But what of those times that lack this spur of the moment quality? Those sessions that have been meticulously planned in advance, with lists of pubs written, maps of streets scribbled, Good Beer Guides consulted? I refer, of course, to the phenomenon of the pub crawl.
Some of my favourite drinking experiences have been of this kind. Sometimes they are in a new place, a pub crawl pieced together via Google Maps and internet forums. Others are old, comfortable, routes that I've walked hundreds of times, with different pub stops being added and removed as if to a patchwork quilt.
|The Merchant's Arms in Bristol, a pub crawl mainstay|
The former are often voyages of exploration, laced with the potential for either great joy at finding some previously unknown gem or great disappointment that a highly-recommended venue is shut, has changed hands, or just turns out to be a bit of a dud. The latter are like watching a favoured film from childhood, populated with familiar sights, sounds, and characters. Some of the details are different to how you remember them, but the basic plot points are always more or less as you thought.
What is the appeal of a pub crawl? To commit to constantly upheaving oneself from a comfortable seat or away from a particularly good pint of a lesser-spotted beer? To have to brave the elements on an hourly basis? To deal with the logistics of getting from this pub to the next? I am not an especially adventurous traveller in a global sense, but give me a town or city with at least five recommended pubs and I transform into the Ranulph Fiennes of beer.
I've done two decent-length (six or seven venues) pub crawls in the last fortnight, both times showing visitors to Bristol around the joint, but even at this frequency the allure remains. The planning and anticipation. The beginning, as you set out to the first place. The hawking of the next stop on the route - 'this one's a cracker' (aren't they all?). The amusing encounters with characters met along the way. The one for the road. And then, in the day and week after, the reminiscences. The adventure recounted to others - 'you had to be there, really'. The hope that next time, never too long away, it will be even better.