This is probably the toughest time the breweries of Britain have ever faced, tougher than the restrictions of the First World War, tougher than the fight against the temperance fanatics of the 19th century. Cut off from their customers because of the lockdown caused by the covid-19 pandemic, brewers are having to find innovative ways to survive and cope, while worrying all the time over whether survival will even be possible, how long the crisis is going to last, and what the brewing and pub scenes are going to look like when the crisis is finally over. Will there actually be any pubs left to sell beer to?
But even though brewers have plenty and more to do just to try to survive right now, I have a request, as a historian: when this IS all over, or even before, if you have a moment, please, take time to record what you did, what you’re doing, to survive, what strategies you adopted, what changes you made, from organising home deliveries to turning your beer into hand-sanitizer. Because in ten, 20, 50 years’ time, people will be looking back at this and saying: “Wow – what must it have been like to have lived through that, to have tried to run a company, keep it going, while all that was going on?” And you can let them know.
Take photographs, of brewers and other staff working under social distancing rules, of beers being packaged for home delivery, print out your tweets and emails and put them in boxes and folders, put aside any artefacts – the face mask your delivery driver had to wear, for example, the sign you put up outside your taproom to enforce social distancing for customers queueing for beer, the flyers you printed to let people know when, where and how they could buy your beer – anything and everything to get people in the future to try to understand what this is, and has been, like to live through.
Write down, or record, your own thoughts, hopes and fears, record brewery workers’ experiences, what it has been like to work through this – or not work, if they have had to be furloughed. How are they feeling, what do they believe the future is going to be like? What do YOU feel the future is going to be like?
In the middle of all this, a request from the future to record what is happening right now might seem pointlessly petty, meaninglessly trivial when there are so many huge problems to be overcome. But if you do get a chance to record the history of the 2020 pandemic as it affected you and your business, then on behalf of generations of historians to come, may I thank you enormously.
Oh, and while I’m directing this at breweries, because I’m primarily a historian of brewing, this all goes just as much for pubs and bars, of course: your memories of how the covid-19 pandemic hit you and your businesses will be just as valuable to people looking back.
That goes, of course, for all the ancilliary industries that seem to have been forgotten about. Britain’s maltsters must be as worried as anybody. Britain’s hop growers are wondering if they’ll have anybody to sell hops to. Not a single glass has been broken in – or stolen from – a British pub in the past seven weeks. That’s not good news if you’re a company that supplies glasses to pubs. Sales of pork scratchings must have dived. Sales of beermats must be non-existent. Bottle manufacturers must be laying workers off. How are you coping? Let posterity know.