Views from the bar

Now that we've perfected the art of the virtual meet, Katie Mather asks if they're here to stay...

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I promised myself during the second lockdown that once this was “all over” I’d do everything I could to live in the real world at all times. No more Zoom quizzes, no more online shopping, no more virtual events. I was done with living digitally. I wanted my life back.

The thing is, my life has never really been crammed with real life events I could actually get to. Stuff happens out there, and I see it happening over Instagram stories, but often it’s just not possible for me to make appearances in person. When I removed myself from a major city to be closer to friends, family and nature, part of the bargain was to receive a regular dose of FOMO. 

Before words like “pandemic” and “virologist” became part of our daily WhatsApp chats, I already missed out on stuff due to my geographical location — not in the same awful, morale-degrading way, but in a real sense I just did not get to take part in half the beer, cider, wine, music, art, food or other life-affirming events I would have liked to. Try telling lockdown-me that, however. I was convinced that life before lockdown had been a carnival of never-ending perfect nights out and weekends away.

Things are moving back towards a semblance of normality at the time of writing this, and nothing has proven this to me more than several events being advertised that I cannot attend due to my own financial and logistical restrictions. “Have fun guys!!” I’ll comment on the posts. “Super jealous!! Bring me back a tote bag!”

I’m forced to admit that actually, online events have been a great and valuable resource for me. Virtual brewery tours at Duration Brewery in Norfolk took me behind the scenes at one of my favourite breweries, one which I still haven’t managed to visit given the 6 hour train journey each way. 

Virtual conferences like Cider Con took me to Virginia, USA without having to sell my car for the air fare, and I hopped into talks and roundtables hosted by some of the cider world and wider drinks industry’s leading thinkers, doers, movers and shakers from the comfort of my own dining table. Cloudwater.

Online on a Thursday night on YouTube enables me to witness conversations between some of the UK’s most exciting new voices in beer. Ongoing Instagram Live chats with beer bloggers, brewers and writers hosted by indie bottle shops, writers or bloggers are a surprise hit in my house. Would it be nicer to sit and chat to these folks in the pub IRL or head on down to the conference in person? Sure. But I don’t often have access to that. And neither do many of us. While the pandemic has taken so much away from us, it has at least proven that a gap in accessibility to these sorts of events and conversations exists, and has given businesses and organisations a push to try and close it.

I look forward immensely to my first beer festival without screens. I can’t wait to do a brewery tour and visit the tap room afterwards without needing to stand outside in the rain to do it. I’ve missed connecting to the beer world in a huge way over the past 12 months, but if all virtual meets and festivals packed in, I’d be sad. And I don’t think I’d be the only one.


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