Spank’s Edinburgh Diary, The BBG's Postscript 2021

Steak, chips, moules frites, red wine - possibly a meal we associate with Edinburgh more than any other...In many ways, the Edinburgh Festival 2021 was far from being traditional. But I've tried to keep this year's coverage on the site as familiar-looking as possible. And regulars will be aware of one particular feature that we haven't had yet: after an entire week of me babbling on about the shows I've seen, I hand over a page or two to Spank's Pals so they can present their own highlights and lowlights.

I can never be sure in advance as to how many of the people who came to Edinburgh with me on a particular year feel the urge to write about it. This year, I'm pleased to announce that a full 100% of my travelling companions have contributed. So here's The Belated Birthday Girl, who's doing her usual thing of focussing on the food and drink highlights of Edinburgh, seeing as The List Eating And Drinking Guide is impossible to get hold of these days. (But she mentions a few of her show highlights as well.) Enjoy.

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Manchester International Festival 2021 (part 2)

[THE SOUND OF THE DELTA VARIANT CHEERFULLY HOPPING BETWEEN BEAN BAGS]In previous Manchester International Festivals – look, just go back to part one of this piece and follow the links in there, I can’t be bothered typing them again – anyway, back then the hub of the event was Festival Square. For the other 102 weeks of the bi-year it was Albert Square, the big public space in front of the town hall. But at MIF time, it became a riot of food stalls, bars and tented stages offering mostly free entertainment.

This year was always going to be different, and not just for the obvious reason. Manchester Town Hall is in the middle of a massive refurbishment programme, meaning that Albert Square is closed off. So for 2021 (and probably 2023), Festival Square has relocated to the space outside Manchester Cathedral. It’s still offering booze, food and entertainment, but this time round entry has to be carefully controlled, with all visitors carefully spaced out into meticulously organised bubbles.

They would have managed it, too, if it hadn’t been for the inhabitants of Twat Island.

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BrewDogging #72: Ealing

If your plan all along was to abandon all plans, would the bar implode?If the year 2020 was a movie, then I guess Abandon All Plans would be as good a poster tagline as any...

We've got a portrait-shaped photo's worth of space to fill, so let's recap on where we are currently. The last time one of these BrewDogging pieces appeared on the site, it reported on a visit to the Cambridge bar back in early March 2020: that weekend when we knew that there was a lurgy out there in the world, but weren't quite sure yet how it was going to affect us personally. The drinkers in the Cambridge bar on March 7th 2020 were having a generally relaxed time of it: the drinkers we encountered in the Clapham bar just one week later were a lot more twitchy, as we all started to realise that pub nights out were about to become a lot more limited.

You can count the number of times we've been in BrewDog bars since then on one hand, literally: two trips to Shepherds Bush, and one each to Dalston, Paddington and Soho, all in the brief gaps when they've been open between one lockdown and the next. Inevitably, some of the bars couldn't survive in such an uncertain climate. For us, the two crippling losses have been Helsinki, one of our favourites anywhere: and Rome, a city that now has to deal with the twin disasters of the closure of a bar and Jose Mourinho running their football team. But there are several bars we hadn't got to yet that no longer exist: Sao Paulo, Tampere, Norrköping and Budapest. We've also had the announcement that Old Street AF is transitioning to just become plain old Old Street, because who on earth would want to lay off the booze in these times?

So, we come to April 12th 2021, the day in which restrictions in England were eased just enough to allow people to drink in pub gardens, but not inside the actual pubs themselves. And the day on which BrewDog decided, just for shits and giggles, to open up three new bars in England for the first time. One of which was literally within walking distance of Château Belated-Monkey. So here we are.

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Beerfests In A Box

Plenty of work to be done here before recycling collection day.This past year has normalised many things that we wouldn't have even considered a thing not too long ago, and one of them is this: the beer festival that you attend from home. Send people some money over the internet, have them send you a box full of beer in exchange, and then on a specified day connect with those people over a different bit of the internet where you can share the experience of drinking the beer together.

And yes, that is normalised. If it wasn't, how come we recently attended three of these things over the space of four weeks? And how did they end up being so wildly different from each other? Research data follows.

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BrewDogging #71: Cambridge

This picture by The BBG looks so utterly *alien* these days that I'm going to let you click on it to see it bigger. You're welcome.A Tale Of The Before Times (#5 of 5)

I'm posting this towards the end of June 2020. We visited our 71st BrewDog bar during the first weekend of March. There was a plan that by this point in June, we would be guzzling pints in our 72nd: but with travel restrictions being what they are, that isn't happening any more. (If you're wondering where that bar might have been, there's a subtle clue on one of the pages linked to in this piece.)

Let's say it out loud: Cambridge may well be the last new BrewDog bar I write about on here for some time. At this stage, it's hard to tell how many of the bars we've previously visited will survive this mess: we know already that Helsinki hasn't, which is a damn shame. In the circumstances, it's incredibly weird looking back three and a bit months to March 6th-8th, seeing what we did over the space of that weekend, and how little of it we could get away with currently. Sure, there were rumblings coming from the east that we were heading for trouble, but the main way I remember Covid-19 from that weekend was having the official Vietnamese campaign song stuck in my head for most of it. There wasn't any sense that this could have been our last weekend away for some time: whereas just one week later, we were sitting in the Brixton Ritzy watching The Invisible Man with a growing awareness that we probably wouldn't be able to do that in a few days.

