Last month I was walking in Cardiff Bay when I saw a team of men loading barrels, kegs and bottles onto a large motorboat. I wondered where they could be taking all of this beer and asked them. “Is this for the pub on Flat Holme?” I said, referring to the small island just off the coast.
“No, we’re taking it to the bottom of the sea,” answered one of the large dray men.
“Fair enough,” I said, taking his answer to be a sarcastic defence against my curiosity. However, his response earned the irate attention of the finely suited man who had been supervising the loading. He ordered the dray to work faster and then glared at me. “Are you a man, or a beer blogger?” he asked.
The question stunned me. “Well, a beer blogger, I suppose.”
“Never mind. Come with me, parasite, and I will show you what I have built, and the greatest thing you will ever see.”
His attitude intrigued and compelled me. We stepped aboard the launch, the vessel already heavily laden with craft kegs and cask barrels. My host stood at the prow of the boat, impervious to the chill wind that battered me and the crew. He said nothing until, after almost an hour of sailing from Cardiff Bay into the Bristol Channel, we reached an isolated lighthouse built on a craggy rock. A trio of submarines were moored to the base of the rock. While the crew loaded the cargo into the subs, their boss spoke to me.
“I am Andrew Ryan, and I’m here to ask you a question. Is a man not entitled to the beer dispense of his choice?
‘No!’ says the man at CAMRA, ‘You must drink cask.’
‘No!’ says the beer geek at his laptop, ‘It must be craft keg.’
‘No!’ says the trendy hipster in the London bar, ‘It belongs in a dimple mug.’
I rejected those answers; instead, I chose something different. I chose the impossible. I chose… Rapture, a bar where the casual drinker would not fear tax duty, where the brewer would not be bound by petty pubco ties, where the drunk would not be constrained by the sober! And with the drink of your choice, Rapture can become your bar as well.”
The submarine descended for, well, I don’t know. Ten minutes, ten days, I can’t say, I was too busy marvelling through the port hole at the building on the sea floor, a self-contained Art Deco styled bar, with warm light glowing from the inches-thick polycarbonate windows. Docking took no time at all, and apparently we weren’t deep enough to need decompression time. Within minutes I was faced with what seemed like a mile long bar, adorned by statues of Atlas holding up the Earth and gleaming beer fonts like a regiment of knights. Ryan briefly explained the ethos as I gazed in awe at the ceiling-high bottle fridges. In Rapture, every drink can be served in cask, keg or bottle. If a beer doesn’t come in all dispense methods, Ryan does it himself. “I’ve kegged Timothy Taylor cask ale and casked BrewDog keg beers. A man creates, while a parasite asks ‘is it craft?’”
“All of this seems a bit, well, impossible,” I said.
“It wasn’t impossible to escape the craft versus keg debate at the bottom of the sea. It was impossible to escape it anywhere else.”
By now the dray men had finished unloading, and my extraordinary host had grown tired of my lacklustre company. I left on the next sub, where a passenger brochure declared that several Rapture bars, which Andrew Ryan calls ‘The Great Chain’, will open in various locations off the coast of Britain, including London, Cardiff, Hull and Edinburgh, from 1 June. Further bars are planned worldwide.