Author: Lucy Corne
Late last year I followed a thread on Twitter that asked people what it was that they missed the most during lockdown. You could easily hazard a guess at many of the items on the list – they would no doubt be on your list as well: seeing family, hugging friends, going out for dinner, travelling overseas. But there was one thing that came up again and again, on Twitter accounts from the UK and Ireland, from South Africa and Brazil, from across the US and Canada, Australia, New Zealand and throughout mainland Europe. People across the world united in their shared desire to once again go out for a pint of beer.
At first this surprised me. Not on a personal level – I’m an avid beer enthusiast and while I had a good stash of beer at home (even during South Africa’s lengthy alcohol ban), I really missed sipping on a clear, cool pint poured fresh from the keg. But most of the social media accounts proclaiming their desire for a draught beer weren’t operated by beer nerds, homebrewers or brewery owners. These weren’t ale-obsessives who tweet about nothing but beer. And yet the thing they hankered for more than anything was a pint in their local. “Of all the things I miss, I miss draught beer the most,” lamented @thejeffbyrnes, a Massechusetts based ops engineer whose tweets don’t tend to focus on anything beer related. Welsh Twitter user @HarryCallaghan_ wasn’t even following a thread when he tweeted, “The only thing I miss is draught beer…” I guess he was just thinking out loud about his heart’s greatest desire.
Beyond the beer
There are many reasons people give for preferring draught beer to that poured from cans or bottles – it is fresher and gives that perfect crown of foam that makes a pint just so pretty. I don’t doubt that some of those thirsty Twitter users were daydreaming at the thought of tiny bubbles rising in a glass of golden liquid, condensation droplets slowly trickling down the outside. But this collective yearning for a pint stretched far beyond the nerdy and knowledgeable beer community. This was about so much more than just the beer inside the glass. It was – is – about everything that comes with ordering a pint in a pub or tavern, restaurant or bar.
Draught beer is special. It is something most people don’t have available at home, so the idea of ordering a pint speaks of an occasion, a treat. It might not be anything major – it could just be Friday afternoon post-work drinks or a mid-week meet-up with an old friend. But the very act of ordering a pint means that you’re out of your home and perhaps in your favourite local bar, restaurant or pub.
Every aspect of getting that glass of draught beer is a part of the occasion: from surveying the taps to find out what’s available, to watching the liquid fall into the glass, a frothy head gradually rising as the liquid nears the rim. The glass is placed before you, perhaps at your perch by the bar, or maybe at the table you’re sharing with friends. You raise the beer in a toast, locking eyes with your drinking mates, and take that first long gulp of a well-earned pint.
Beer is community
When people were asked what they most missed when confined to their homes, I didn’t see a single tweet that mentioned a glass of wine – or indeed a bottle of beer. Those things can still be enjoyed at home and are as likely to be sipped in the comfort of your house as they are to be ordered on a night out in a local restaurant. But draught beer – just like cocktails – is associated with celebration, with getting out and seeing friends. When people said they missed draught beer, they meant that they missed the hum of the pub, the banter with the bartender, the jokes and jeers, chatter and cheers. They missed hanging out with friends and sharing stories, toasting the weekend, celebrating birthdays or new jobs. They missed striking up a chat with strangers at the bar, or sitting enjoying a solitary pint while revellers laughed and talked around them. They missed normality and joviality and interacting with other human beings.
Beer has always been synonymous with socialising. You rarely – if ever – hear someone say “let’s chat about it over a wine”, or “do you want to meet for ciders in the week”, but substitute those beverages for beer and you’ve got a fairly standard way of people arranging to meet with friends. The pandemic has caused mayhem with our social lives, cutting people off from their loved ones, removing many avenues of social contact and forcing people to settle for family chats, pub quizzes, Friday drinks and more via services like Zoom.
But Zoom cannot facilitate a much needed hug between friends. Zoom cannot keep up with three conversations being shouted simultaneously across a table. And until Zoom can work out how to dispense cool draught beer from the screen of a laptop or phone, it will always be a poor substitute for walking into a pub, high-fiving a friend and waving down a waiter to bring you a frothy glass of whatever’s fresh on tap.
Pictures: Lucy Corne