There exists a hard core of early morning imbibers. I suppose there always has been, but before the licensing laws were changed many years ago, by and large they had to do their supping at home under the baleful and disapproving eye of her indoors, as she bustled about getting the nippers their toast and sugar puffs. Hardly conducive to beery conviviality one might imagine. Mind you, I have read reports of publicans being fined in the old days for admitting customers before the prescribed time and being spotted by an eagle eyed constable, though transgressions - at least most of those recorded - were mainly between lunchtime and evening sessions - or after time had been called at night. Far easier to keep customers in if you are doing "staybehinds" after sessions, than attract them when you are setting up for the day and having them under your feet. Breakfast time illicit on premises drinking, was even then I think, a little unusual and most likely discouraged.
But nowadays you don't have to worry about that sort of thing. Should you require liquid refreshment, it can be legally obtained at almost any time of the day and you can do it in licensed premises, away from disapproving eyes and subsequent frank exchanges of views. We live in glorious and enlightened times.
This freedom to open and serve the amber nectar early has a main proponent. Enter J D Wetherspoon*. Many readers will know from personal experience, or anecdote, that Wetherspoons, especially those in small towns have developed a hard core of regular early morning topers. These are usually a small dedicated band of the retired, the early risers, the ne'er do wells, the elderly, the unemployed and unemployable, the hardened (but not yet hopeless) drinkers and those just seeking the company of like minded fellows.
I watched some in their native environment the other day. My car was in for some work and I fancied a coffee. The shutters of JDW roll back at 8 am and a trickle of people slip in. They cannot drink alcohol at 8, but there are preparations to be made. Most just grab a table, open their newspapers and settle down. The odd one buys a coffee, but this is an exception. Most if they drink anything, just have water which is freely available. Staff are used to this and make no move towards the bar, but get on with their own cups of tea and a bit of snap, or whatever prep they have to do. Greetings, often just nods, are exchanged, but mostly silence reigns. Some set out their favourite tables with their preferred chairs. Furniture is shuffled round and carefully placed in pre-chosen spots. As more drift in, the proceedings, on this occasion, are interrupted by a practise fire evacuation. Thirteen of us - a motley crew - stand on the pavement for five minutes, then shuffle back in. Most return to stare into space from their perches, now fully kitted out and organised to satisfaction.
By 8.50 there is a palpable sense of expectation in the air. Eyes flick towards the bar. A few more arrive. Minutes tick away and suddenly there are people coming back to their tables with pints of beer and lager. One dedicated soul has two, which he arranges carefully in front of him, rims almost touching. Overall pints are evenly split between lager and John Smith's Smooth.
By ten past nine, when I leave there is a noticeable air of contentment and the genesis of a conversational buzz.
* Other early morning drinking establishments are available If I have breakfast there, which I do from time to time, by half past ten the place will be going like a fair. It is usually very jolly indeed.
Some spend quite a few hours there, but by four even the most hardcore will be gone, many resting for a repeat performance the next day. This is an interesting sub culture of pub goers. Good luck to them I say.
A bit of a CV. Tandleman is a veteran beer lover, local CAMRA Chairman and activist, beer writer, beer reviewer and pursuer of all things good in beer. He lives in the North West of England and London. Despite his CAMRA membership, he does not limit himself to cask conditioned beer, though he believes that cask conditioning, when done correctly and appropriately, brings a quality to beer that is hard to equal by any other kind of presentation. He is a strong supporter of Northern methods of beer dispense and avidly detests poorly presented beer and dislikes pasteurisation. He regularly visits Germany, has conducted corporate British and German beer tastings for CAMRA at the Great British Beer Festival where he has worked for years on Biere Sans Frontieres and was Deputy Organiser at CAMRA's very successful National Winter Ales Festival in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 and at the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival from 2013 to date. He admires good brewers wherever they are and has travelled extensively in pursuit of good beer to drink. He also judges beer at both the International Beer Challenge and the World Beer Awards.
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