Here we are again. January has rolled on round while we were busy looking the other way. I was talking to some friends last night about the ‘New Year, new you’ mentality. We agreed there is something magical in the idea that millions of people across the world stop for a moment and decide to make a change in their lives. Some of us begin the year with truly heartfelt goals; of being kinder, more generous, braver. Most of us begin the year with goals of eating better, exercising more, learning something new. And many of us start the year by deciding to ‘go dry’.
Alcohol Concern’s annual Dry January campaign jumps right on the superior bandwagon, with their website spouting ‘take the challenge, banish the booze and feel like a new you!’ With over two million people signing up the campaign last year, and when former customers decide to avoid pubs altogether, those of us in the industry look on aghast. It is in fact possible to frequent and enjoy pubs, whether you drink alcohol or not.
(Although let’s be clear here: if quitting alcohol for a month seems like a challenge, you probably do have an issue with alcohol, and your changes should have longevity.)
I don’t really drink alcohol. I used to, especially as a teenager and a student. One day drinking simply wasn’t something I wanted to do. On paper it’s strange to say ‘I work for a brewery and I don’t drink’. But I can also say that every day I learn something new. I also enjoy tasting our beers more now than ever before, and continue to enjoy exploring the aroma, the taste and the feel of a beer. It helps that my other half is Castle Rock’s world beer buyer, meaning there’s a passionate beer geek at hand to offer insight and wisdom.
And despite not drinking, I love pubs. Yes, I kind of have to, for the sake of my job, but that’s not why I do. My childhood memories are peppered with the happiness of sitting in a sunny beer garden with my family, drinking lemonade and lime, and tucking into a bowl of chips. I remember grown-up spaces filled with cigarette smoke. I remember the forbidden land of our village local, where my dad spent an evening once a week with his friends, and lapping up the moment I stepped up over the threshold with my shiny ID at eighteen.
The summer before starting university I got a job in a pub. It was a lovely little place, nestled away in the West Sussex countryside with a river on one side and a camp site on the other. The couple who ran it were like cartoon characters. I adored them. My first shift, I walked up to the front door to find them howling with laughter as they tried to vacuum up a spider. I remember how excited I was to pull my first pint. Evenings were filled with laughter and music from the jukebox, before heading to bed with aching feet. During the day, the pub closed for a couple of hours. While my bosses headed to their apartment on the first floor, I would eat lunch and watch the tele. On the sunnier days I’d read in the beer garden and soak up some rays. Once I bumped into a regular, who took me on a tour of the riverbank and showed me around his colourful little houseboat. On my last shift a group of customers overheard me talking about heading off to uni, and handed me an envelope filled with notes and coins. I returned to work at the pub the next summer, but my former bosses had moved up North, and the new managers were abrasive. People really do make a pub.
After visiting Nottingham Trent’s Clifton Campus, my mum and I took a drive into the city. We were in search of food, and came across the Canalhouse. It turns out that first day in Nottingham eventually led to me staying here instead of returning South, to working at Castle Rock, and to meeting my partner and friends.
As a group of English students new to West Bridgford, my friends and I selected the Stratford Haven as our local for the coming academic year. It was chosen immediately on spotting the Shakespearian logo. When living in the Lace Market, the Kean’s Head was always the best choice. It’s an ideal place to hide away; to be near everything but away from the bustle…a true sanctuary. Now, the Poppy and Pint is suited to my more conservative waking hours, and my love of cake.
The Canalhouse was and always will be my firm favourite. As a student I’d gather the troops and we’d sit for whole afternoons, drinking coffee and workshopping screen plays. Nearing the end of my degree, I got a job there. It was intense. It’s no exaggeration that you have to possess, or very quickly develop, certain characteristics to work in a busy pub. If you’ve been to the Canalhouse at Waterfront festival or mid-heatwave you’ll know what I mean. Skill, speed, loyalty, and a good sense of humour are essential. At the end of the night we’d collapse on the sofas for a drink before heading home, and on those sofas we talked about every subject you can imagine.
You see, this is what pubs are: hubs. A good public house is a home. Great pubs sit at the heart of communities. Strangers build friendships in pubs. Pubs house communication and debate. People fall in love in pubs. The coffee is cheaper and just as good (if not better) than coffee from a chain, and pubs are generally quieter than Starbucks on a weekday afternoon. The Wi-Fi is just as free. The food is cooked by people with passion, who look after you by feeding you. If there’s music, it’s being selected for you by the bar staff, or being played live by a local musician. You can spend an hour drinking a glass of soda and nobody will hurry you along. And the people who work so hard, who work such long hours, who often dedicate their lives to creating a great pub, need us to appreciate all of these great things.
While Dry January dries up socialising, so do hours for staff. Many kitchen and bar staff find themselves trying to negotiate with their closest friends, deciding who will get the most hours that week. People go in search of full-time jobs, handing in their notice when the clock strikes a New Year. Those with the potential to have a career in the industry disperse into the reliability of national corporations. I stuck out dry January and I’m glad I did, because it passed and eventually I ended up here: A non-drinker who loves pubs and works for a brewery.
You can do both.