|Yes, I know it's the middle of the summer - that's why it's daylight at 11pm. But this is the Baltic Sea. On a good day.|
Life is never boring.
Following the absolute exhaustion of the Stoke Newington Literary Festival, I’d like to say it seemed like a great idea to join the Great Baltic Adventure, sailing to St Petersburg with fourteen casks of Russian Imperial Stout. Except it didn’t – it felt like a really stupid idea.
And it was.
Like my last big sea adventure, we weren’t long into it before my wife wanted to divorce me. Not because I was away from her this time, but because she was on the ship with me. We were ill equipped and under-prepared, yearning for sleep and running on fumes.
Two weeks later, Liz declares it the best holiday she’s ever had (despite the entirely fictitious account on her Beer Widow blog of how it came about) and we’re both in some kind of wonderful sensory overload phase where flushing toilets and hot baths give us all-over intense pleasure, where after two weeks of listening only to waves, wind and engine noise has made music in my headphones feels more intense and beautiful than it ever has, and yet part of each of us is still on the ship, still swaying, still squinting at the horizon, still sharing inanities, UHT-milk flavoured tea and endless Custard Creams with the ragged, wasted bunch of beery eccentrics we now call close friends.
“Father” Tim O’Rourke is my new beer hero. When I pissed off to India with Barry the Barrel, it was one man’s search for a book idea that could trump the previous one. Tim, while inspired by Hops and Glory, has managed to achieve something much greater, something that turned into a trade mission for British beer and a quirky news story that repeatedly captured the imagination of the BBC - here and here - and various other media outlets.
If you saw me standing in a Russian brewery wearing a tri-corner hat, looking greasy and smelly, I apologise. If you heard Tim and me on the Today programme, I hope we sounded not too mad.
Between us, we have a great deal to say about the effects of sea-aging on beer. I’ve got more to say about Russian Imperial Stout in general, as well as Finnish Sahti, Russian Kvass, the Baltika Brewery, Finnish microbrewers, why you should go and drink in Tallinn, or if not then at least the Red Bull in Histon, Cambridgeshire, and why there’s no people like boat people like no people I know.
From Sting personally trying to ruin my life, to watching films about dogs turning into men while deep in conversation with Russia’s first Belgian microbrewer, to face-offs with pathetic gangsters driving ancient Ladas (or ‘cab drivers’ as the Russians call them) to the case for Disturbingly Random Theme Bars, to why it can be handy to view British ale as others see it – it’s not a book. It’s not a coherent article or single blog post. I don't know what it is yet. I’ll try to make sense of it and present the best bits in the most appropriate and interesting way over the next couple of weeks.
Till then – would anyone like a Custard Cream?*
*Sorry – on this score I think you probably had to be there.