This weekend sees the return of the annual Luton CAMRA beer festival at Hightown Community Centre, which started last night and runs until Saturday, 22 February. The Bricklayers Arms also gets in on the act with a further selection of guest ales, in case the 100-odd ales and 30-something ciders officially on offer aren’t quite enough to wet your whistle.
For the last several years, the festival has fallen neatly between Valentine’s Day and my birthday towards the end of the month; it also holds a special place in my heart having been the occasion of a chance encounter with a beautiful French man – in Luton, no less! – in 2009, and the subsequent blossoming of a Luto-Franco romance with a little help from les lunettes de bière.
Reader, did I marry him? No, I did not, but we did spend a generally successful three years together in which I got a certain handle on the correct use of the French subjunctive and developed an intimate relationship with the Eurostar website. (Having previously been in a long-distance relationship with someone who lived in Hawaii, I can attest to the great convenience of living in a town with both an airport and a kissing connection with a transmanche high-speed rail link.)
Bof. That was then. But my affection for the beer festival lives on. Luton Beer Festival is a genuinely friendly event where the love of craft ales (and cider) goes hand-in-hand with easy-going conversation, and parts company, more or less, with the binge-drinking typical of the town-centre chains. While this owes something to the festival-going demographic and cast of mind (also: cast of beard), it also has something to do with the way the beer is served: in half- and pint measures, but also in thirds.
For me, this is a source of real joy: I get to try out a serious number of different and genuinely interesting beers while straying probably little further than the two pints mark. In other words: drinking for pleasure rather than drinking to get drunk. This excellent strategy only runs aground in the event that someone (always a man) forgets my repeated entreaties for ‘just a third’ and returns at high beam with a fully filled pint glass. While I appreciate the generosity, imagine, for a second, my genuine commitment-phobic waste-averse sorrow: woe is the small woman now committed to a whole damn pint of the same beer when I was really looking forward to trying out that fruity small-batch porter on page 3 of the tasting guide.
One mustn’t grumble, I suppose: grit, they say, is the key to success in this life, and I can as well down a whole pint of beer with stoicism, if I must, as see my way to teach a 7am yoga class to the one lovely person who actually showed up yesterday morning (and who was treated to a private yoga class at a fraction of the usual cost).
I am under no illusions as to the short-term commercial wisdom of setting up a 7am yoga class in a hat shop in Luton: I fully expect to do a non-brisk trade in downward dogs and extended triangle pose for the foreseeable future. Nevertheless, it’s fun – if nerve-wracking –and it appeals fully both to my sense of civic-mindedness (aspirational 7am hat-shop yoga) and absurdity (aspirational 7am hat-shop yoga). I shall drink to her grit, and mine, later today. And to the memory of the time that Luton Beer Festival changed my life.