Beer garden winter

Aye, the nights are fair drawin' in, Katie Mather warms us up with some wise advice for enjoying beer gardens in the winter.


When drinkers search for beer gardens in 2020, a concrete smoking area just won’t cut it anymore. We have loftier expectations now. We’re googling for table service, neat and tidy seating arrangements, seasonal planting. Even my local has developed a reputation for growing strawberries and nasturtiums in their pretty beer garden, and all they usually care about is keeping a perfect cellar.

Beer gardens have more important roles now. On top of providing space for impromptu sunbathing or grabbing a better aesthetic for your Instagram pint, they’ve become some of the safest places to enjoy a beer. While social distancing restrictions in pubs remain — rightfully — in place, this is looking to remain a constant in our ever-uncertain lives at the moment. Beer Garden winter is coming. Start preparing now. Tell hypothermia to get the next round in, because you’re not done yet.

The Cold

Familiarise yourself with this common scene: you’ve headed out for an after-work pint. It’s an unseasonably sunny day in November. The sun sets early, you think (however as far as the sun is concerned, it’s right on time.) An evening chill sets in; there are no outdoor heaters. Soon you’re resisting the urge to shiver, your teeth rattling like castanets. As yet another regular claps their gloved hands together and says “ooh, it’ll freeze tonight”, you down the last of your pint and refuse another. It’s time to go home.

Outwit the cold. Layer up with base layers — you can even pack one up small and tidy in your work bag for emergencies. And don’t forget your brewery beanie, woolly socks and buff. All the best breweries are making them these days, have a Google.

The Weather

You’re wrapped up warm in your retro Patagonia fleece, but what’s this? It’s started to rain. The wind’s picked up. What begins as uncertain drizzle asserts itself as a deluge, and here you are huddled under a parasol as though its flapping canvas will save you from frostbite and the common cold.

Waterproof jackets aren’t the most fashionable outer garments on the planet, but beer garden winter doesn’t care for style. Adopt a countryside look of waxed cotton if you must, but if we all agree to wear hoods, waterproof pants, woolly jumpers and walking boots at the same time until March, it’ll be much more acceptable on a sartorial level. Let’s start the trend now.

Traversing Treacherous Ground

Walking back from the bar laden with beers is a heroic passage, but add the uneven and perilous terrain of the beer garden into your route and you could be heading for disaster. 

First of all, maybe choose your least slippery footwear — you don’t need any extra hazards hindering you from making it to the finish line. Consider a headtorch for the most dingy of beer gardens after dark. Be aware of cobblestones, sleeping dogs, unevenly-laid astroturf. Can you carry three beers at once? Get practicing with four or five at home, maybe build up a training routine. Ask for glasses with handles if it makes it easier to carry more, taking tips from Oktoberfest’s most prolific stein-carriers. And for god’s sake, if you’ve got a partner for the intrepid journey and they fall, make helping them your priority, no matter how massive the urge is to shout “WAAAY” as their drinks crash to the ground.

Adapting and Surviving

Spending any length of time in the outdoors requires careful planning and consideration. You’ll want to remain as comfortable as possible so you can remain there for as long as possible, which means keeping warm and dry (as we’ve already covered), and also making sure you’re not inflicting any unnecessary discomfort on your body.

We’re talking numb butts from wooden picnic benches — my rucksack has a seat pad you can pull out. I highly recommend it. We’re talking secretly using your pals as human windbreakers — be cool about it and they’ll never notice. We’re talking snacks. You need to stock up on snacks to keep up your endurance. If there was ever a time for two packets of cheese and onion, it’s now. Call it essential calories.

Hot Drinks

Mulled wine isn’t just for Christmas. Hot toddies aren’t just for sniffles. Let’s get hot alcohol on the menu, and save beer garden winter for everyone.

Of course you can’t heat up your DIPA (well, you could, but it’d be horrible) but there are delicious versions of mulled ale, cider and kriek that are well worth a try. Or, if those ideas don’t float your boat, convince your local to head back to the 1980s and start putting Baileys in the coffee for a toasty warm and totally reviving break between beers. Cool? Definitely not. Delicious? Absolutely. 

Expedition Wisdom

The more experience you gain in surviving in beer garden environments in all conditions, the better equipped you’ll be for anything beer garden winter throws at you. Mountain guides recommend layers of loose lightweight clothing rather than sticking on a big bulky jacket, but there’s a little more to it than that.

Beer jackets only work for so long. Alcohol can actually lower your body temp by helping it to lose heat while simultaneously making you believe you’re warm. How can we overcome this obstacle? Make sure you’re staying hydrated while you sesh, and don’t start stripping your layers off, even if you think you’re warm enough. It’s closer to Christmas than festival season. You don’t get extra points for toughness just because you’re wearing a t-shirt in baltic conditions.

Also, don’t be afraid to take shortcuts. True explorers do whatever they can to keep cosy, and so should you. Grab some of those little reusable or rechargeable pocket hand warmers — honestly, they’ll be the best thing you buy all winter. Get up and move as often as you can (it’s probably your round anyway). Reserve the table with the least exposure to the elements. And lastly, be positive. Discussing how he deals with extremely low temperatures on some of the toughest terrains in the world, mountaineer Adrian Ballinger says: “It’s extremely important not to count out the impact of maintaining a positive mentality.”

Stay Well

We all want to enjoy ourselves after a confusing and scary year of lockdown and pandemic-related stress. Our pubs and bars are doing all they can to help us stay safe and well. Where you can, please remember to call ahead and book a table so they can plan their space, and remember to look after yourself by washing your hands, using antibac hand gel and generally being sound about social distancing measures. 

Staying cold is asking for trouble. Don’t make it easier for Covid, or any other flu or cold, to infect you — and if you really are having a miserable time out in the beer garden… give up and go inside. Your health is more important!

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