs. BrewDog do a few really good ones (Punk AF, Hazy AF and Nanny State), but I’d love to see our local breweries do a non-alcoholic beer too. Some of them produced some excellent lower alcohol beers (Siren’s Half Mast, Phantom’s Easy As Pi and Double Barrelled’s Applause spring to mind), and I’d love to see them move on to 0.5% beers too.
Resolution 3 – no anonymity
I have been accused a few times of hiding behind an anonymous account, and it made me consider why I am anonymous at all. When this blog kicked off it was going to be a few of us writing and it made sense to have a collective name. We also imagined that landlords might actually try and unfairly influence us if they knew who we were. Neither turned out to be true – I write this on my own now, and it’s absolutely not like I am a secretive Michelin critic that proprietors live in fear of. I’d hope landlords appreciate the occasional piece of constructive criticism to hear to help improve the business for everyone, but I can’t imagine anyone changing behaviour when I visit. So I have decided that in the interests of openness and transparency, I should unmask myself. So here I am in a carefully select picture that makes me look younger and more handsome than I really am.
My name is Martin, and I’ve lived in Reading for 23 years. I live in Caversham with my wife, 2 boys and a dog. I work in IT, currently for Google. Yes, that means I earn a good living, which probably colours my reviews a bit, and allows me to be able to make choices like my first resolution of not buying my beer in a supermarket. Not everyone has that luxury, and it seems only right to be honest about that.
The blog does already mention this, but also in the interests of transparency, I own a small amount of SirenCraft shares, an even smaller amount of West Berks Brewery shares, and some BrewDog too. I try not to let it influence my reviews, but Siren in particular produce such good beer that you will hear me constantly rave about it regardless of my tiny fraction of a percent of ownership.
If you see me in the pub do come and say Hi, and feel free to tell me what reviews you agree or disagree with, and where you think I should review next. Perhaps I’ll even invite you along when we’re all back to normal in 2022.