So, as we head towards the July 4th re-opening of English bars with an increasing sense of dread at the second wave they could be instrumental in stoking, join me as we get all nostalgic about what things used to be like as far back as last Spring...

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Under Size Me: A Veganuary Experiment

Vanilla is the new Black: warm mushroom pate with lemon and rice, accompanied by field mushrooms and spinachA Tale Of The Before Times (#2 of 5)

This was all The Belated Birthday Girl's fault idea. She announced late last year that she wanted to attempt some sort of reset of her eating and drinking habits at the start of 2020. It's a popular idea, of course: some people do Dry January, some do Veganuary. Her plan was to do both, simultaneously. As a supportive partner, and also for reasons of simple practicality, I decided I'd join her in her efforts.

I've described how our Dry January went in my review of BrewDog's first alcohol-free bar, which opened that same month. In brief, as the number and variety of alternatives to booze has rocketed over the past year or two, it turned out to be a relatively easy exercise, as well as an educational one. Veganuary was a slightly different kettle of tofu, however. It took us both a little while to realise what an asymmetric undertaking this was: as a veggie, The BBG just needed to cut dairy out of her diet, whereas I was giving up an awful lot more as an omnivore. Still, we got through it. And as I had to work a lot harder to get through a month as a vegan, I obviously won.

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BrewDogging #70: AF Old Street

Getting the white balance right was always going to be tricky on this one.Somewhere in the backlog of site content that's been building up since the start of 2020 is a pair of posts relating to what happened during January. Specifically, The Belated Birthday Girl's decision to go both dry and vegan for the first month of the year, and my decision to tag along in order to see what it was like. (That decision was also influenced by my desire to avoid awkward social situations where she's forced to sip on glasses of water while I'm chugging egg nog by the bucketful.)

One of those posts is going to focus on the vegan side of things, and will note how targeted a demographic I felt in early January, as everyone from McDonald's on up suddenly announced new vegan lines on sale. The other one - this one, in fact - is just looking at how we managed to avoid booze for a month. And once again, there was a big push in various quarters to provide new products for the newly alcohol free. You've probably guessed one of them by now.

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BrewDogging #69: St Pauli

That blue and red glow near the bottom of this tower block? That's BrewDog St Pauli. You can ignore everything above that, for now.You can almost imagine the board meeting at BrewDog plc. One of their execs is doing a PowerPoint presentation, pointing out that since they took over the former Stone brewery in Berlin there’s been a notable upswing in sales in Germany. It’s probably about time they opened another bar in the country. Maybe in Hamburg, perhaps?

Offscreen, we hear a quiet rhythm being beaten on the boardroom table, gradually increasing in volume: three beats, then a pause, then repeated. And as the camera turns towards James Watt and Martin Dickie at the other end of the table, we hear the vocal chant that accompanies their banging.

“Ree-per-bahn! REE-PER-BAHN! REE-PER-BAHN!

This (wholly imagined) chain of events will ultimately lead to The Belated Birthday Girl and me spending our first ever Christmas Day in a BrewDog bar: specifically one located in the St Pauli district of Hamburg, at the top end of the naughtiest street in Europe. Coincidentally, it’s the 69th bar we’ve visited. I thought this next sentence would more or less write itself, but it’s harder than it looks.

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BrewDogging #68: Carlisle

Just try something for me: open up the Warsaw review in a separate tab, and then flip between the pictures on the two tabs. Spooky, isn't it?This'll be the last BrewDogging of 2019, I reckon. (There's a research trip for another one still to be done, but you won't read about that until 2020.) In 2019, I wrote reports on eleven new bars, ten of which are linked to at the bottom of this page: Brixton, Paddington, Dalston, Union Square, Peterhead, Itaewon, Le Marais, Outpost Manchester, Perth and Edinburgh Airport, obviously not counting the one you're going to read about now. The vast majority of these opened this year, so we seem to be just about keeping up with James Watt's plans for world domination.

We should also report that we lost one: Angel, which finally pulled down the shutters after three separate attempts to make it pay its way. (Someone else is currently having a go at making the site work.) Maybe that makes you a bit twitchier about new bars when they open, looking for signs that they'll be able to make it through that all-important first couple of years? Maybe.

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Collabfest 2019

Collabfest 2019 at BrewDog Canary Wharf. If you look carefully, the signs are all there.We drank 57 beers last weekend. What did you get up to?

Regular readers will know what's going on here: since 2013, we've been regular attendees at BrewDog's annual beer festival, Collabfest. Once a year, each of their bars gets together with a local brewer and makes a brand new beer: and then for one crazy weekend, all those beers go on sale simultaneously in all the bars.

When we first did this in 2013, there were only eleven BrewDog bars and eleven beers on offer, and we were able to comfortably squeeze tasters of seven of them into the gap between a couple of films at the LFF. By 2019, that number has grown to, um, 78. Luckily for us, only 69 of them were available for Collabfest in the UK: the Asian and American bars couldn't ship their offerings over here, while Reading's contribution turned out wonky and had to be scrapped at the last minute.

Still, 57 out of 69 isn't bad, is it? Depending on your interpretation of the word 'bad', obviously.

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