And for reasons that might bore you I fell out of beer blogging awhile back, but this post isn’t about those reasons. This is about how I returned. This is about Barry.
It was last December when I first met Barry. I bumped into him at the Urban Tap House, in a literal sense. The bar was packed with the sort of people that only ever see the inside of a pub at Christmas time, so navigating my way around was proving harder than usual. The fact that I was holding three pint glasses, arranged in a triangle formation like a squadron of bombers, had nothing to do with what happened next.
A tunnel opened up in the crowd as people naturally parted for a moment. I took my chance, mistimed it, and crashed into something large. Beer slopped messily to the floor. The man I would later call Barry loomed over me, glaring with tired anger at his now half-empty pint glass. His hand was shiny and wet with beer. The glare travelled from his glass to my eyes. My heart froze.
Barry is a pyramid shaped man, huge and blocky at the base, and rising so far up you lose sight and perspective of the top of him. On this occasion, he was wearing safety boots, dirty overalls and an expensive sheepskin jacket. Luckily, the sleeve had escaped unscathed, otherwise my next action wouldn’t have saved me.
Noticing that my three pint glasses had escaped the collision without a single drop spilt, I offered them forward. “Erm, sorry mate. Here, take one of mine.”
Still glowering, he transferred his pint glass and shook his hand dry, splashing my face with droplets of warm beer. Then he plunged a paw into my bomber formation, scattering the pint glasses as he seized the front one. I quickly struggled to keep my grip on the remaining two and by the time I looked up he had disappeared.
Nervously, I looked around, amazed that someone so big could vanish so easily. Still, it was Christmas, and the bar was getting busier by the minute. I pretty much forgot about the encounter as I got steadily blasted. It was late February when Barry reappeared. It was in the Urban Tap House again.
It was mid-week and relatively quiet. I was sizing up the beers on offer when a long shadow fell over the bar. For a moment I thought I had gone blind, then my eyes readjusted to the darkness and I saw him towering over me.
“Ey, what was the fuckin’ pint you gave me?” he growled in a deep, Yorkshire accent. There he was, picking up a conversation as if I had handed him the pint minutes ago and not months ago.
“Well, it was craft beer. I’m not sure, there were a lot of beers on that night.”
“Ker-raft? That like a German lager or summat?”
“No, it’s er… made by ingredients, with real hands… I mean, real ingredients and…” my brain appeared to be trying to escape from my ears to leave my body to its fate. The large man leaned down. I saw he had very large pores.
“Well it tasted like fuckin’ feet.”
“Oh. Well, you kinda get used to it.” A sudden inspiration hit me. I hoped it was the only thing to hit me that day. “Do you eat curry?”
Barry lurched back in confusion. His fist tensed. Maybe he thought I was being saucy with him. Slowly, he answered, “Course I eat fuckin’ curry. What’s that got to do with beer that tastes like a tramp dipped his fuckin’ toes in it?”
“Well, I’m just saying, I bet you don’t eat korma, right?”
He almost spat on the floor at the thought. “No, it’s fuckin’ shit. Can’t taste it.”
“Exactly. You want something with spice and flavour. Beer is actually a lot like that. Your Stella and Foster’s are the Kormas of the beer world and these…” I gestured at the pumps, “…are more like your Rogan Joshes, Madrases and Vindaloos.”
A change came over Barry. He considered the pump clips with a thoughtful scowl. Then he grunted and caught the bar tender’s attention. “A pint that’s like vindaloo, please, love.”
The staff at the Tap House are among the best, but even this request threw her. Feeling responsible for this madness, I dived in quickly. “Do you prefer pale ale or dark beers, mate?”
“Dark beers? I thought there were only Guinness that was dark. Fuckin’ ‘ell. Gives me the shits, does Guinness.”
I gestured toward Tiny Rebel’s Full Nelson. “Two of them, please.”
The bar tender poured us two gleaming, golden pints of Full Nelson. It was one of Tiny Rebel’s finest beers, and that’s no small achievement when all of their beers are near perfect. She placed them down in front of us. I watched Barry pick his up and sniff it cautiously. He screwed up his face. “It smells like a sweaty fanny.”
Before I could defend it, he tipped the glass upright and demolished a third of the pint in two large gulps. He smacked his lips noisily. An off-duty zookeeper on the other side of the bar jumped out of his seat in panic, thinking a rhino had broken loose and found its way into the beer cellar. He partially relaxed when he clocked it was just Barry.
“Tastes like sweaty fanny as well.” Two more mouthfuls followed the first and an empty pint glass clacked onto the bar top. “Two more pints, please, love, and one for yourself if you can stand to drink any of this shite.”
She smiled dryly and poured us two more Full Nelsons, the second round of what turned out to be a long, messy night. Barry introduced himself as either an industrial refrigerator repairman or salesman. Either way, he specialises in a particular type, so the job takes him all over the country.
“So I often find myself going into random pubs after the job is done, like. Not much else to do when you don’t know a town.”
The frost between us thawed somewhat when I told him I had lived in Leeds for many a year and that, outside of Wales, Yorkshire was the best place on Earth bar none. He drained his glass, smacked his lips and startled the zookeeper again. An enormous belch followed, rattling the single paned windows. “Yer alright, lad. Gimme yer number. I’ll call you when I’m back in Cardiff. I wanna know more about this ker-raft shite.”
So this was how I met Barry, and how I got back into beer.